In 1943, Abraham Maslow published his famous theory in psychology, now popularly known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Please see the pyramid below.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
According to Maslow, human beings have different types of needs that can be categorized into five levels, from the lowest to the highest:
According to the theory, only when lower level needs are satisfied, does an individual desire for higher level needs.
Level 1: Physiological needs:
These are basic needs such as air, water, food etc, without which it is impossible to survive.
It also includes basic needs of clothing and shelter to protect the body from the elements. The need for sex is also quite a strong need.
Level 2: Safety needs:
When physical needs are satisfied, the person looks to fulfill his security needs.
Safety needs include personal security, financial security, health etc.
Level 3: Love and belonging needs:
After safety needs are satisfied, an individual looks for love and belonging. there is a basic need to love and to be loved, both sexually and non-sexually by others. Lack of love can lead to loneliness and depression. Sometimes the need for love even overcomes the physiological and security needs.
Level 4: Esteem needs:
This includes self-respect and self-esteem. Self esteem is the normal human desire to be accepted and valued by others. There is a need to engage themselves to gain recognition and have an activity that gives the person a sense of contribution, to feel accepted and self-valued. These are split into two types of needs:
Lower self-esteem needs are the need for:
- Respect of others
Some higher self-esteem needs are the need for:
All the above levels of needs are called “Deficiency needs”, as a person is motivated to act by the lack of something that he values.
Level 5: Self-Actualization needs:
This is realizing a person’s full potential. Note that this is not meant in the spiritual perspective of gaining enlightentment, although it may come down to that for some people. Each person’s purpose is different, and also this can change as a person matures. Self-actualizing people are gratified in all their basic needs. Here the person is motivated for personal growth more than anything else. Here, there is no perceived lack, and hence Maslow calls this “Being-Needs”. The people who fall in this category are driven by purpose and are devoted to a a task “outside themselves”. They can be particularly talented at what they do.
There are many motivations behind the need for self-actualization’s. From a high level they can be categorized as any need for knowledge, beauty, and creativity. Some of these are the need for:
- Wholeness (unity)
- Perfection (balance and harmony)
- Completion (ending)
- Justice (fairness)
- Richness (complexity)
- Simplicity ( essence)
- Liveliness (spontaneity)
- Beauty (rightness of form)
- Goodness (benevolence)
- Uniqueness (individuality)
- Playfulness (ease)
- Truth (reality)
- Autonomy (self-sufficiency)
- Meaningfulness (values)
Do all people get to the level of self-actualization needs?
The important thing to note is that not all people that satisfy their basic needs automatically become driven by this self-actualization need. Many people who are wealthy are stuck at the lower levels trying to acquire more money, more power, more fame instead of the need to reach the full potential of their being. Other reasons people may not come into this level are:
- Poor childhood
- Lower economic conditions
- Inadequate education
- Anxieties and fears
What can we practically learn from this?
Each of us is acting from a different level of need. This is why it is not wise to judge others and prescribe to others a plan of action that works for us, as it may not be practical for the other person’s life.
- A person who is starving and struggling to have a roof over his head cannot appreciate spiritual knowledge. His stomach needs to be filled first.
- A person who never received much love from others throughout his life may crave to be loved so much that he or she may be willing to take an action that may be judged as immoral by some who are not operating out of that need.
- People who are driven by the self-actualization need may not be driven as much by the need to advance materially, which may not be understood by others who are not at the same level in the hierarchy of needs.
Understanding Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can thus help us appreciate what drives people to do what they are doing, and thus broaden our perspective, and be more accepting of others. It can also help evaluate ourselves and see where we are now with our needs, and where we want to go next.
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