Most people have heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, created in the 1940s. Maslow offered us a way to visualize personal growth as a process achieved through the satisfaction of a series of basic needs. We all have certain fundamental needs that are always there and foundational. The need for food, safety, and connection – none of these really go away. They may fluctuate and change, but they remain with us our entire lives.
The reason I am raising this topic is not that I think Maslow was wrong; I think he illuminated some important ideas and insights about human development. It is also not my purpose to dissect his work; many others have offered their insights. It is a well-accepted description of personal growth that recognizes that when we are able to effectively satisfy a need, we become available to explore other needs and desires.
In my last article, I discussed how the primary focus and drive of human life up until now has naturally been survival which Maslow’s Hierarchy reflects. I also noted how we have succeeded at survival. If we continue with our high-conflict fear-based ways, we are in danger of losing the very survival we have achieved. We are creating, through conflict, overpopulation, and overconsumption, new scarcity.
The earth cannot support our current living habits. Maslow’s pyramid was developed before human population and economic activity exploded, so we cannot have expected him to anticipate our current predicaments, but because we are in a time of significant change we can ask how his work can be a foundation for us as we move forward with different priorities.
A New Pyramid?
Some people have been able to progress through Maslow’s Hierarchy more easily than others. It is worth considering that the foundational needs that Maslow describes are more easily satisfied and supported in cultures that temper the excesses of the fear-based world: violence and war, social inequality and conflict, and overconsumption. To this day, cultures and countries worldwide still have many people whose basic needs are unmet. It is noticeable that the more authoritarian and fear-based countries seem to have large numbers of people living in such conditions. (This is a big generalization. There are always other factors like geography and weather, but it is nonetheless notable that freer people seem to thrive more.)
When we transform the survival project into the thriving project, we can rebalance human activity to protect the infrastructure and cultural legacies created over thousands of years. Maslow’s pyramid can become the foundation we build on as we develop the skills and practices for a thriving world. A joy practice is a natural fit for that kind of objective. Joy is the emotional outcome of a world based on thriving.
Fear will not get us the thriving we want and need. It would be a shame to lose the infrastructure and other cultural legacies created over thousands of years because we could not shift out of our path of overshoot into a different more sustainable way of living. A joy practice for individuals and a shift to creating thriving for cultures of all kinds will help us work together to create the thriving world we need now.