Why do humans do what they do? What makes them get up in the morning and carry on their work, school, chores and life? What “ultimate goal” are we all walking towards? Don’t worry, this isn’t a religious article – its a psychological one!

Many psychologists and theorists have come and went, along with their theories, trying to explain what causes human motivation to perform the activities that they do. Motivation is a force which becomes active to satisfy the person’s current need. Abraham Maslow, in 1943, came forward with his Hierarchy of Human Needs Theory, explaining the basis of human satisfaction through difference stages of needs.

Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Human Needs

In essence, Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs consists of five stages or levels of needs. The bottom most stage is the most demanding and in immediate need for satisfaction, followed by the one above it and so on. In Maslow’s theory, a person cannot move to an upper or next level of need unless the current level need is satisfied.

Stages Of Needs In Hierarchy Of Needs Theory

Stage One: Physiological Needs (consisting of food, water, shelter, air, excretions, etc.)

Stage Two: Safety Needs (consisting of safety and security, laws, etc.)

Stage Three: Social Needs (consisting of belonging needs; friends, being a part of a group, etc.)

Stage Four: Esteem Needs (consisting of confidence, a higher self esteem, respect, reputation, etc.)

Stage Five: Self-actualization Needs (consisting of the desire to embrace one’s maximum potential.)

In the above stages, Stage One is the bottom most and the most demanding followed by the next and so on. These five stages are divided into two categories: Deficiency Needs and Growth Needs.

Deficiency Needs & Growth Needs

The first four stages i.e. Physiological, Safety, Social and Esteem Needs are in the category of Deficiency Needs, while the last stage, Self-actualization Needs, is in the category of Growth Needs.

Deficiency Needs, like the name suggests, are those needs which if not satisfied, leaves the person feeling severely anxious and “out of place”. These needs are not only necessary for survival but are also a pre-requisite for a healthy living experience, while their dissatisfaction bring forward “empty” feelings. The extent of how unsatisfied, anxious or empty a person feels if these needs are not met depends upon how close the current level need is to the bottom most need, i.e. Physiological Needs. The shorter the distance between Physiological Needs and the current level need, the greater the feeling of anxiousness.

On the other hand, Growth Needs, refer to the personal and internal growth of the person. The satisfaction of Growth Needs is not necessary to sustain life, in fact, less than 10% of the entire world’s population has ever been able to satisfy their Growth Needs. These Needs demand to explore and realize one’s maximum potential, develop their skills and capabilities and achieve their said maximum potential.

Brief Description Of The Deficiency Needs

Here is a brief description of all the Deficiency Needs:

Physiological Or Basic Needs

These needs are the bare minimum that is required to survive and sustain life. These Physiological Needs (food, water, shelter,air, excretion) are the most pressing and demanding, their dissatisfaction causing the most anxiety in a person. These needs are basically biological, as opposed to the rest of the needs in Maslow’s Pyramid.

Safety Needs

Safety or Security Needs include a sense of safety, laws, order, job security, protection, politics, etc. After the person has satisfied their most basic physiological needs, they start worrying about their safety and work towards building it.

Social Needs

Being one of the only species capable of communicating and living in an economy, we are social animals. Social Needs run deeper than just a mere need to communication; it includes the need to be “a part of” a group or circle, need to feel wanted and understood and also a need for a romantic partner.

Esteem Needs

For an average person, a good and healthy living experience includes having a good sense of self. A healthy person is the one is who self-confident, has respect of other (rightfully earned) and a good reputation, as we humans need to feel good about ourselves.

Growth Needs: Self-actualization Needs

“What a man can be, he must be.”Β  – AbrahamΒ Maslow, 1954. (Motivation and Personality)Β 

The highest need, Abraham Maslow defines in his Hierarchy of Needs, is Self-actualization. Maslow studied people who had attained their maximum potential or were almost close (including Albert Einstein) and found that all their Deficiency Needs were fulfilled. Self-actualization Needs refer to the internal and personal growth of a human, where they realize their maximum potential and seek to attain it. Once attained and satisfied, they have become the best version of their selves, or in Maslow’s words, ‘what a man can be’. Self-actualization needs revolve around the possibilities of each individual: an individual cannot attain what they are not capable of. Each individual has a different limit in what they can possibly achieve, and Self-actualization or Growth Needs revolve around knowing where the limit of one’s potential lies, recognize it and attain it.

In theory, the recognition and attainment of one’s maximum potential seems somewhat easy, however, in reality, its quite hard. The satisfaction of Self-actualization needs is so complex and hard that less than 10% of the entire world’s population has been able to attain it.

The satisfaction of Self-actualization is not necessary for survival or even a healthy living experience. Both these element can come to pass without being Self-actualized.

Some Characteristics Of Self-Actualized People

People who are self-actualized have accepted who they are including their limitations. They have a realistic perception of the world are spontaneous in nature, they are empathetic and seek to solve problems which fall under their limitation as they wish to improve the external world. Self-actualized people prefer personal freedom and privacy, are creative as they are always looking as experiences from different angles and perceptions to increase their problem-solving skills, etc.