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The Importance of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

The description of a hierarchy of needs is based on the work of Psychologist Abraham Maslow from 1943 through 1970. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is a motivational theory in psychology originally consisting of a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as hierarchical levels within a pyramid.

According to Maslow, everything we do is derived from and revolves around a certain need we are seeking to satisfy. Initially, Maslow said that one must satisfy lower level needs before moving on to meet higher level growth needs. He later modified that claim. So, some lower level needs may not be met before satisfying higher level needs or are satisfied later on. For example, a person who lives in poverty can still develop loving relationships and build self-esteem.

Once the basic needs are met, the individual seeks love and belongingness. These needs are met through satisfying relationships with family members, friends, workplace interactions and online. Developing meaningful relationships with others are important to building self-esteem because they imply acceptance by others.

Self-esteem needs arise from close relationships that develop positive feelings of self-worth. Maslow classified esteem needs into two categories: (1) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, independence) and (2) the desire for reputation or respect from others (status, prestige). Individuals at this level act to build pride in their work and themselves as people. Maslow suggested that people need both esteem from other people as well as inner self-respect. Both need to be met before self-actualizing. If a person does not feel good about him or herself and others don’t value relationships with them, it wouldn’t seem that a self-fulfilling life could occur.

The first four levels of Maslow’s hierarchy are essential for a person’s well-being. Happiness results from satisfying relationships that build self-esteem while meaningfulness results from a feeling of self-worth, gaining recognition for one’s work and pride in accomplishments. These are referred to by Maslow as the deficiency needs. When these needs have been ‘more or less’ satisfied it will go away, and our activities become directed to growth needs. The growth needs are the upper four levels. Illustration-based-on-Maslows-Hierarchy-of-Needs-HoN-described-in-2-p2-104

Originally, self-actualization was the highest need in the hierarchy. Self-actualization was “loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capabilities, potentialities, personalities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing…They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable.”

In the revised model, Maslow described two new levels between self-esteem and self-actualization. One is cognitive needs, including knowledge and meaning in life and understanding. Through knowledge and understanding of life’s circumstances, an individual is better equipped to self-actualize and contribute to the betterment of others.

Maslow believed that humans have the need to increase their intelligence and thereby pursue knowledge in all its forms including aesthetic ones. Aesthetic needs refer to appreciation of beauty, balance, and form. It relates to the quality of being creatively, beautifully, or artistically pleasing.

In his later thinking, Maslow argued that there is a higher level of development, what he called self-transcendence. We achieve this level by focusing on things beyond the self like altruism, spiritual awakening, liberation from self-interested behavior, and the unity of being.

Peak experiences are important to achieving a transcendent state. These are moments of pure joy and elation that stand out from everyday events. The memory of such events is lasting and people often liken them to a spiritual experience.

Peak experiences are exceptional periods in one’s life in which one’s talents are maximized. There is an expression in sports of ‘playing in the zone.’ These are peak experiences where the athlete feels everything is going right and they transcend their usual limits of performance and go to a higher level.

While self-actualization refers to filling one’s own potential, transcendence refers to attending to the needs of others. Transcendent experiences bring a clearer vision of the ideal…of what ought to be, what actually could be,…and therefore of what might be brought to pass. We can think of transcendence as having concern for society – where it is headed and why – and, indeed, all the world.

The upper four levels of the hierarchy constitute a person’s growth needs. These can never be satisfied completely. Unlike the deficiency needs where satisfying them lessens the need, the individual’s motivation to pursue growth needs increases. The more they are satisfied, the more people pursue them. For example, the more one comes to understand, the more one becomes motivated to learn more and grow as individuals.

Knowing the components of the Hierarchy enables us to works towards its highest goals – self-actualization and transcendence. However, we can’t accomplish these goals alone. We should seek out relationships with people who build our self-esteem and provide growth and development opportunities. Stay away from those who care more about their own needs and little about yours. They tend to be egoistic and not helpful to achieving our highest goals in life.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on March 6, 2019. Visit Steve’s website and sign up for his newsletter. Follow him on Facebook and “Like” his page.