Basic Human Needs for A Well-lived Life

As human beings, we all desire to lead a satisfying and meaningful life. Over the years, numerous theories, movements, and philosophies have been developed in an attempt to uncover the secret to achieving this goal. Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is one such theory that can assist us in our search for personal growth and fulfilment. We are exploring how the principles of SDT are interconnected with the art of building a life that is not just lived but deeply well-lived. We believe that the three basic human needs, autonomy, relatedness (belonging) and competence, are interrelated to the three components of a well-lived life: purpose, beauty and meaning (Learn more).

The Commonalities: Meaning vs Competency

Meaning in life is a complicated concept that involves finding significance, purpose, and value in one’s existence. It’s about understanding the larger reason for our actions and experiences and feeling that our lives have a deeper purpose beyond the mundane. Competence as a basic human need, on the other hand, relates to an individual’s sense of capability and effectiveness in their actions and pursuits. It’s about feeling skilled, capable, and confident in one’s abilities. Meaning and competence are vital for:

  • Purpose and Direction: Both meaning and competence involve having a sense of purpose and direction in life. While meaning focuses on the significance of actions, competence relates to the ability to pursue those actions effectively, that is, having the appropriate skill and know-how to do.
  • Achievement: Both concepts involve the idea of achievement. In the quest for meaning, individuals often seek to achieve personal and existential goals, while competence is about achieving practical and tangible goals.
  • Confidence: Competence and confidence go hand in hand. Feeling competent in one’s abilities boosts confidence, which can lead to a greater sense of meaning as individuals feel empowered to pursue their life’s purpose.

The commonalities between meaning and competence lie in their shared emphasis on direction, achievement, and confidence. While meaning is often associated with the significance of actions and connections, competence is more focused on the practical skills and effectiveness required to achieve meaningful goals. Together, they contribute to a well-rounded sense of personal acievement and a richer understanding of what it means to live a purposeful life.

The Commonalities: Beauty vs Relatedness (Belonging)

Beauty includes the idea of finding beauty in various aspects of life, including human relationships, compassion, and positive contributions to the world. Relatedness (belonging), as a fundamental psychological need in Self-Determination Theory (SDT), relates to the desire for meaningful connections and relationships with others. It’s about feeling understood, cared for, and a sense of belonging within social groups. Here are the commonalities between them:

  • Human Connections: Both beauty and relatedness emphasize the importance of human connections. Beauty often arises from positive and meaningful interactions with others, while relatedness is inherently about forming these connections.
  • Emotional Bonds: Beauty and relatedness are intertwined with emotional bonds. Beautiful moments often evoke strong emotions, and relatedness involves forming emotional bonds with individuals or groups.
  • Positive Impact: Beauty can be found in positive contributions to the world, just as relatedness involves a sense of belonging and connection to a larger social context. Both concepts contribute to a sense of collective well-being.

The commonalities between beauty and relatedness lie in their shared emphasis on human connections, emotional bonds, and positive impact. While beauty focuses on the aesthetic and emotional aspects of these connections, relatedness is centered on the need for meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging. Together, they contribute to a deeper understanding of how our connections with others can add beauty and richness to our lives, ultimately enhancing our sense of well-being and fulfillment.

The Commonalities: Purpose vs Autonomy

Purpose in life involves having a clear sense of direction, meaning, and intention in one’s actions and choices. It’s about understanding one’s values, passions, and long-term goals and aligning one’s life with these guiding principles. Autonomy, as another of the basic psychological needs in Self-Determination Theory (SDT), relates to the desire to act in line with one’s values and interests, free from external pressures or constraints, taking ownership for one’s decisions and actions. Here are some commonalities between them:

  • Direction and Choice: Both purpose and autonomy involve a sense of direction and choice. Purpose provides a clear direction for one’s life, while autonomy grants the freedom to choose and act in alignment with that purpose.
  • Alignment with Values: Purpose and autonomy share a strong connection with personal values. Purpose aligns with values by giving life a clear sense of meaning, while autonomy allows individuals to make choices that reflect their values.
  • Intrinsic Motivation: Both concepts encourage intrinsic motivation. When individuals have a clear purpose, they are more likely to be internally motivated to pursue their goals. Autonomy, likewise, builds intrinsic motivation by allowing individuals to pursue what genuinely matters to them.
  • Personal Responsibility: Purpose and autonomy both entail a sense of personal responsibility. Purpose encourages individuals to take responsibility for their actions in pursuit of their life’s mission. Autonomy empowers individuals to take responsibility for the choices they make.

The commonalities between purpose and autonomy revolve around direction, choice, alignment with values, intrinsic motivation, and personal responsibility. Both concepts are integral to personal development and achievement, as they provide individuals with a clear sense of purpose and the autonomy to pursue it authentically and meaningfully.

The components of a well-lived life and the basic human needs in Self-Determination Theory share common themes of autonomy, relatedness, competence, purpose, meaning, and beauty. They both emphasize the importance of fulfilling these needs to achieve psychological health and well-being, whether on an individual or collective level. Recognizing these parallels can guide individuals and societies in fostering a sense of flourishing and achievement in various aspects of life.

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