“The more we learn about man’s natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to love, how to fulfill his highest potentialities”
It wasn’t very long ago that Psychologists main focus was on mental disorders rather than improving the human experience. Positive psychology was many decades away from being born when Abraham Maslow began researching the realm of happiness and human potential. Because of Maslow’s tenacious attitude, even in the face of rejection from the scientific community —Abraham Maslow went on to create one of the most profound theories on how to achieve happiness called the Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow performed a series of interviews and studies in order to create this theory that would come to shed light on what’s best for the human mind. These needs would later be called the “Hierarchy of Needs,” which describes what essentials your mind needs in order for you to obtain maximum psychological health.
- Physiological Needs: This is one of the most fundamental needs to the human body, without your physical needs being met, your mind cannot work to it’s potential. For example a starving soldier in a war torn country cannot do his best without first satisfying that primal need. In order to continue up the hierarchy, your hunger, thirst and all other physiological needs must be taken care of first because your mind will put a priority on these.
- Safety: When Maslow created this need, he didn’t mean to simply be out of physical harm. Maslow meant that your mind requires mental safety and a sense of feeling secure with yourself and your finances. For example, if you were to lose your job, this need would be unfulfilled and you would be struggling to mentally hold yourself up. Thus the reason we often feel like we’ve been knocked off our feet or vulnerable when we don’t have money or our significant other is looking like they might break things off.
- Belonging: The need to feel like you belong is one of the most profound feelings you can experience as a human being. We are social creatures and we thrive when we are part of a family or group of friends. Without the need of belonging being fulfilled, depression and sadness creeps in quite fast. We need to have someone to love or someone to confide in, to make our hearts feel better.
- Esteem: When you have a successful relationship and you know that you are loved and admired by your loved ones —you flourish and your self-esteem does too. That’s why Maslow understood that self-esteem is an essential marker of your happiness because it is what let’s you know that you’re worth something. That you belong somewhere and you have greatness within you, if only you look. And when you feel great about yourself, the effect trickles to you being more generous and loving towards others.
- Self-Actualization: The top tier of the hierarchy is the ability to know and realize your potential. Maslow studied in-depth many of the happiest people and he came to the conclusion that they all had one thing in common. They all knew that they were capable of change and improvement. Maslow went on to say that self-actualizing people perceive life and reality as it actually is. They view life with a sense of awe and wonder with them as part of the grand scheme. You could even say self-actualization is similar to the enlightening the Buddha experienced under the Bodhi tree. It is an understanding of your might and that ultimately, your life is in your hands.
Final Thoughts On Happiness
Abraham Maslow stressed that the bottom four needs of the hierarchy or pyramid are “deficiency needs”. Meaning that food, safety, love, and esteem are necessities for living life, not just happiness. If any one of those needs are not fulfilled the human will find ways to fulfill them, even if they cost them. Like when we feel lonely, we might try to remedy this loneliness with drugs or alcohol, which unfortunately never quite substantially fill the need.
It is only after we have fulfilled all of our four basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid, that we are able to climb up to the top of Maslow’s mountain. A true place of peace and balance, where all of the human principles are met and you are independent. Where you can truly think, without having to think about your needs first, just dream and fly away.
To Learn More About Happiness (References)
- Leslie, L. (August 11, 2010) The Psychology of Happiness. https://psyc.umd.edu/sites/psyc.umd.edu/files/Psychology%20of%20Happiness%20Syllabus%20Spring%202015.pdf
- Bolte. A (September, 2003) Abraham Maslow.
- Maslow, A.H. (1943). A Theory of Human Motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.