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Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

In the 1940's and 50's a psychologist named Abraham Maslow came up with an idea for a hierarchy of human needs. The idea is that you must fulfill the needs of one level to be able to rise up to the next level. Originally there were 5 levels, but the idea has been re-evaluated and built upon over the years. I think this hierarchy is a good way to visualize and understand what happens when certain needs can't be met and how to help create long term goals for living your best life. There is no one size fits all, so within the hierarchy laid out, you may rearrange some of the needs as more or less important to you.

maslow's motivation model

Physiological Needs

The most basic level of human needs are physiological to have a solid base in life and health to build upon. Fresh, clean air is important. People who grow up in smoking households or near industrial plants develop lung issues which effect their health. When you are worried about a place to sleep at night or weather appropriate clothing, you can't focus on higher level needs like friends and family. Not being able to access any food is a major stressor, but even if you access food that is not healthy or nutrient rich, you will suffer from health issues, fatigue and sluggishness that will make moving up the hierarchy more difficult. A lot of people are stuck at the first level due to many outside influencing factors. Regardless of why someone is stuck at the first level, unless one can get their basic physiological needs met, they will mostly be stuck in survival mode.

Safety and Security Needs

The next level of needs is Safety and Security. If you are unsure of a paycheck week to week, it is hard to save money. If you have a job, but it's very stressful or lacks meaning, then it can be a huge energy drain, leaving you with little extra energy for hobbies, health and relationships. If you feel emotionally unsafe, then you are less likely to build meaningful bonds with people in friendship or romance.  Being physically and emotionally safe and secure allows you to reach out and grow and know that if things don't work out the way you plan, you will be alright. 

Even the introverts need to feel a sense of belonging and love. Connections can look different for everyone, but having the emotional support is essential. Relationships alone aren't enough. A bad relationship can drain you and leave you feeling empty and even more lonely than being alone. 

Self-Esteem Needs

The last of the base building needs for health and quality of life is the self-esteem. This means knowing that you can achieve goals, you have self dignity, and you have independence in your ability to achieve those goals. You may seek help from others, but you are not always dependent on them to achieve those goals or needs. 

These first set of needs build a foundation. You can survive with shallow friendships, steady access to food and shelter and a basic sense of job and life security, but to really grow into the next levels, your foundation needs to be strong. The safer you feel, the better relationships you have and the healthier your living environment means that if something goes wring in life, you have a stronger base to weather the storm from, and more resilience to be able to bounce back. From a strong base where your needs are met, you have healthy supportive relationships, and you believe in yourself, you can move to the upper levels of the hierarchy pyramid. The upper levels are less essential for survival, but achieving them can bring more meaning and greater quality to your life. 

Cognitive Needs

Cognitive needs includes curiosity, exploration and a desire for understanding the world around you. This can be anything from learning a new recipe to achieving a college level degree. Learning can come from experiencing the world or from structured courses. This level of needs is simply about learning how to explore the world you live in.

Aesthetic Needs

Aesthetic needs include seeing the beauty in life around you. This comes from music, art, nature etc. Things and moments that emotionally fill you and make you feel good and at peace. Art and beauty should not be a luxury, but is a very human need for everyone. What is beautiful to each person is different and can be a simple a plant in the window or a complex piece of orchestral music. People at this level seek beauty every day. 

Self Actualization

Self actualization means living up to one's full potential in however they choose to move through life. People often recognize this through peak experiences that leave them with a sense of pride, awe, or wonder. 


Finally, transcendence is the need to connect with something greater than oneself.

I do not believe that this hierarchy is a guide for how to try to live life. More so, it gives understanding. It is hard to challenge yourself cognitively when you are trying to navigate and survive in unhealthy relationships. If you have a strong base in life, you can grow and have time to explore more depth of meaning in life. I use this as a way to see what needs should be met for me to fully enjoy and reach for higher levels in life. 


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