Self Actualization Isn't About Stuff
Did you study Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs in high school or college? You might remember that Maslow's theory suggests that human beings are naturally inclined to learn and improve, to strive and discover. If you're able to read this blog, you're probably fortunate enough to be in a position to do this.
Meeting Basic Needs
Self actualization (the highest section of Maslow's hierarchy) requires first that basic needs be met.
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 young children that 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) 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 will 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 do not have a sense of security.
Further Up the Hierarchy
If you are fortunate enough to have all of the fundamental needs met, then you naturally begin to seek a few "luxuries."
4. Education, communication, and travel
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
After acquiring all of these things, a human being is free to focus on the highest values on Maslow's hierarchy.
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.
In our privileged society, all of these things are available to most of us, even if we are not among the very rich. Most of us have the opportunity for fulfillment, but so often we get bogged down in 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 the point.
Possessions won't help us achieve self-actualization.
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); 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.
Photo by Yingchou Han on Unsplash