Tag Archives: Maslow

The Journey – Artists and Philosophers (Part 1)

Let me summarize the previous four posts:

1) Van Gogh – First Maslow need satisfied with food and warmth provided by family.

2) Brueghel the Elder – Second Maslow need satisfied with safety provided by community.

3) Renoir – Third Maslow need satisfied with a sense of belonging and flow experiences achieved with friends.

4) Rembrandt – Forth Maslow need satisfied with a sense of self-esteem and further flow experiences expressed by family and friends.

These four paintings, all with the dining table as the center of action, depict the satisfaction of the first four needs of Maslow.  But what do the philosopher say?

In my previous posts I mentioned the Epicurus was right up to a point.

Epicurus agreed with the other ancient philosophers that the aim of life is happiness; however, he defined happiness as tranquility and freedom from pain and anxiety – the “good life.” In psychological terms, the Epicurean state of happiness is the satisfaction of Maslow’s first four needs of his hierarchy (achieved through a loving family, just society, and flow experiences).  Remember, it is the flow experiences that distance oneself from the worries of the everyday world; however, you can’t approach these experiences without first having satisfied the basic needs of food and safety.

The above paragraph is very remarkable: 1) we have a great philosopher, Epicurus, whose philosophy closely matches that of modern psychology regarding the necessity of a loving family, a just society, and flow experiences to lead one to a state free of pain and anxiety, 2) the same philosophy matching the first four of five levels of needs satisfaction of modern psychology driving human behavior, and 3) that a life free from pain and anxiety is one that avoids excessive greed, fame, and power, those things that will never lead to tranquility and happiness.

In summary, we can go so far as to say that the end of the Journey, the “good life,” is the aim of Epicureanism. Or, to put it another way, the Journey segment of the road to happiness is philosophically one of Epicureanism. It is the best approach ethically for completing the Journey. Seek out flow experiences and you will have friendships, family love, financial comfort, and a sense of self-esteem. Not a bad life, in fact, a “good life.” But, not happiness. You also need the Adventure!

World Religions – A Summary (Part IV)

In my previous post I discussed the unique aspect of the West: the Adventure.

The Adventure begins with a call or summons to begin a discovery.  The call requires the cardinal virtues of wisdom and courage: wisdom to look forward and recognize the call, and courage to leap into the adventure that is illuminated by wisdom.  Both of those virtues had to be attained prior to the adventure; as such, the Journey segment was needed to develop these virtues.

The adventure itself is the trials and temptations encountered to secure the boon, which was the reason for the adventure in the first place.  The training and exposure activities of the Journey, coupled with the cardinal virtue of moderation earned during the Journey or the Adventure, are required to seize the boon.

The return back to the everyday world requires the cardinal virtue of justice and the love of the hero’s neighbor.  Justice is the concern for the community of the adventurer earned during the Journey or the Adventure.  Without this virtue, the adventurer would simply remain in the adventure, refusing to return.  The love of his/her neighbor is what pulls the hero across back to the everyday world with the boon intact.

So, what does this all mean.  Well, the adventure is the connection between the Journey (shared by all religions) and happiness (shared by all religions).  This Western concept (not shared by all religions) is what pushes the individual to the top of Maslow’s pyramid – self-actualization.  It is a concept of great myths as uncovered by Joseph Campbell.  It is what brings happiness to the individual and flourishing to society.  The flourishing then can be used to help others prepare for their road to happiness.

Final comments in my next post.


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 3)

In my two previous posts I presented the works of Eakins and Degas.  Both of these two artists presented individuals that have attained happiness.  The artworks depict masters of their respective occupations who have achieved Maslow’s self-actualization level, Csikszentmihalyi’s unity with universal values, and Campbell’s ability to cross between the spiritual and everyday worlds with contaminating the one with the other.

In both artworks, the main character appears suspended, distant from the others but still present in the scene.  In fact, none of the other characters in the scenes are looking directly at the main characters; again, reinforcing the separateness of the main characters from the everyday world.

Below is a third representation of this depiction of individual happiness by another great artist.



Freedom from Want (Rockwell, 1943)

Freedom From Want Painting by Rockwell


Attention is now on the isolated grandparents, who as a couple, accepted the call to adventure and sacrificed through hard work and dedication for the successful upbringing of their family. Their journey’s accomplishment is illustrated by their humble gestures (grandmother cooked for all the others to enjoy) and the successful gratification of their offspring’s physiological and safety needs – most assuredly the grandparents’ quest.  

Just as in the two paintings mentioned in the previous posts, the characters seated at the table in this painting are not looking at the two main characters standing.  The two grandparents are almost hovering above the table, isolated from the conversations of those seated at the table.


Happiness as Portrayed by the Artists (Part 1)

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.  I would like to focus first on the individual and then later turn to the flourishing of society.

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 one master of the art world.

The Agnew Clinic

(Eakins, 1889, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia)

The Agnew Clinic by Thomas Eakins,

This is a work showing in stark gruesome realism the mastectomy of the woman lying on the operating table and the surgeon/instructor standing to the left.  It depicts the surgeon as the teacher/hero to those in the surgical circle as well as the stands.  He is self-sufficient and independent from the others in the painting.  He is able to go back and forth from the relaxed and fulfilled world of an esteemed teacher to a noted surgeon (depicted with scalpel in left hand) in the everyday world of medicine.

Not one character in the painting is looking directly at the surgeon/teacher – it is as if he is not present.   But the viewer sees him as one that is confident, free of all desires and ambitions, and fatigue-free and alert to his surroundings and duties.  He is free to go from the everyday world to the spiritual world (in which he is seen standing) at his discretion.  The surgeon/teacher has no need of attention or praise from others – he is above all that and perhaps witnessing peak experiences.

More great art to come

What is Happiness? (Part 7)

Continuing with my previous post, one fundamental question that I have asked in the past is:  Why do many risk so much on something that others consider to be saturated with uncertain odds of success?

We now have the answer to this elusive question: By doing so the individual has the opportunity to travel well beyond the successes of ordinary life.  Capitalizing on opportunities today, considered risky by others, provides a chance for a future lived well above that of an everyday existence.

If successful in capitalizing on these opportunities, the adventurer has the potential for a life of happiness and fulfillment with freedom, integration, and the peak experiences.  Or, the answer is simply: accepting the adventure, with its uncertain odds of success, allows the hero to collect the IOUs during the adventure undertaken, IOUs which are cashed in for the ultimate reward – happiness.  It is this definition, as found in the title of this book, which best expresses the state of happiness as interpreted by the “prose” and the “art.”

The ancient philosophers knew the answer.  It just took the intellectual “prose” of three modern thinkers to give us the keys to the galleries – galleries filled with inspiration from great masters who have translated the “prose” into human feelings and experiences.  It is this “art” that Tolstoy instructs is “indispensable for the life and progress toward well-being of individuals and of humanity.”

What is Happiness (Part 4)?

In my previous three post, I mentioned the terms that the ancient philosophers and the modern thinkers teach are required to enter into a state of happiness.  However, once those terms are met, what does true happiness look like.  Let’s begin by looking at the specific teachings of Maslow.  Keep in mind that we are going to be talking about those who have reached the final level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  In other words, people that have no further needs or desires – what I would call a super-human condition.

Maslow was generous in providing a list of characteristics of those individuals who, like Campbell’s master of two worlds or Csikszentmihalyi’s individuals forging a unity with universal values, have reached the final level of human development – happiness.  Maslow characterized those who have achieved this final level – self-actualization, as exhibiting: “1) superior perception of reality, 2) increased acceptance of self, others, and of nature, 3) increased spontaneity, 4) increased problem-centering, 5) increased detachment and desire for privacy, 6) increased autonomy and resistance to enculturation, 7) greater freshness of appreciation and richness of emotional reaction, 8) increased identification with the human species, 9) improved interpersonal relations, 10) more democratic character structure, 11) greater creativity, 12) certain changes in the value system, and 13) higher frequency of peak experiences.”

Both Maslow and Csikszentmihalyi wrote that “precious few” people actually reach self-actualization, “Though, in principle, self-actualization is easy, in practice it rarely happens (by my criteria, certainly in less than 1% of the adult population).  For this, there are many reasons at various levels of discourse … humans no longer have strong instincts which tell them unequivocally what to do, when, where, and how.” Campbell speaks of a similar inability of everyday humans to reach the highest levels of human development, “Today, all of these mysteries [myths] have lost their force; their symbols no longer interest our psyche.”

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 3)

Continuing with the thoughts of my previous post, we now witness the much-anticipated convergence of the conclusions arrived at by the intellectual “prose” of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, and Campbell.  The three academics, independent of one another, have reached identical conclusions regarding those who have reached the highest levels of human development.  Maslow’s theory presents the ultimate level of human development – self-actualization: fulfillment of a mission (or call or destiny), acceptance of one’s own nature, and a drive towards integration with others.  Campbell’s study of world myths presents the hero who successfully crosses the threshold back to the everyday world: one released of all personal ambitions, limitations, and fears.  Finally, Csikszentmihalyi’s research reveals the individual who has reached the final level of development: integration with other people and with universal values.

The ancient thinkers echo in their teachings the conclusions of the above three modern thinkers that, if our moral and intellectual development goes as it should, we will progress from valuing food and warmth, to valuing social relations, to valuing moral virtue.  We will require four virtues to reach the threshold of happiness: wisdom, courage, moderation, and justice.  But, as stated brilliantly by St. Aquinas, the final virtue of love of neighbor is necessary to pull us across the threshold into the realm of happiness.  It is at this moment of passage into happiness that the boon of the adventurer is delivered for the benefit of society.

Characterized by each of the three modern thinkers as the ultimate level of human development, and reflected in the teachings of the four ancient thinkers, happiness is: 1) fulfillment of one’s call or destiny and the subsequent acceptance of one’s nature and limitations, 2) freedom from personal ambitions (desires), fears, and limitations, and 3) integration with universal values and the promotion of the greater good of society.

More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 2)

In my previous post I began discussing the concept of happiness as presented by two modern psychologists, Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow.  In particular, Maslow mentioned that an individual enjoying happiness is “motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization… as fulfillment of a mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation)…”  It is the fulfillment of this mission or call that is further explored by Campbell in which the returning hero of myth, having crossed the return threshold with the loving help of others and whose boon is accepted by society, is awarded the position as the master of two worlds – the material and the spiritual.

For Campbell, “Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the casual deep and back – not contaminating the principles of the one with the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other – is the talent of the Master.” Campbell goes on to say, “The individual, through prolonged disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes, and fears. … His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him …” 

It is now that we witness the convergence of the conclusions arrived at by the intellectual “prose” of Maslow, Csikszentmihalyi, and Campbell.  More to come!

What is Happiness? (Part 1)

Let’s begin our understanding of happiness by first looking at two of the three modern thinkers: Csikszentmihalyi and Maslow.

Csikszentmihalyi teaches of those few who have reached his fourth and final stage of development, “The fourth step, which builds on all the previous ones, is a final turning away from the self, back toward an integration with other people and with universal values.  In this final stage the extremely individualized person… willingly merges his interests with those of a larger whole.” Csikszentmihalyi goes on to mention, “… only a precious few emerge (i.e., reach the fourth and final level) once again to forge a unity with universal values.”

Maslow echoes a similar sentiment for those who have satisfied their belongingness and self-esteem needs (third and fourth needs of five), as they are now, “motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization (defined as ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of a mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation), as a fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person’s own intrinsic nature, as an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or synergy within the person).”

The thoughts of the modern thinkers would not be complete without the teachings of Campbell, to be discussed in the next post.