Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist best known for outlining his infamous hierarchy of needs: a psychological theory that explains innate human needs in order of importance. These needs are classically presented as a five-tiered pyramid, with the most primitive or basic needs at the bottom. Maslow described the bottom four tiers as “deficiency needs,” such that we don’t really take notice of them unless they’re lacking.
For example, eating and sleeping (which are allocated to the first level) are part of our everyday routines and we don’t really think twice about them—unless we forget our lunch or get an insufficient amount of sleep one night. Then, we feel the effects, and man are they a doozy. Other deficiency needs include security needs, social needs, and ego needs. And only after we’ve catered to these can we move onto the fifth level: self-actualization.
Again, each level in the hierarchical pyramid represents a cluster of needs that need to be met before one can advance to the next tier. Let’s delve deeper into the basics of these levels and their effects on our wellbeing:
1) Physiological needs
The first level of needs consists of the most basic and essential human needs. These include food, water, rest, air, and health. If we don’t take care of these needs daily, then our wellbeing will subsequently plummet. Think about it: how long can you go without food or water? Technically speaking, you can’t go more than 10 days without water or four to six weeks without food. But let’s be real; we’re hangry after a few hours without food and make it a priority to eat pretty often. This is essentially a good thing, as fulfilling all of these needs allows us to maintain homeostasis or a stable equilibrium.
2) Security needs
This is the second level of the pyramid which includes the need for safety, shelter, and stability. Think about it: without a roof over your head, your safety and security are at risk. We need a safe space that protects us from external elements like potentially dangerous weather, people, and otherwise threatening circumstances. But your security needs don’t stop there: our wellbeing also relies on material safety such as financial security. Because without money, we can’t substantially fulfill many of our other essential needs.
3) Social needs
The third tier of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is the social tier, which encompasses our need to belong, be loved, and feel included. In other words, we need to maintain healthy relationships with others: our partners, our friends, our family members. Because when these relationships are tainted, so is our overall wellbeing. Think back on a time you got into a really bad fight with your best friend or your significant other. It probably nagged at you until it was resolved and maybe even sent you into a downward spiral of negative emotions. Rest assured that you weren’t crazy or dramatic for doing so—our relationships make up an important level of needs that we must tend to.
Now this is where it gets more complex: the fourth stage covers our self-esteem, power, cognition, and prestige needs. While these needs don’t seem nearly as important as previous needs (they’re not, that’s why they’re featured later in the pyramid) they are still very important to our happiness and wellbeing. If we take a blow to our self-esteem, we can suffer significantly. For example, say you’ve just been declined from the fourth job in a row; you can imagine—or maybe even directly relate to—how painful this would be. The trick here is to build ourselves up, as we can’t control external factors like this that diminish our self-esteem. We must appreciate ourselves and remind ourselves of our worth.
5) Self-actualization needs
Ah, we’ve finally reached the fifth level: self-actualization or realizing one’s full potential and reaching that full potential. This need cannot be satisfied until every other need is; it is driven by one’s goals, creativity, morality, and positivity. With that being said, everybody achieves self-actualization differently, depending on these goals and morals. For example, one might reach self-actualization as a result of pursuing their true passion or making great strides at their new job. We all have different dreams that guide us and help us reach this ultimate happiness and fulfillment.
In summary, Maslow’s theory is that we have certain needs, which can be clustered into 5 groups, that we must cater to and fulfill. These start at a basic level of necessities like food and water that gradually progress into more complex needs like self-esteem and self-actualization. The basic idea is that in order to live a healthy and happy life, one must prioritize and satisfy these needs. So be sure to eat well, sleep enough, maintain healthy relationships, and chase after those big dreams of yours.