Emotional Competency

Explore the Logic of Passion

The minimum requirements of life and health

We all share simple requirements for sustaining life and health. Too often needs get confused with wants, wishes, desires, substitutes, or deficits. Human needs are quite simple, but not often met.


  1. The minimal requirements of health and well-being.
  2. A physiological or psychological condition that must be satisfied to remain healthy.
  3. Innate psychological nutriments that are essential for ongoing psychological growth, integrity, and well-being.
  4. Something that, when fulfilled, promotes integration and well-being and, when thwarted, fosters fragmentation and ill-being.

Human Needs

Human needs can be classified as either physiological needs—those required to sustain and grow a healthy body—or as psychological needs—those required to sustain and grow a healthy mind.

An abundance of one asset cannot relieve a shortage of another. An abundance of water cannot substitute for a shortage of food. An excess of relatedness cannot compensate for a shortage of autonomy.

People relentlessly seek to fulfill their needs. Thirsty people focus their attention and energy on getting water. If you are thwarted while working to fill your needs, you will react very strongly, often with anger. Unfortunately because many people are unaware of their true psychological needs, too often they vigorously pursue ineffective substitutes.

One definition of violence is: denying the needs of another. Needs are not negotiable; attempting to deny, block, diminish, or remove them is an illegitimate act of violence.

Physiological Needs:

  • WaterAir—oxygen within a particular range of pressure, concentration, and purity is vital to survival. Lack of oxygen kills within minutes.
  • Water—access to adequate safe drinking waterExternal Link, approximately 50 liters per person per day, is a human need. Lack of water kills within days.
  • Food—Adequate calories, meeting certain minimum nutritional requirementsExternal Link are required to sustain life. Lack of food kills within days or weeks.
  • Shelter—protection from extremes of heat, cold, intense sun, prolonged precipitation, or other exposure that can lead to hypothermia or hyperthermia. Protective clothing may fill this need in certain environments.
  • Sanitation—isolation or protection from toxins and pathogens—this includes removal of human wastes, basic cleansing, and protections from harmful infectious agents such as parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
  • Sleep—adequate sleepExternal Link of sufficient depth. Research is incomplete or disputed, but approximately 8 hours of uninterrupted sleep each night seems most effective.
  • Touch—Active touch, perhaps as a caring caress, is essential to the growth and healthy development of humans. 

Psychological Needs:

  • Autonomy—Being free to pursue goals you choose. Having a sense of choice, flexibility, and personal freedom. Self-governance. Autonomy is the converse of being controlled, however it is not the same as independence, selfishness, or irresponsibility. Autonomy is the feeling deep inside that your actions are your own choice; you are neither complying with nor defying controls. It requires integration of your choices and overcoming ambivalence.
  • Competence—The ability to succeed at an optimal challenge. It is the ability to do something well or to meet a required standard.
  • Relatedness—Feeling connected with others. Having people to care about, and people who care about you. The need to feel belongingness and connectedness with others. It may take the form of friendship and love, dialogue and sharing, group participation, community involvement, and a variety of prosocial activities.

There are no other needs. All other candidates are discretionary “wants” or they represent some surrogate for an actual need, such as deficit motives or needs substitutes.

You can change what you want, but you cannot change what you need. Work to understand your needs and align your wants and goals with those needs.

Each of these three psychological needs is further discussed under the topic of motivation.

But what about . . .

Many people claim to need many things not listed here as needs. Also, the well regarded hierarchy of needs theory of Abraham Maslow lists needs not described here. These candidates can be understood in terms of true needs as follows.

Safety is the assured fulfillment of basic needs. It is the constant intent to satisfy these needs. It summarizes and emphasizes the importance of the needs. It is the need to meet the needs. It is a result of a needs deficit.

Meaningfulness is a sense of coherence, integrity, and significance. It is the result of acting with autonomy, attending to relatedness needs, exercising your competence, and integrating the results. It is the result of meeting the needs.

Self-esteem, feeling good about yourself, has two manifestations known as secure (or true) high self-esteem and fragile (or contingent) high-self esteem.  Secure self-esteem is based on positive feelings of self-worth that are well anchored, authentic, and do not rely on self-promotion. In contrast, fragile self-esteem relies on specific outcomes that are easily threatened. As a result, people with fragile self-esteem are continually seeking external reassurances of their worth.  Fragile high self-esteem results from a lack of autonomy, relatedness, or competence. It is caused by a deficit of true needs. Secure high self-esteem results from the integration of autonomy, relatedness, and competence. It results from having needs met.

Human RightsExternal Link are the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They are prerequisites to attaining the human needs discussed here. Human rights create the space that allows these needs to be met. For example, The rights to life, liberty, and security are basic rights that allow a person to live and seek autonomy.  Prohibiting slavery allows for autonomy. Access to education promotes competency. Protecting families promotes relatedness.

A Buddhist Perspective

Sand MandalaWanting is the belief we can benefit by acquiring more. Buddhists believe that wanting—desiring or longing for something—is a form of suffering that results from attachment—binding yourself to something. They also believe that because things are impermanent, attachment to them is futile. Understanding impermanence—the transitory nature of things—allows us to avoid attachment and reduce our wanting along with the suffering it causes. There can be more to life than wanting more.

The Sand MandalaExternal Link is a fascinating Tibetan Buddhist tradition that dramatically demonstrates the transitory nature—impermanence—of things. Several highly skilled and patient monks spend days of painstaking effort to create the beautiful and intricate sand design. Then in a ceremony the entire object is destroyed and  poured into a river or lake to celebrate its impermanence.


A long and difficult high-stakes winning streak got us here. Each of our ancestors won the battle for survival and procreation in a brutally difficult, primitive, and hostile world of kill or be killed. Our egos have evolved over millions of years of getting what we need to survive and reproduce. It was win or die for millions of years. Our ancestors won and their rivals lost and often died. We evolved by prevailing over danger and scarcity for millions of years. No wonder our egos developed to protect ourselves so effectively against so many threats. But many of us now live in abundance. We need to tame our insatiable egos so we can live together harmoniously in an abundant and compassionate world. We need to manage the transformation from more to enough. We need to recognize when we have enough, become satisfied, and enjoy the gratification we can all have.

We have enough when we all have all our needs met. We have the abundance to achieve this if no one takes too much before everyone gets enough.

More has brought us: Subprime mortgages, foreclosures, EnronExternal Link and other accounting scandalsExternal Link, wars, hydrogen bombs and other nuclear weapons, the Holocaust and other acts of genocideExternal Link, slavery, traffic jams, urban sprawl, the bridge to nowhereExternal Link, cheating, Vioxx and other dangerous prescription drugs, Twinkies, obesity, stress, anxiety, pollution, paparazzi, deforestation, strip mining, overfishing, drought, failed states, global warming, and other waste, violence, destruction, and misery. We have become consumed.

Enough can bring us: peace of mind, integrity, tranquility, clean air, clean water, the beauty of nature, a healthy environment to enjoy now and sustain for the future, awe, family, friendships, community, safety, stability, trust, leisure time, joyful play, meaningful work, authentic experiences, reciprocity, respect, good health, reduced stress, ongoing education, deeper understanding and appreciation, fun, enjoyment of the arts, transcendence, and making significant contributions that help others. We can enjoy what is already available to us.

Question: How much money is enough to make me happy? Answer: How much does peace of mind cost?


  • “There are paths of progress other than growth. There can be more to life than more.” ~ Leland R. Beaumont
  • Take what you need and leave the rest.
  • Think globally, act locally.
  • “Citizens are grown-ups. Consumers are kids.” ~ Benjamin R. Barber.
  • “When your cup is full, stop pouring.” ~ Lao TzuExternal Link
  • “A rich person is not the one who has the most, but who needs the least.”
  • “There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” ~ Albert Einstein
  • “Live simply so others can simply live.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
  • “Learn to distinguish what matters from what glitters.” ~ Tim Jackson


Why We Do What We Do: Understanding Self-Motivation, by Edward L. Deci, Richard Flaste

Self-Determination Theory Website, especially: Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 227-268.

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The darker and brighter sides of human existence: Basic psychological needs as a unifying concept. Psychological Inquiry, 11, 319-338.

Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, by Robert Sapolsky

Plan B 3.0, Mobilizing to Save Civilization, by Lester R. Brown.

Consumed: How Markets Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults, and Swallow Citizens Whole, by  Benjamin R. Barber

Flow (aka- Flow: For Love of Water), DVD by Maude Barlow

Prosperity without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet, by Tim Jackson 

Craftsmen of necessity, by Christopher Williams

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