Maslow first introduced his concept of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation” and his subsequent book Motivation and Personality. This hierarchy suggests that people are motivated to fulfill basic needs before moving on to other, more advanced needs.While some of the existing schools of thought at the time (such as psychoanalysis and behaviorism) tended to focus on problematic behaviors, Maslow was much more interested in learning about what makes people happy and the things that they do to achieve that aim.
As a humanist, Maslow believed that people have an inborn desire to be self-actualized, that is, to be all they can be. In order to achieve these ultimate goals, however, a number of more basic needs must be met such as the need for food, safety, love, and self-esteem.There are five different levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Let’s take a closer look at Maslow’s needs starting at the lowest level, which are known as physiological needs.
From Basic to More Complex Needs
One of Maslow’s lasting and most significant contributions to psychology is what he calls the “hierarchy of needs.” In his quest to understand human motivation and the pursuit of happiness, he formulated a list of basic human needs that had to be fulfilled for maximum psychological health. Through his interviews and studies, he came to categorize a hierarchical list of needs that need be fulfilled for increasing life satisfaction:
1. Physiological Needs
The Physiological Needs such as breathing, food, drink, sleep, sex, excretion are largely (and obviously) biological and physical requirements. When they are not fulfilled, people become preoccupied with filling those needs above all else.
For example, starving people in a war zone can be oblivious to danger when in search of food (Maslow, 1987, pp. 15-17).
2. Safety needs
Once the basic needs are fulfilled, other needs invariably arise (Maslow, 1987, pp. 17-18). In Maslow’s hierarchy, the safety needs come after the physiological needs. Maslow used the word “safety” to mean more than just physical safety. Economic, social, vocational, psychological security all fall underneath this second tier of human needs. While safety needs are less immediate or demanding than the physiological needs, when one loses one’s job, family, home, life savings, health insurance, etc, one is likely to feel terribly insecure and unprotected.
Fulfilling the safety needs might be likened to providing a bumper or airbags on a car; while you don’t always need them, having them gives you some confidence that you can face minor bumps and bruises along the road of life (Maslow, 1987, pp. 18-20).
3. Belongingness and love needs
As social beings, family, friendships and intimate connections get many people through the ups and downs of life. Numerous studies have shown that the healthiest, happiest people tend to be more involved in their communities. While there is debate on whether one causes the other is unclear, there is some sense that having wider social connections and relationships are an important part of being happy.
Lack of interactions, human relationships and the sense of belonging may result in depression or loneliness while an abundance of love and community often sustain people through difficult times (Maslow, 1987, pp. 20-21).
4. Esteem needs
Maslow felt there was a clear distinction between love and respect or esteem. He felt that an ability to feel self-esteem and personal uniqueness sprung from being loved and embraced by families and communities. As individuals, we naturally wish to excel or be exceptional, to be noticed for our unique talents and capabilities.
Once one has some measure of self-esteem and confidence, one gains the psychological freedom to be creative and to grow as well as to be more generous to others (Maslow, 1987, pp. 21-22).
What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially.
This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming. (Maslow, 1954, Motivation and Personality, p. 93)
The top ‘pier’ of Maslow’s hierarchy is dubbed “self-actualization.” Maslow studied happy people in order to determine what it was that made them happy or, self-actualized (Maslow, 1987, p. 22).
Self-actualizing people enjoy life in general and practically all its aspects, while most other people enjoy only stray moments of triumph … (Maslow, 1999, p. 37)
Maslow refers to peak experiences as the experience of happiness. He notes above that self-actualized people tend to experience a steadier, grounded sense of well-being and satisfaction with life. According to Maslow, self-actualizing people perceive reality accurately; they have a sense of awe, wonder and gratitude about life. They are not self-centered but rather problem-centered and focus on how to improve and are not deficiency-centered. They are independent thinkers and are not overly influenced by the general culture. Their sense of humor is not sarcastic or hurtful but rather “life-affirming” with a philosophical sense of humor. They have a deeply felt sense of kinship with the human race.