In 1943, Abraham Maslow developed a theory called the hierarchy of needs and was later published in his book, Motivation and Personality.
Today it’s still a very popular framework, and in essence, the theory captures humanity’s tendency to fulfil their needs in a certain order of priority.
As you look at the diagram, you’ll see the various levels that we can operate on. What’s fascinating is that throughout history, and across world cultures, humans have explored these definitions in a variety of ways. They can also be related to levels of mind, conscious states of being, elements or life energy.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is used to study how humans behave and what motivates them. Maslow used the terms “physiological,” “safety,” “belonging and love,” “social needs” or “esteem,” and “self-actualisation” to describe the progressive pattern through which human motivations tend to move.
Maslow’s theory explains that in order for motivation to arise at the next level, each level must be satisfied within the person in ascending order. Each of these individual levels requires a certain amount of internal drive or motivation that must be met in order for an individual to complete their hierarchy. The ultimate goal in Maslow’s theory is to attain the final state: self-actualization.
Although the theory might seem rigid, Maslow did accept that the progression might not always follow a linear process. For instance, some individuals might see creativity as more important than fulfilling some of their basic needs. However, we can all usually relate to the hierarchical pattern in our own lives. When some of our basic needs aren’t met, we lack the space, focus and sheer ability to progress in other parts of our lives and it seems that we’re somewhat held back in our growth.
These needs are easy to understand as they relate directly to our physical survival. These needs include
In order for these needs to be met, we require adequate nutrition, air, warmth and a proper shelter over our heads. If any of these essential needs are missing, there would be difficulties in our ability to function properly both physically and mentally.
Moving up the hierarchy are the safety needs. This is another basic need which is related to our primary requirement to be safe and secure in life. Here are some of the related needs at this basic level:
- Personal Security
- Financial Security
- Health and Wellbeing
Having a job, insurance and personal savings are all examples motivated by our need to feel safe and secure.
Love and Belonging Needs
Further up at the third level we have our love and belonging needs. These include love, acceptance, belonging and our emotional needs. Here are the related aspects at this level:
- Intimate Relationships
- Community or Social groups
So that we don’t feel lonely or anxious, it’s important at this level that we have satisfied our need for love and acceptance. This may also include other social groups that we might be involved in our local community.
At the fourth next level, we have esteem needs. This is the need for respect and appreciation, which includes achievement and recognition for it too. It may mean for an individual to have feelings of accomplishment, prestige, value and self-worth.
To fulfil this need, a person may have achieved certain professional, sporting or academic accomplishments. Or perhaps they might hold a prestigious position in their work or community. This helps to give a feeling of recognition and confidence in themselves and in others.
The peak of the hierarchy is the need for self-actualisation. Maslow summarised this in the quotation, “What a man can be, he must be.” At this level, individuals have the need to achieve their full potential as human beings. To understand this level of need, an individual must not just fulfil all the previous needs but to master them. Self-actualisation needs might mean:
- Pursuing goals
- Mastering a skill or ability
This level is less known and usually excluded. Self-transcendence sits at the pinnacle of the hierarchy of needs. In his later years, Maslow explored a further dimension of motivation, which is above the need for self-actualization.
The criticism of self-actualisation is that it was directed at the individual. Self-transcendence involves the expansion of beyond oneself, including, potentially, experiencing and living spiritual ideas. We might also relate to this as a form of positive altruism. At this level, there’s a desire to transcend and reach the infinite. This is where making a difference is a way of being, and we are fully embracing the idea of selfless service and compassion.