Abraham Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970) was a noteworthy American psychologist who is best known for his hierarchy of needs, which says our health and wellbeing relies on fulfilling innate human needs—and prioritizing those needs from most to least important. Additionally, Maslow taught psychology in several colleges across the U.S. including Columbia University, and he encouraged people to focus on positive qualities in others.

Today, in honor of his birthday, we remember Maslow’s contributions to psychology, and we thank him for dedicating his life to making these advancements. So, thanks Abraham Maslow—and a happy birthday to you.

Maslow’s History and Background

Maslow was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York where he went to one of the city’s top high schools. Here, he was involved in many academic clubs and served as editor of the Latin Magazine and school Physics paper, Principia. Maslow went on to attend and graduate from City College of New York.

In grad school, at University of Wisconsin, he studied psychology and took a liking to behaviorism. Later, led by his mentor Alfred Adler (another famous and noteworthy psychologist), Maslow explored different ideas about how the human mind works and deemed it humanistic psychology.

Two other mentors had a significant impact on Maslow and his discoveries in psychology: Ruth Benedict and Max Wertheimer. With their leadership and inspiration, Maslow studied mental health and human potential. As you know, he went on to develop his hierarchy of needs and discover what it takes for us to reach our greatest potential.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

As mentioned above, Maslow is most often recognized for his hierarchy of needs, of which organizes human needs into a five-tiered pyramid. The most important needs (like food and water) lie at the bottom, and the least important can be located in the top tier. Here’s a breakdown of the five tiers and their corresponding needs:

1. First tier: Physiological needs

The first (or bottom) tier consists of our physiological needs, which are essential to living. These include food, water, sleep, and health. If we neglect these needs, our wellbeing takes a significant dive.

2. Second tier: Security needs

The second tier includes our security needs, or our need for safety and shelter, as well as stability.

3. Third tier: Social needs

The third tier is dedicated to our social needs, which include our need to socialize, form meaningful relationships, and be loved.

4. Fourth tier: Esteem needs

The fourth tier highlights our self-esteem needs; these include control, awareness, and status.

5. Fifth tier: Self-actualization needs

The fifth and final tier includes our self-actualization needs. We fulfill these needs by realizing and reaching our fullest potential.

In sum, these tiers explain our needs in order of importance. At the bottom of the pyramid, you can find our most basic needs like food, water, and sleep. These needs progress into more complex (and not so basic) needs like self-esteem as well as self-actualization. According to Maslow and his theory, our living a healthy, happy lives depends on our fulfilling these needs.

Influential Quotes by Maslow

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.”

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization.”

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

“What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself.”

“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

“It isn’t normal to know what we want. It is a rare and difficult psychological achievement.”

“One of the goals of education should be to teach that life is precious.”

“You will either step forward into growth or you will step back into safety.”

“The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard.”