Tag Archives: Abraham Maslow

Maslow was Right!

As mentioned in my book, Maslow (one of the three modern thinkers referenced) has been criticized for a lack of rigorous scientific testing of his Hierarchy of Needs theory.  He himself has admitted to a less quantitative and more qualitative approach in constructing his theory.

“Anyone who has ever completed a psychology class has heard of Abraham Maslow and his theory of needs,” said University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology Ed Diener, who led the study. “But the nagging question has always been: Where is the proof?  Students learn the theory, but scientific research backing this theory is rarely mentioned.”

The proof was finally revealed in 2011.  In an exhaustive study, researchers at the University of Illinois put Maslow’s ideas to the test with data from 123 countries representing every major region of the world.

“Our findings suggest that Maslow’s theory is largely correct. In cultures all over the world the fulfillment of his proposed needs correlates with happiness,” Diener said. “However, an important departure from Maslow’s theory is that we found that a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs are not completely fulfilled.”

The above statement regarding achieving happiness without the lower needs being met applies to those from poor countries.  Their expectations of having one’s basic needs for food, water, shelter, as well as the safety needs of protection from criminals and war, are not completely satisfied as they would be in more advanced countries.  In other words, excluding the basic needs being satisfied, the findings of the research indicate that the order of needs satisfaction basically follows Maslow’s theory.

The research also indicated that people are more likely to achieve happiness when others in their society also have their needs fulfilled.  This final point supports one of the premises of my book that the happiness of the individual leads to the flourishing of society.  These findings seem to support the work of Joseph Campbell regarding the stages of the hero, also discussed in my book.

The complete research article can be found by Clicking Here.



Happiness as Portrayed by the Artists (Part 2)

I would like to turn to the great masters of the fine arts to further explore the achievement of happiness: Maslow’s final level of his hierarchy of needs, Csikszentmihalyi’s forging a unity with universal values, and the ability of Campbell’s hero to go back and forth between the everyday world and the spiritual world.

As I discussed in the previous post, Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, and Campbell, the three modern thinkers presented in my book, teach that the fulfillment that is encountered upon reaching happiness is a completion of one’s destiny or mission in life.  The life that is experienced by those in true happiness is one free from all fears and human desires, competitiveness, striving, fatigue, and personal ambitions.

Let’s look at another master of the art world who depicts such a life of one who has achieved true happiness (has reached Maslow’s final level of the hierarchy, Csikszentmihalyi’s unity with universal values, and Campbell’s comfort with the everyday world as well as the spiritual world.

The Dance Class (Degas, 1874)

The Dance Class by Degas

Jules Perrot, the great dancer and ballet master of Europe, is teaching the class. The musicians have taken a break. All the girls are engaged in conversation, except one.   That one girl is seen dancing for the master. She is in a state of ecstasy. As she executes her pirouette, the viewer is uncertain as to the success of its execution; the tutu of the girl in the foreground hides the result. But the outcome does not matter; the master is seemingly enthralled by her enthusiasm and courage to come forward.

As expressed in the Eakins painting in the previous post, the master is standing apart from the others in the scene.  None of the other characters is looking at him.  Perhaps he is alone in a spiritual world, to return soon to the everyday world of his class.  He expresses autonomy, effortlessness, self-sufficiency, and a willingness to assist others.  He exists in both worlds and, as a result of his mastery, has been able to bring the boon of teaching and instruction to others.

What is Happiness? (Part 6)

Continuing with my previous post regarding self-actualization, Maslow asserts, “An important existential problem is posed by the fact that self-actualizing persons (and all people in their peak-experiences) occasionally live out-of-time and out-of-the-world (atemporal and aspatial) even though mostly they must live in the outer world.  Living in the inner psychic world … i.e., the world of experience, of emotion, of wishes and fears and hopes, of love, of poetry, art, and fantasy, is different from living in and adapting to the non-psychic reality which runs by laws he never made and which are not essential to his nature even though he has to live by them. … The person who is not afraid of this inner, psychic world, can enjoy it to such an extent that it may be called Heaven by contrast to the more effortful, fatiguing, externally responsible world of “reality,” of striving and coping, of right and wrong, of truth and falsehood.”

The key point that Maslow is making is the following: those individuals at this final level of human development, reached by less than 1% of Americans by Maslow’s own estimate, have acquired certain human qualities through preparation by family and society, social interactions, activities leading to confidence and prestige, the acquisition of virtues, and the fulfillment of a personal mission or destiny.  This existence is one of Heaven – a world without effort, fatigue, striving, or coping.  Such is a life determined by the individual and not a life lived by the laws of others.  After all, this is Maslow’s final level of human development with no further human needs and desires to be satisfied.  A life that is lived absent any further needs or desires is truly a superhuman condition.

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 5)

In my previous post I mentioned that the positive psychologist, Abraham Maslow, was very helpful in describing those that have reached his highest level of human motivation: self-actualization.  One attribute of this level of self-actualization that was mentioned was frequent peak experiences.

What are these peak experiences?  Again, we are fortunate that Maslow was kind enough to describe these unusual experiences that only a few fortunate individuals witness within themselves during their lives.  keep in mind that these peak experiences are not the same as flow – the concept described by the other positive psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  Flow is best described as a lower level peak experience and the catalyst that encourages each of us to move forward in satisfying our lower needs of belongingness and self-esteem.  Peak experiences occur primarily to those that have reached Maslow’s final needs level of self-actualization (see previous post) and are self-contained.  So, according to Maslow, peak experiences are defined as:

The experience is seen as a whole, detached from usefulness and purpose. 

It is seen as if it were all there is in the universe.

Complete absorption or fascination such that experience is isolated from everything else around it.

Perception of the world as if it were independent of themselves and others.

A richness of perception.

Perceptions that are relatively ego transcending or egoless.

A moment that is self-validating carrying its own intrinsic value.  It is an end in and of itself.

A disorientation of time and space.

Experienced as only good and desirable, never experienced as evil or malevolent.

More absolute and less relative.

Wonder, awe, humility and reverence.

The resolution of many internal conflicts. 

Simultaneously selfish and unselfish.

Playfulness with others.

Loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, and restraint.


More to come!

Thoughts to Begin the New Year

My book draws on the great works of the past 2400 years.  Let me provide four quotes explaining why each is so important to finding happiness in life: a philosopher, a psychologist, a mythologist, and an artist.

“Discussing no small matter, but how we ought to live.” Plato regarding philosophy.

“The more we learn about man’s natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to fulfill his highest potentialities.” Maslow regarding psychology.

“It won’t tell you what makes you happy, but it will tell you what happens when you begin to follow your happiness, what obstacles are that you are going to run into.” Campbell regarding mythology.

“To evoke in oneself a feeling one has once experienced and having evoked it in oneself then … to transmit that feeling that others experience the same feeling. … A means of union among men, joining them together in the same feelings, and indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.” Tolstoy regarding art.


Virtue: A Must Have for Happiness – Part 5

Continuing with my last post: the adventurer is near the end and is at the entrance to the threshold back to the everyday world.

The philosophers discussed in my book – Aristotle, Epicurus, and the Stoics, all mention that individuals will progress from valuing food and warmth, to social relationships with others, to valuing the moral virtues of wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice, before reaching happiness.

The positive psychologists teach of a similar progression of food and warmth to social relationships to self-esteem and finally self-actualization or simply, happiness.  Both the philosophers (especially Aristotle) and the psychologists (especially Maslow) teach that the deep-seated human motivation – the purpose in life, is to seek happiness.

The myths, as explained by Campbell, also address the human desire to achieve happiness through the adventures to secure the boons for the benefit of society.

The works of art presented in my book also illustrate the desire to achieve happiness and, in most cases, they depict the means of achieving this happiness.

The traits of successful entrepreneurs reinforce the teachings of the philosophers, psychologists, the myths, and the artists as the vehicle for traveling the road of life in search of happiness.

But there is one final link missing.  This one remaining condition is what pulls the adventurer across the threshold back to the everyday world in which the boon contributes to the flourishing of society and happiness is rewarded to the adventurer.

End of the Journey: Part 2

One final point on reaching the end of the journey.

I have talked about the psychologists, Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi, and their teachings regarding the importance of self-esteem in reaching happiness.  Both psychologists place self-esteem at the second to last stage of human development.

I have also presented numerous artworks that support and validate the teachings of the psychologists by translating their ideas and research into human feelings and experiences.

Also, I have mentioned that harnessing the entrepreneur within us is the best means of traveling along the road during the journey.  The academic researchers have highlighted the traits of successful entrepreneurs and it is these traits that illuminate the beast means of reaching the end of the journey.

One final point that I would like to mention is the teachings of the philosophers regarding the journey.  Aristotle and St. Aquinas mention that health, wealth, friendships, and recognition or prestige are common human goals and are needed along the road to happiness.  In addition, the Stoics mention that individuals progress from valuing food, warmth, and safety, to social interactions.  The teachings of these esteemed ancient philosophers mirror the theories of the psychologists, artists, and entrepreneurs.

It is nice when many very different disciplines reach the same conclusion.  I think that we can rest assured that the journey that I have outlined, which takes us only part of the way to happiness, is viable and trustworthy.

What is Happiness?

As you know, my book is divided into six galleries: each gallery presenting ideas and artworks representing a different segment of the road through life.  The reason for the book is to take the ideas of great thinkers and weave them with the works of great artists, dividing them into the six galleries.  This curating of the ideas and artworks provides a way for each of us to find which gallery we are in, how to move to the next one, and have the inspiration to keep going until we reach the end.

I have already discussed the first two galleries: 1) preparation for the journey and 2) need for belongingness or being involved with others.  Before I move on to Gallery Three, I want to mention one thing: the title of the book.

The title, Happiness: Cashing in Life’s IOUs, is borrowed from Maslow.  We all have an idea in our heads about what happiness might look like.  However, I think that the state of happiness is heavily objective – the thinkers and the artists share the same objectivity of what happiness looks like.  To say that happiness is contentment or fulfillment or satisfaction is too vague; those words don’t help.  What I realized in my research is that the state of happiness really is the redemption of all the IOUs that you collected during your life.  You did good deeds for others but you weren’t rewarded for your efforts.  You were given IOUs.  You waited and waited and collected more and more IOUs.  The day finally arrives, you are allowed to cash-in those many IOUs you collected over years and years.  Finally, happiness arrives!