I Want What I Want - Decoding the 16 Core Human Desires

I Want What I Want - Decoding the 16 Core Human Desires

Jun 10, 2022

“You cannot create a desire; you can only direct it” 

   - Eugene Schwartz 

Let's cut to the chase. The real power behind successful marketing comes from the market itself, not from the ad copy. An ad cannot generate desire for a product; it can only tap into the hopes, dreams, fears, and desires already present in people's hearts and guide those existing desires toward a particular product. This is the copywriter's role: not to create these desires, but to channel and direct them.  

Our goal in developing our marketing strategy is to identify the desires already present in our prospects, determine how our offerings can fulfill those desires, and craft a narrative that links these preexisting desires to what we provide.

The question then is: what does your prospect desire? 

Stephen Reiss (author of the book ‘Who Am I’) and his colleagues aimed to address this issue through research, surveying thousands of people to understand universal human motives, desires, and the intrinsic feelings associated with each other. Their findings proposed 16 universal human desires, from which 16 universal goals can be derived. The concept is that everyone values these basic desires to some extent, with individual differences arising from how we prioritize and express them. 

16 Universal Desires that Drive Behavior 

  • Power 

    End Goals - Leadership Position, Expertise and Mastery 

    Associated Emotion – Authority, Confidence 

    Intrinsic feeling – Influence, Legacy 

    Examples - 

    Apple: Known for its influential leadership in innovation and design. 

    Google: Expertise in search engines and technology solutions.

  • Independence 

    End Goals - Financial Independence, Self-Sufficiency 

    Associated Emotion – Security, Accomplishment 

    Intrinsic feeling – Freedom, Autonomy 

    Examples -  

    Shopify: Enabling entrepreneurs to create and manage their online stores.  

    Robinhood: Empowering individuals to invest in the stock market without fees. 

  • Curiosity 

    End Goals - Lifelong Learning, Exploration & Innovation 

    Associated Emotion – Excitement, Thrill 

    Intrinsic feeling – Discovery, Enlightenment 

    Examples -  

    National Geographic: Sharing stories and images from explorations around the world. 

    NASA: Exploring space and sharing discoveries with the public. 

  • Acceptance 

    End Goals - Building a Supportive Community, Achieving Social Validation 

    Associated Emotion – Belonging, Recognition 

    Intrinsic feeling – Connection, Inclusion 

    Examples - 

    Facebook: Connecting people with friends and communities online. 

    Discord: Creating communities around shared interests and hobbies. 

  •  Order 

    End Goals - Organized Living Space, Structured Learning 

    Associated Emotion – Control, Stability 

    Intrinsic feeling – Accomplishment, Comfort 

    Examples - 

    IKEA: Providing functional furniture and storage solutions to keep spaces organized. 

    Duolingo: Using a structured approach to language learning. 

  • Saving 

    End Goals - Budgeting and Expense Management, Building Wealth through Investments 

    Associated Emotion – Excitement,  

    Intrinsic feeling – Growth,  

    Examples - 

    E*TRADE: Offering investment accounts and tools for individual investors. 

    PocketGuard: Helping users keep track of their spending and save money. 

  • Honour 

    End Goals - Achieving Professional Recognition, Community Leadership 

    Associated Emotion – Pride, Admiration 

    Intrinsic feeling – Validation, Contribution 

    Examples - 

    LinkedIn: Providing a platform to showcase professional achievements and endorsements. 

    Glassdoor: Offering a space for employees to review and be recognized by their employers. 

  •  Idealism 

    End Goals - Advancing Human Rights,  

    Associated Emotion – Determination, Humanity 

    Intrinsic feeling – Integrity, Purpose 

    Examples - 

    Human Rights Watch: Investigating and reporting on human rights abuses worldwide. 

    TOMS: Operating a one-for-one model to support communities in need with every purchase. 


What insights have you gained from reflecting on these 16 universal human desires and motives? Did you allow yourself to recognize a part of yourself, no matter how small, within each universal desire? Once you become consciously aware of your authentic desires and motives, you naturally experience a sense of freedom and responsibility that comes with that knowledge. What actions and changes are you willing to make in your daily life to bring those authentic desires into reality?