Sunday Snippet: Abraham Maslow (1908-1970)

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

Many notable names have popped up in psychology’s relatively short history. Most people know a little about Sigmund Freud and some may have heard of Alfred Adler or B.F. Skinner. Another big name is one Abraham Maslow, the man who devised what came to be known as Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The fundamental concept is most often depicted as a pyramid and our behaviors are guided by these principles. At its basest level, we find physiological needs. Before we can deal with anything else in our lives, we want to make sure that we have food and water, for example. Once those needs are reasonably satisfied, we can move onto our safety needs, like having a stable shelter that can protect us from danger. If we don’t have adequate food or water, we may be willing to sacrifice some safety to get it.

Moving further up, we find the need for love and belonging, followed by esteem needs like the need for achievement and respect from others. This is when we start to prioritize beyond basic survival needs and into the needs that make us human. And finally, at the top, we find self-actualization, which would include concepts like morality and creativity. If you are reading this blog post, you’ve likely taken care of your most basic physiological and safety needs, freeing to chase even greater pursuits.

And that’s where the quote from Abraham Maslow above comes into play. As cliche as it may sound, we all want to be all that we can be. When you know that you can be better and do better, it can feel awfully depressing to wallow around in mediocrity. You want to live up to your full potential. You want a life with meaning and purpose. As difficult as it may be, that’s the only way that you can truly achievement happiness and satisfaction.

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

Naturally, this comes with an abundance of challenges, perhaps most notably our inability to figure out exactly what is that we want and what it is that we’re good at doing. The world presents us all with an unfathomable range of possibilities. You could be an artist. You could be a master craftsman. You could be an advocate for human rights or a brilliant scientist.

Whatever it is that you want to be, whatever it is that you want to achieve, be sure to give it your utmost and strive to be even more than you think you are capable of doing. You just must surprise yourself and rise above or even beyond the absolute summit of Maslow’s hierarchy.