Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Positive Psychology

Even the most basic readers of psychology have read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It is one of the most enduring theories in modern psychology, perfectly capturing the basis of human behaviors and thinking. Despite criticisms, Maslow’s theory has gone through updates and revisions, which better encapsulate the experiences of modern humans.

What is the Hierarchy of Needs?

Hierarchy of needs is a theory that describes human’s innate needs in five stages, illustrated as a triangle, which determines the motivation and behaviors of an individual. Abraham Maslow first proposed this idea in a 1943 paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, published in Psychological Review journal.

The hierarchy of needs starts from the physiological at the bottom (basic needs) and ends with self-actualization. Maslow stated that he proposed the theory to explore positive psychology in mentally healthy individuals. He published explanations of his theory in a 1954 book titled Motivation and Personality. Later, it became a standard theory in general psychology, sociology, business, and management teaching.

Explanations about the Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s theory described how people put emphasis on certain needs, seeking to achieve them before moving to others. The original hierarchy of needs consists of five stages, which are:

  1. Physiological needs

These basic needs consist of things like foods, clothing, shelter, sex, and warmth. They are the most important in Maslow’s triangle because they are directly connected to one’s health and basic bodily functions.

  1. Safety needs

Once people own basic needs, they need to feel safe. This second need consists of protection from fear, natural elements, crimes, and instability.

  1. Sense of belonging

People who already have basic needs and security start to seek for connection. These needs come in the form of friendship, companionship, and romantic love.

  1. Esteem needs

Esteem needs are related to things like dignity, respect, achievement, independence, and prestige. They can be something that goes inward or outward.

  1. Self-actualization

The highest and latest rank in Maslow’s theory, self-actualization is related to personal growth, fulfillment, and peak experience. Basically, this is the part where you feel that you can “be and do anything” in life.

At first, Maslow said that one must completely fulfill the needs on each stage before moving. He revised his theory in 1987, saying that the fulfillment of this hierarchy is not that strict. People can fulfill each need in overlap, based on personal circumstances and backgrounds.

Expanded Version of Hierarchy of Needs

Around the 1970s, Maslow expanded his theory, adding three more needs into the triangle: cognitive, aesthetic, and transcendence. If listed from bottom to top, the list consists of physiological, safety, sense of belonging, esteem, cognitive, aesthetic, self-actualization, and transcendence.

Here are the explanations of the three newest needs:

  1. Cognitive

Cognitive needs cover curiosity, studying, knowledge-searching, and exploration. If expanded, these needs fulfill humans’ wishes to make sense of their surroundings.

  1. Aesthetic

Aesthetic needs cover humans’ interests over beauty, form, balance, and design. They encourage individuals to enjoy or make songs, movies, books, and artworks.

  1. Transcendence

Many people view transcendence needs as something more important than self-actualization, citing various causes such as religious faith, mystical or spiritual experience, and lifelong commitment to a charity or other positive works (despite the low compensations). Basically, they are things that make a person feels meaningful.

According to Maslow, the stages from physiological to cognitive are “deficiency needs,” which means you will have problems to live if you cannot fulfill them. The half-to-top parts (most of the cognitive part to transcendence) are viewed as “growth needs.”

Why Maslow Created Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s need hierarchy was a part of positive psychology, which only started to appear in studies during his era. Before him, psychology had mostly focused on treating mental illnesses and explaining dysfunctions. Maslow wanted to focus on positive experiences in emotional, social, physical, and intellectual aspects, which are important to boost people’s potentials.

The hierarchy theory helped Maslow to conclude a holistic approach in psychology. He didn’t consider self-actualization as “perfection,” but a form of personal potential achievement. An individual can only reach it if he or she applies positive fulfillments in life. This was considered a unique approach in the middle of the 20th century, focusing on positive aspects in human psychology instead of the abnormal or negative.

Applications of Maslow Theory

So, how Maslow’s theory is applied in the modern world?

Maslow taught that an individual with a problem might not be 100 percent responsible for his or her woes. For example, if a student or employee has poor performances, you must look at things like family or personal relationships, school/workplace conditions, and other possible stress sources. Instead of just focusing on changing the behaviors, Maslow also suggested looking at those other factors to determine solutions.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs may have been revised, and the way they are applied are unique between individuals. However, the basic understanding of what motivates humans have helped modern psychology to grow and develop effective therapies.

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