Once upon a time, a wise person said, “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the number of moments that take our breath away.”
Yes, we can all agree that we don’t feel alive by simply breathing. We feel alive when we have joyful experiences. Passing through time like a robot is not fulfilling and joyful at all. Life becomes much more joyful when our minutes, hours, days, months, and years fill up with activities that bring on physiological and psychological satisfaction and contentment. Again, we can all agree that the entire human race desires joy and many people search for it like it is a hidden treasure. But it is not. Perhaps, a look at man’s hierarchy of needs can provide us a key to opening the door to a joyful life.
Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist also known as the father of humanistic psychology, believed that every human has a strong desire for joy and to realize his or her full potential. Maslow went further and developed the hierarchy of needs theory. He placed all of human needs, physiological and psychological, on a pyramid to show how man ascends upward through each stage toward fulfillment, joy, and self actualization. Based on Maslow’s theory of needs, every one of us must have our most basic needs met before we could feel fulfilled and experience joy and contentment.
According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we first need to have our physiological needs of clean air, clean water, food, sleep, sex, homeostasis, and excretion met. Our physiological needs are important for survival and if not met the body will simply die.
Once the physiological needs are satisfied, man seeks personal, physical, and financial security. In this phase our safety needs depend on having shelter, physical safety from harm and violence, having a job, healthcare and welfare to provide us protection. In the absence of such security and presence of abuse, violence, and war people experience post-traumatic stress disorder and live in constant anxiety.
When our physiological and safety needs are satisfied then we seek love and belonging, which are psychological needs; in this phase we are ready to share ourselves with others like family and friends in interpersonal relationships. Presence of abuse or deficiencies in this phase can impact an individual’s ability to form and maintain emotionally significant relationships such as friendship, intimacy, and family. We need to be accepted and satisfy our need for belonging. When this need for belonging is not satisfied, it can lead us to loneliness, anxiety, and depression. The need for belonging can override physiological and security needs.
Maslow has also noted esteem as a need for human beings. We humans have a need for self respect and to be respected by others. Esteem is a desire for all to be accepted and valued by others. Based on this people need to develop an activity or activities that give them a sense of value. Deficiencies in this level can lead to low self esteem and an inferiority complex. Maslow noted esteem needs as gaining recognition, fame, prestige as well as gaining strength, mastery, self confidence, and independence. Deprivation of these needs can lead to an inferiority complex and helplessness.
Maslow placed self actualization at the top of the pyramid. Self actualization is the need for humans to become more and more what they are and to achieve their full potential. Need for Self-actualization occurs when individuals reach a state of harmony and understanding because they have achieved their full potential. Once a person has reached the self actualization state they focus on themselves and try to build their own image. They may look at this in terms of feelings such as self confidence or by accomplishing a set goal. This need for self-actualization is specific and individualistic. For example, one individual may desire to become a good parent, another to become a good athlete, and another to become a great poet, or a scientist. In order for us to achieve this level, we not only have to have satisfied our physiological needs, but also our need for security, love, and esteem, and actually master them as well.
Later, Viktor Frankl, a Viennese Neurologist and psychiatrist, created and added self-transcendence theory to the hierarchy of needs, which simply means going beyond one self, growing spiritually and turning life’s challenges into an inner triumph.
Maslow named the first four of the five levels of the theory of needs “Deficit needs” or “D-need.” This means that if we don’t have enough of one the four needs, we will crave to receive what we are deficient in. Once the deficiencies are satisfied, then we can move forward to meet the next level needs.
Satisfying our human needs is extremely important in order for us to be happy, feel fulfilled, and lead a joyful life. Studying and understanding of human hierarchy of needs is a great tool in discovering deficiencies in our own lives and the lives of other human beings. Understanding our needs presents us a chance to satisfy those needs and move forward in attaining a joyful life.
Frozan Safiari is a humanist and freelance writer.