The 5 Needs in Life

By Wendy Swenson, LCSW

Now that most of us are back in the “school mode” starting with getting to bed earlier, arranging time for study and play, as well as keeping a balance in our life; we can quickly feel overwhelmed with all the demands.

Have you heard of “The 5 Needs in Life”? These are simple, yet not always easy, and will help you keep a balance in your life if you will take time to consider how you are doing with each one. We all share these needs; come what may, we will try to meet these needs, so will our children, friends and relatives. These needs do not change, however, the ways we meet the needs does change with our age and circumstances. Although the needs are basic they are also multi-layered and meeting them in healthy ways can take some thought and action on our part.

The 5 Needs
In a nut shell, these five needs are:

1.    Staying Alive: The obvious things that we quickly think of: water, food, shelter, and clothing, but also our emotional and spiritual health are essential to being fully alive. We have community resources to help with food and clothing; we have homeless shelters, transitional houses, spiritual care supports and a variety of other resources when needed. You can call the Department of Social Service in your area if you need assistance. There is no shame in needing a hand; no one is an island. If you need help, get help now and you can help others down the road.

2.    Love and Belonging: Learning to love your self is essential. Feeling we are truly loved and cherished by others is important. Love means being honored, respected, cared about deeply and being able to communicate that to one another. Belonging refers to the family and community alike. Sometimes when we are aching to fit in, to feel loved and to belong, we make negative choices that can last a lifetime. No one is perfect and we can make changes when needed. Discover your “Love Language” online: and explore this with your family too.

3.    Freedom and Boundaries: We have more freedom than we realize in America, yet so many lose their freedom through depression, anxiety, phobia’s, eating disorders, as well as drug and alcohol abuse. We can get lost in living and forget we are responsible for our life; sometimes we need help to make tough choices or hard changes, so we can live with more freedom. It is good to seek help when needed.  We have the ability to set boundaries with our body, time and money. Be careful. Learn to identify exactly where you and your family want to invest your energy and time; set healthy boundaries in all areas.

4.    Power: We have the power of choice. Our thoughts make an impact on our choices. As adults we realize we are responsible for our lives and know we have the ability to make changes. Our children learn about power by watching us; we teach with our actions and words. Living a life of peaceful power will go further than we realize at times; we teach by example. We can develop the power we have in our own life by taking a fresh look at who we are and who we are becoming by the daily choices.

5.    Fun: There is nothing like fun to reduce stress, take care of all the needs above, and make life better. Yet, did you think of fun as a need? It really is and as you learn to have fun in a variety of ways, life in general is better. Fun matters. Fun does not need to cost a penny either.

Focus your family time
Taking time to talk about the needs at home will increase and enhance communication, help each one to understand the other better, teach principles, and just have fun learning. Here are several ideas:

  •    You can have contests with your children by putting up a poster with all the 5 needs listed, paste an envelope under each one. Be on the lookout for how you meet the needs in your family; also observe what you see on TV, songs you hear, books read, school lessons,  put an index card with how the need was met in the appropriate envelope. Each week see who has the most, then at the end of the month, celebrate, talk and enjoy learning together.
  •     Teach empathy at home. Before we throw stones at another, let’s consider what need could be at the root of a behavior.  Is someone acting inappropriately while trying to meet a basic need? This is not an excuse but can be an explanation. We can only change what we can identify. As we gain an understanding of how we meet our needs, we can begin to see how others are trying to meet their needs too.
  •     Use The 5 Needs workbook series (available through as family time conversation builder. Let children earn rewards for doing the workbooks (reading and writing in any form can help with education) and share what they learned.  You may be surprised what you learn.
  •     Have grandparents do any of the workbooks and use the information to strengthen family relationships. (I did the one for elementary students “Kids have Needs” as an adult at the suggestion of a friend, and it was amazing. Tyr it, you may find out things about yourself too like I did).

Lessons for all ages
Anyone, at any age, can begin to understand The 5 Needs and learn we are more alike than different. As we gain insight using The 5 Needs we can change the questions: “What is wrong with me?” to “What do I need?” “What is wrong with them?” to “What do they need?” Then set out to learn healthy ways to meet the needs.

Our attitudes and behaviors are indeed a direct reflection of how we do or do not meet our daily needs in life. Life is a journey; enjoy the process, be a life learner and keep growing throughout your life.

Have fun! 🙂

Wendy Swenson is a licensed clinical social worker in Culpeper. For more information about her work visit or email her at


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