Lately, I have encountered the “Hierarchy of Needs” by Abraham Maslow several times when discussing wellness, well-being, and work-life balance. Harken back to basic psychology, marketing and business classes, and you might remember Maslow’s pyramid with physiological needs as the base, safety needs, community and love needs, self-esteem needs, and finally self-actualization up at the top. The fact that he published these in 1943 in Psychological Review (50, 370-396) does not take away from their relevance today.
Psychological needs like food, water, warmth, and sleep, are expected to be fulfilled by “civilized” societies either through work or charity. We can assume that those lucky enough to be employed have these met at some level.
Safety and security needs seem to suffer most directly from turbulent economies and terrorist actions. Threats to our financial and physical security (including personal safety) prevent progress to higher states of being – and ultimately happiness. Psychologically, we react to threats to safety and security similarly. Nevertheless, we may sacrifice personal safety for the increased security of a regular paycheck.
The need for love and community, though higher in Maslow’s hierarchy, can provide support for improving security through a sense of belonging, and physiological needs through charity. It is through community and connections that we help each other.
Self-esteem needs are fulfilled by a sense of personal accomplishment and the recognition by others of that accomplishment. Thank you notes, public recognition, and awards fuel our self-esteem, and create positive feedback for our actions. A person with a high level of self-esteem is more likely to progress to the final level, self-actualization.
Few of us are lucky enough to realize our greatest potential and highest level of creativity early in our lives. It may take us a while to even find what we like doing the best. Self-actualization is discovering our true “purpose” in the greater community. It is where we pay back and forward the support that we have received without need for recognition.
The world is a dynamic place. Good and bad can come quickly. Threats at any of the above levels ripple up and down the pyramid. Reaching out to request or provide assistance can help us all get through the bad times and celebrate the good. Complimenting others can help them realize their potential. Provide positive thoughts especially when others are having trouble finding them.