Survive, Thrive, Joy 101: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is the most important concept I learned during almost a decade of university education.  It’s basic.  It’s profound.  It brilliantly distills complex intellectual theory into something anyone can grasp and understand.  It is the recipe for surviving, thriving, and finding joy.

The theory was developed by Abraham Maslow to give managers an incentive to treat employees with dignity and respect.  Sadly, it has been perverted by executives and elected officials hell bent on abusing the power entrusted to them.

The foundation of the pyramid is all about surviving.  The middle is about thriving, and the top is about finding joy.  We must have our foundation needs firmly in place to progress up to the top of the pyramid:  self-actualization.

Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

People who have been made secure and strong in the earliest years

tend to remain secure and strong thereafter in the face of whatever threatens.

Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

Basic Needs

Our basic survival needs are at the foundation of our lives and Maslow’s pyramid.  If our basic survival needs are not met or are threatened, it is impossible for us to function.  We are unable to think beyond how we will get those needs met:  water, food, air, sleep, sex, and elimination of body waste.  This is why we all need periodic breaks during the day to take care of our bodies.

The most evolved CEO, for example, will not be able to focus on a keynote speech if the executive has to pee.  We’ve all been there. . .the only thing that matters is finding the nearest restroom.

An abusive person will withhold these basic needs in order to maintain power and control over another person.  It is a classic way to break a person’s spirit and to sabotage a person’s quest for success.

Safety Needs

What shall we think of a well-adjusted slave?

Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

We all need predictability to move forward in life.  We need to know we will be safe from harm.  These needs are met via a safe place to live, medical insurance, job security, and money in the bank. 

The American dream will not come true for people whose need for safety is not met via access to a quality education, living-wage employment, and safe housing.  We will not evolve into the best we can be if our security is constantly threatened.  We will be stuck in survival mode.

We must be safe if we are to move beyond barely surviving to thriving and finding joy.

Social Needs

Who is to say that a lack of love is less important than a lack of vitamins?

– Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

We all need to feel that we belong and are accepted.  We all need to give and receive love, affection, and companionship.  Ideally, our need for intimacy is met by friends and family.

This is why a support network is vital if we are to thrive and find joy.  This is also why people join religious organizations and social and professional clubs.  This is why many employers refer to their organizations as families.

This is why abusive people and predators seek as their prey a person who is isolated or not protected by loved ones.  This is why we need to develop a protection circle.

We need to feel like we belong and are accepted before we will achieve a healthy sense of accomplishment.

Esteem Needs

The lover perceives in the beloved what no one else can.

– Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

This level is all about accomplishment and recognition.  People at this level shine, thrive, and demonstrate competence.  People who have achieved self-mastery will have a healthy self-esteem.  They are respected by themselves as well as others.  These folks radiate self-confidence, strength of character, self-sufficiency, independence, and freedom.  They are in the driver’s seat of their life.  Their power is authentic.

People who feel inferior, however, will seek external validation and power.  They believe that wearing a power suit will give them authentic power.  Their lives become a quest for status, recognition, fame, prestige, and attention from others.  These people are easily manipulated because their sense of self is determined by approval from others.  They will not be able to move to the top of the pyramid until they achieve self-mastery and competence.

Where are you?  If you are motivated by a sense of accomplishment and self-respect, you are ready for the next level.  If, however, your incentives are provided by others ~ social status, recognition, and attention ~ you will need to take control of your life first.  Self-actualization requires that our motivation be for the greater good rather than for our own selfish desires.


A first-rate soup is more creative than a second-rate painting.

A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write,

if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.

– Abraham Maslow, Ph.D.

At this level, we are the best we can be.  We have the world by the tail.  We are operating at our highest potential.  This is where we experience joy. 

Truth, justice, wisdom, and life’s meaning are important to people at this level.  We are all drawn to the sense of authentic self-mastery these people radiate.

This is where people achieve their life’s mission and have peak experiences.  This is where people are spiritually connected to their creative essence.  In other words, this is where the magic happens.

If we are lucky in life and work hard, we get to experience these moments.  Yet, nobody stays here permanently.  We must tend to all our needs to keep the foundation of our lives strong and solid.

Cornerstone of Self-Help Books

If aspects of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs sound familiar, his work has been ripped off by all the best-selling self-help gurus.  They’ve created the myth that we are lacking in some profound way if we haven’t taken up permanent residence at the top of the pyramid.  In many respects, they have deprived us of the joy that comes from making a great pie or soup and deciding we’re going to embrace our soul’s desire.

Dr. Maslow knew what he was talking about.  His own parents wanted him to be an attorney.  He wanted to study sociology and psychology.  He discovered the path to self-actualization by studying the top 1% of successful people.


2 responses to “Survive, Thrive, Joy 101: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  1. I remember studying Maslow in college ( Kansas State University-1971) Thanks for the refresher course!

  2. Ms. Sorenson,

    We must be about the same age. Kansas State University is a school I considered very seriously. Buzz Dunn, one of my father’s friends, was a professor of accounting there. I vividly recall visiting Manhattan. He got a post shortly thereafter at Louisiana State University.

    Maslow was a favorite of mine.

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

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