First World Problems: Basic Needs in a World of Abundance - Kimberly Thompson

This article is the second in the Taking Care of #1 series, about the hierarchy of human needs, how we experience those needs, and what we can do to help ourselves reach toward higher-order living.

 The first article in this series, Taking Care of #1, introduced Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, and how lower-order needs must be met and stabilized before the individual can move to needs in the higher orders. The first step in the hierarchy are physiological needs – air, water, food, sleep, clothing, shelter, and sex.

For all but the most poverty-stricken, people in developed countries have these most basic needs met. Or do we? The very facts of industrialization, mass production of goods, and an enormously complex society has led to some curious twists, including our tendency to sabotage ourselves.


Smoking. We all know that smoking is bad for us, right? Then how come there are so many people still lighting up? It pollutes the air around us and at the same time damages our lungs. COPD, asthma, and lung cancer compromise our bodies’ ability to make use of the air around us. I’m not a smoking cessation expert, but if you’re smoking – find a physician and/or a treatment program to help you. Please.

Sedentary Lifestyles. Your cardiovascular system gets stronger as you work it. The fitter you are, the more efficient your heart and lungs are. It doesn’t matter what activity you choose as long as you get your body moving. Get that air flowing! If you can’t manage it on your own, seek out a trainer, a class or a group to make it easier.


Obesity and Junk Food. Obesity is killing too many of us. Some people overeat because they are stuffing down their emotions; others because they have gut problems; still others overeat because their bodies crave the vitamins and minerals missing in their junk food diet. If you are an unhealthy weight – especially if you have unhealthy lab results – take it seriously! There are many programs out there – keep trying until you find one that sticks.

Eating Disorders. Then there are those who starve themselves, purge their bodies with vomiting or laxatives, or binge eat. It’s a kind of slow-motion suicide. While the source of an eating disorder is emotional, often people have to be medically stabilized before the emotional causes can be addressed. If you are resorting to extreme measures to control your weight or your eating habits, seek professional help. Start with your physician and gather a team of professionals together to help you recover.


Insomnia. Nobody can live to their highest potential on inadequate sleep. Trouble falling asleep or staying asleep interferes with the rejuvenation you need to function the next day.  You may be unable to let go of worries or responsibilities of the day, or your internal clock may be thrown off by using lighted screens close to bedtime. Implement a regimen of sleep hygiene (things you do to induce sleep naturally) or consult a therapist to deal with your anxiety.

Overwork. Too many of us think it’s a virtue to be chronically sleep deprived. Forget that! Cheating yourself out of sleep does not make you smarter, more successful, or harder working. It just makes you tired and cranky.


Dehydration. If you’re not getting 6 to 8 (8 oz.) glasses of water a day, you may not even feel thirsty. Your thirst will wake back up if you will get in the habit of pouring 64 oz. of filtered water into a container and making sure it is gone by the end of the day. Increase that amount when you’re exercising or outdoors in the heat.

Sodas. Here in Texas, every soda is a “coke.” None of them are water substitutes. In fact, their high sodium and phosphorus content may cause you to retain fluid and also may leach calcium from your bones (to maintain the delicate calcium-phosphorus balance in your blood).


High heels, bras, and Spanx have shaped our idea of female attractiveness and don’t really meet the basic need for clothing. The desire to belong, a higher-order need, is the drive behind wearing them. Sometimes you just want to fit in, and that’s natural. However, 90% of the time I just say no to heels. They are too uncomfortable and they are bad for my feet.

There comes a time when you have to ask yourself: If it hurts me, why am I wearing it?


Shelter is another area where a higher-order need – in this case, esteem – has taken over a basic need. Having a large, beautiful, well-appointed home in a prestigious neighborhood is a mark of status and importance for so many people.

On the other hand, the Tiny House movement is driven by other higher-order needs, such as financial security or environmental sustainability (another form of security). People whose job causes them to move a lot, who want to be out of debt, who live in areas where real estate is astronomical, and who want to radically reduce their carbon footprint are opting for homes less than 500 square feet in size.

Shelter is seldom just about shelter in our society. When making home decisions, consider your values and your higher-order needs before making a commitment.


Everybody has different sexual needs. Much of that is driven by physiology, with men typically needing sex more frequently than women. Sexual mores have changed quite a bit in the last 100 years (heck, they’ve changed a lot since I was a kid, and I grew up post-sexual-revolution). However, sexual activity is still governed by social acceptability and the higher-order need to belong.

Ever since Kinsey first reported on sexual habits back in the 1950s, medicine and psychology have been developing ways to help people who are unhappy with their sex lives. If this is you (or your partner), you don’t have to struggle alone. Find a professional who can pinpoint what is wrong and help you make it better.


I’m Dr. Kimberly Thompson, a clinical psychologist with a maternal mental health practice in Lubbock, TX. From pre-conception to the empty nest, mothers can work with me in-person and online. Download my free e-book, The Busy Mom’s Self-Care Planner, and bring yourself into your circle of care. You can also find my book, Perfect Mothers Get Depressed, on Amazon and the Praeclarus Press website.