What gives us a sense of well-being? On the other hand, what is the root cause of human conflict and suffering? There are many ways to approach these questions, including biological, psychological, and sociological levels of analysis. Here I lay the foundation for a theory of social needs that can help us understand what contributes to human flourishing.
Human beings have social needs that are just as important as our biological need for food. In the same way we may risk death by starvation if we stop eating, those whose social needs are not met may find themselves at risk of a form of extreme emotional pain that leads to thoughts of suicide.
Our fundamental need is a perceived sense of personal significance, achieved through a perceived sense of both social belonging and social contribution.
When either of these social needs are not met and our sense of personal significance is threatened, we compensate through fight or flight responses in an attempt to restore or escape our lost sense of significance. Fight responses include displays of superiority and displays of power. Displays of superiority include harnessing status symbols or sabotaging others, and displays of power include aggressive attempts to control or manipulate others. Flight responses include social withdrawal.
When our sense of significance is fulfilled, we experience a high degree of subjective well-being, feel a strong sense of identity, belonging, interpersonal connection, social support, and maintain the sense that our efforts are contributing to a cause beyond ourselves.
A more in-depth elaboration on the variables will be explored in a potential future article. The empirical and conceptual foundations of this theory are derived from the sociological and psychological literature listed below:
Two comprehensive models of human needs: Max-Neefs Matrix and Hugh Mackay’s list
Two models of suicidal risk: Durkheim’s typology and Joiner’s Interpersonal Theory
Two models of identity: Charles Taylor’s Moral horizons and Herminia Ibarra’s concept of Working Identity
Two recent studies on subjective well-being: A study inquiring into Needs and Subjective Well-Being and a study on Quality of Life
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