Why We Aren't Fulfilled: Self Actualization Isn't Just About Our Stuff
Meeting basic needs
It's nearly impossible to reach self actualization (the highest section of Maslow's pyramid) unless our basic needs are taken care of.
1. Air, water, food, clothing, shelter
Humans need these things to survive, let alone to thrive. Some of us seem to have much more of these than we need, while others in our world struggle for them. Some live without clean air and water, or where it's hard to get access to either. They may worry about how to meet their needs for food, clothing, and shelter every single day.
2. Loving relationships, family and friends, nurture and care
These needs are at least as important as the basics above. We know that when young children are deprived of them (such as in Romanian orphanages of the 1990's, where babies and toddlers were warehoused without affection, stimulation, or personal connection), they become severely compromised, often suffering from low IQ, along with psychological, neurological, and biological impairments.
3. Safety and security
In addition to the reliability and comfort of a loving family and friends, people need to have confidence that they'll be able to work and meet their basic needs in the future. Those with no access to medical care feel helpless against injury or disease. Others who live in fear of war, terrorism, or with a corrupt government or police force have no sense of security.
Further up the hierarchy
If you're fortunate enough to have all of the essential needs met, then you naturally begin to seek a few "extras."
4. Education, transportation, communication
Schooling, access to transportation, even computers and the media allow us to learn and experience more about the world and each other.
5. Opportunities for achievement and self-respect
Many people in our world (especially women) are still longing for more opportunities to pursue a career, own a business, or participate in a democratic government.
At the top of the pyramid
Spirituality deepens our life experience, strengthens our sense of purpose, and inspires kindness, peace, and generosity.
7. Beauty and creativity
These things grow from and inspire each other. To be able to imagine, to think deeply about an idea, and then to make it a reality, is a truly unique human desire and achievement.
Possessions won't help us achieve self-actualization.
In our privileged society, all of these things are available to most of us, even if we're not among the very rich. Most of us have the opportunity for self-actualization.
Unfortunately, we often get stuck acquiring more and more of the things that are lower on the list, even though we already have plenty. We spend so much money, time, and effort chasing after more clothes or shoes or jewelry, a bigger house, a fancier car, even out-of-season foods shipped from halfway around the world.
We're missing out on our greatest opportunities.
Here's what we need:
- a livable, unpolluted planet
- seeds, sun, and rain
- good health, working senses, basic physical ability (or tools that accommodate a disability)
- loving family and friends
- freedom from poverty, fear, and oppression
- intelligence (the abilities to observe, speak, reason, and learn) and curiosity
- wonder, awe, and God's gifts of the soul and conscience
- mindfulness to appreciate all of these things
Some tools that contribute to self-actualization include:
- books and libraries
- places of worship
- contact with nature
- celebrations and laughter
I think we would have happier lives if we used our time and money to cherish and cultivate these things, instead of pursuing our next purchase.
Updated June 2023