Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs is a theory in psychology, developed by a guy named Abraham Maslow, that suggests that each human being is motivated by the desire to meet his/her needs until we reach a point of self-actualization. At the bottom of the pyramid diagram used to explain this theory are physiological needs. Above that, in the order that they appear on the diagram, are safety, social, and emotional needs. At the top, is self-actualization. According to Maslow, we need to start at the bottom, work our way up and meet each level of need, and only then can we can we scratch the surface of self-actualization.
The base of Maslow’s pyramid, physiological needs, includes our need to eat, sleep, breathe, and our hormonal drives to have sex. In theory, every human being experiences the need or overwhelming desire to satisfy these and other physiological needs. If you eat, at some point you’re going to need to make a toilet run. If you’re alive, you’re going to want to ensure that you’ll keep breathing. As you go about your daily routine, you’ll notice that the majority of advertisements that you see cater to the needs at the bottom of the pyramid. You’ll encounter burger joints, medicines for physical ailments, mattresses for a better night’s rest, and so on and so forth because there is money to be made by meeting your physiological needs. There isn’t anything that our bodies needs that we can’t just buy.
Next up on Maslow’s pyramid is the safety row. We each have the need to feel secure and protected. After we have eaten our dinner, bathed, and slipped into bed, we want to know that we are safe in our home and that our property is safe from theft and disaster. This row also applies to our need for job security and for the security of our finances. In regard to this rung of the ladder, we can readily identify at least ten organizations, institutions, and businesses that offer security and reassurance as profitable services. Tragically, one of the biggest blows to our comfort zones in recent years has been the seemingly insurmountable presence of cancers and other diseases. Not only does it attack our bodies, it affects the security of our families, our finances, and our future. This illness, along with the threat of hackers, storms, burglars, termites, etc., are all out to destroy my comfort zone and my safety!!- according to my television’s commercials.
As we move up the pyramid, we encounter social needs, followed by emotional needs. What you will also discover by examining this diagram is that you probably can’t name a person that does not have needs that fit into each category. You will also find that there is a market in our capitalistic society for each of the five categories. If each of our needs comes with a price and can be found in the nearest Walmart, it stands to reason that money really can buy happiness.
So, I suppose that my last assertion is mostly true. It is indeed true, until we examine that top spot on the diagram, self-actualization. Everything, from cheeseburgers to butt injections (physiological needs to self-esteem needs) can be purchased. However, the most important “things” like peace, joy, morality, and a lack of prejudice can’t be bought. Yet, it doesn’t stop Publishers Clearing House from sending your grandmother those packets. I’m not so sure that a two-month vacation in the Bahamas won’t help me to meet all of my potential and become my self-actualized self for two months!
As I’ve looked at the pyramid though, I’ve noticed something that has intrigued me, something that led me to write this particular blog so I could share this with you guys: Maslow’s theory suggests that self-actualization can only be achieved from the bottom up and that only a small few us ever reach the apex. I suppose that too means that we can’t have peace, or joy, or personal growth on an empty stomach. If we don’t have the new J’s, we are destined for a life of misery. No sailboat, no hope. Without a girlfriend, happiness is a no-go. OR, perhaps we could start at the top of the pyramid and be fulfilled and all that we can be without the things at the bottom. We could first be self-actualized then go grab a hot-dog, meet our future spouse, take him/her home, discuss our security, become friends, and live happily ever after. Do we really have to wait until we’re forty to reach our full potential? Will a career and money in the bank be the doorstep to self-actualization? Think about it.