4 dangers facing young people seeking personal fulfillment

In the 1940s, Maslow proposed his hierarchy of human needs. While society may have changed a great deal since then, those same categories of needs still apply today.

"In times like these, however, their hierarchical order is debatable, since that is dependent on the culture, the individual and the setting. Certain needs may be more or less important depending on whether a person is at work, at home or with family," explains Marie Lachance, professor of consumer science at Université Laval.

One thing's for sure, the role consumerism plays in satisfying our needs is growing. According to Dr. Lachance, "the difference with today's consumer society, as compared with that of the 1950s, is that we tend to satisfy all of our fundamental needs by consuming an increasing number of goods and services."

4 steps to satisfying needs

1. There is a perceived deficiency.

Danger: A constant state of dissatisfaction

"It's hard to do anything without being a consumer nowadays," says Dr. Lachance. "The point is not to satisfy your needs without consuming anything, which is near impossible, but rather to keep your level of consumerism in check."

The problem is that consumption is our first resort in meeting our needs. "It's nothing new, but it is becoming more and more prevalent. The result is that our feeling of satisfaction quickly fades. For example, if I buy clothes to satisfy my need to be respected by others, it won't be long before I feel the need to buy more new clothes because fashion is always changing," explains Dr. Lachance.

2. An unmet need creates motivation.

Danger: "Screen" motivations

In adolescence, the need to belong is very powerful and influences young people's consumer behaviour. That's why it is imperative that their real motivations for meeting those needs be identified. This can be done by asking certain questions about their choices: Will your friends still like you if you don't wear the trendiest clothes? Will you still like your friend even if he or she doesn't have the coolest pair of shoes? Needs don't explain everything about consumerism though, as it can be a matter of personality, culture or other factors.

Consumerism is part of North American culture and most people shop a great deal. "Buying yourself a luxury item isn't necessarily bad, but having luxury goods has become the only way for some people to feel fulfilled," explains Dr. Lachance. Yet, there are countless other ways to fill the void: helping others, playing sports, practising an art form, taking classes, starting a business, and the list goes on.

3. Motivation drives the person to act.

Danger: Overconsumption

When it comes time to act, the same question always comes up: "Do I need this?" That query has become dated however, and people should instead be questioning the motivation behind their choices: "What need am I really trying to meet by buying this?" "What else could I be doing to meet that need?" Acting on your need may lead you to buy one item, or you may end up purchasing a bunch of things. There's a difference between buying a good pair of runners to train in and buying a new pair of shoes every week.

"You can't force kids to dress like people did 25 years ago; they don't dress like that anymore and they have their own style. But Dr. Lachance says there are boundaries. "As parents, you need to be aware of those boundaries and apply them in your everyday life. It will be hard to convey the message to kids if you fulfill all your needs by consuming a ton of goods and services."

4. The need is met as a result of the person's actions.

Danger: Fleeting satisfaction

Recent studies suggest that a life experience provides a greater sense of fulfillment than buying things. Making a purchase requires little effort and is quick to accomplish, but the ensuing satisfaction tends to be short lived.

Experience, on the other hand, is more complex. It requires more energy and effort, but the payoff is greater in the end. "For kids, an experience like a trip, an activity or an outing with a parent, whether it's thrilling, unique or something simple, is more deeply satisfying than buying things. The same is true for adults as well," adds Dr. Lachance.

To do with children

Discover our educational activities about consumption and prioritizing needs: