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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

On the anxology website we are looking at the routes to a better life. What is it we need to do to become happier? How can we affect change in our life so that the change is for the better?

It is true that two people in identical circumstances can have very different feelings about themselves. One can feel positive and happy, whilst the second is unhappy. Some individuals can achieve great wealth and be unsatisfied so turn their attention to world domination and conquest; others achieve a much smaller income, sufficient to meet their needs, and feel fulfilled. So there is no accounting for all people, though the majority of us will fall into the hierarchy of needs as described by Maslow.

Maslow studied people who were considered to be in the top 1% of achievers and attempted to understand how these individuals grew through their lives and how they became successful. His conclusions, though far from being universally agreed upon, form the basis for many ideas in the fields of sociology, education and business management. The main idea is known as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs
CC BY-SA by wilgengebroed

Usually represented as a pyramid Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs describes a number of levels which need to be fulfilled before a human can reach a self-actualised state. It is not that clear what self-actualisation is but to be at our most creative, our most content and to be performing to our full potential would to some extent describe what Maslow means. To climb the steps of the pyramid each need of the lower levels has to be satisfied.

At the lowest level there are the physiological needs. Maslow thought them to be food, water, sex, sleep, breathing and excretion. Critics have claimed that sex should be higher up the pyramid. Monks and nuns for example practice celibacy so as to reach a higher spiritual level whilst some engage in abstinence as they believe abstinence will build up energy levels. Personally I am not sure why excretion is on there. If you are desperate to go then that is a definite block to high levels of creativity but it is only a temporary condition. It is not like being in constant need of food and water.

The second level concerns security or the need to feel safe: Physical security, financial security, good health and freedom from worrying about potential accidents or adverse conditions. In a struggling economy, for example, financial security can be met with a secure job. In a fast growing economy an individual will feel more secure and be willing to take more risks. At this level we see people planning for adversity by taking out insurance to protect against adverse circumstance. If you find yourself in a war-zone, in the midst of a natural disaster or in an abusive home environment then that will undermine your feelings of security at this level of the pyramid.

Level three of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs deals with the need for love and belonging. Our social needs are mostly taken care of within a family unit but can be found in any social group that helps to build a sense of belonging. Lack of belonging can manifest itself in social anxiety and depression. Aside from family groups a sense of belonging can be found in the workplace, in religious groups, through a sports team and for some, being part of a gang. The last example opens up the notion that sometimes, though the sense of belonging is fulfilled, the overbearing consequence of peer-pressure may actually prove to be more negative to the individuals life. We can then see that all groups, of whichever kind, can ultimately be a negative group to belong to.

Having a sense of belonging helps us to climb the pyramid to level four. The level at which we find self-esteem. We get self-esteem in two ways. The first is by feeling that we are respected by others. The second and more important way of achieving high self-esteem is through self-respect. Sometimes we have to ignore a lack of respect from others as such respect may be withheld or not given because of deficiencies in other people. This is why self-worth is more important: Our own self-confidence, inner-strength and knowledge of our own mastery of some ability being the ultimate arbiter of our own sense of self. We can get this feeling of high self-esteem through success in work or through a hobby or other activity.

Finally we have the top of the pyramid, which is self-actualisation. Here the individual is operating at their full potential. Maslow thought this is where a human decides what it is they wish to achieve and how they are going to achieve it. For some being a good parent or good member of society is their goal. For others it will be high wealth and power which they will strive for. But, to give yourself the best chance of being able to strive for your ultimate goals, you must first pass through and master each of the levels in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

We hope the content of this website goes someway to helping you reach your own personal self-actualisation.