Steven Reiss and the 16 Human Desires, part one

Steven Reiss provided another level of clarity on human motivation, saying that there are 16 basic desires we all share.

Steven Reiss was, like Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist who studied human motivation.

His life’s work—or at least the work for which he’s important to us as copywriters—involved looking at thousands of people…

And identifying 16 basic human desires.

Maslow told us what drives us as human animals. But Reiss provided another level of clarity, saying “We may know what people are subconsciously driven to strive for… But I can tell you what they think they want.

Here are the first eight of the 16 basic desires Reiss says we all share.


We want social approval from others. We want to be included in society and social groups. This desire stretches all the way back to caveman days, where being excluded could mean death. 


Tony Robbins calls this “variety.” But whatever name you give it, this desire is what pushes us to go out and learn new things or have new experiences.

Reiss hypothesized that curiosity is evolution at work; by constantly trying to change, we’re subconsciously practicing adapting to new challenges and environments so we don’t die.


We need food to live, of course, but it’s also become a social experience for us.

This is why you see things like family dinner at Thanksgiving, “let’s do lunch,” and “Hey if you’re not busy I was wondering if maybe you wanted to get a bite to eat.”


Family is a big driver, and not just because politicians or churches say it should be. Most of us just love being around the people in our clan.

It’s the reason we rush to post baby pictures on Facebook, or the pride we feel when our kids have kids of their own. And it’s the thinking behind the saying “Blood is thicker than water.” Kinship matters.


Honor is the feeling that our actions and our values line up—and that people respect us for that. You see, without other people, honor is simply pride… So being predictable and consistent in front of others is what’s important here.


Sometimes when you hold on to an ideal—whether it’s “Jesus died for my sins,” or “I don’t want to work any more than four hours a week,” it helps you get through the trials and tribulations of life.

For an extreme example, look at Viktor Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning. He survived the brutality of a Nazi concentration camp, in large part because he gave himself something to live for—sharing his experience with the world so he could help make sure the same horror never happened to anyone else.


We’re social animals, which means we love groups. But we also love, love, love to feel unique and independent. In fact, even as we cling to others, we get much of our identity from a sense of individuality.


Order means predictability, and predictability a weapon against chaos. It gives us control. That’s important, of course, no matter whether you’re trying to appease a vengeful god with a sacrifice at the altar, or planning your day so it doesn’t get away from you.

Eight more on the way

This stuff fascinates me, but to avoid getting carried away I’ve broken up Reiss’ 16 needs into two posts. You can find part two in my next post.

Steven Reiss and the 16 Human Desires, part one
Steven Reiss and the 16 Human Desires, part two
Steve Reiss in the real world

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