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The Secret to Happiness and Maslow's Hierarchy

By Bill Boyd

"The secret to happiness is contentment" —Dalai Lama

Bill If we are content with what we have, and where we are, then we are happy. This means not grasping for attainment of material objects or even spiritual understanding, but being content and just allowing life to happen. How does this help us to achieve the things we want?

I'm glad you asked! This brings me to Maslow's theory on the hierarchy of human needs. The answer to that question is revealed within the following explanation and its accompanying story...

Maslow was an eminent psychologist who developed a theory on the psychological needs of humans; it is often demonstrated in the form of a pyramid, and referred to in relation to education, motivation and sales training. A summary of his theory would be that we humans have 'needs' that must be satisfied in an order of priority... before higher ideals can be achieved the lower ideals must be met. The order of these needs doesn't change from individual to individual, they are as follows:

  1. PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS, air, water, food, rest, exercise, etc
  2. SAFETY NEEDS, shelter, job security, retirement plan, insurance
  3. LOVE AND BELONGING, children, friends, partners
  4. SELF ESTEEM, fame, recognition, reputation, dignity
  5. SELF ACTUALIZATION, confidence, achievement, FREEDOM
If we don't meet all the needs in the lower levels we will always be in deficit and be trying to meet them before we can obtain the highest levels of genuine self actualization and freedom.

Here's a true story that illustrates Maslow's theory in a practical situation. It's illustrated in a negative context because most of us will understand it better this way. Some details have been changed to allow for publishing here. Note: (L5) means Level 5 as per above.

A person's car breaks down on an old dirt road in the Barclay plains. It's a scorching 44 degrees in the shade, but there aren't any trees to provide shelter... he's in the middle of nowhere, outback, Australia.

He was on his way to Darwin to give a lecture on self defense. He had been giving these talks for some time now and really enjoyed sharing his knowledge, not for the respect that others gave him, but because he is a master of the subject and it felt good doing it (L4/5).

At first he wasn't concerned about the situation and he allowed his mind to be free and take in the beauty of the landscape. He started to reminisce about his friends and family, wondering what they're doing at this time, then he turned on the radio and drifted off to sleep.

When he woke up he realized that he was feeling lonely and would love to have someone to talk to (L3). After a few hours he started to feel a little uncomfortable and realized that he could be in some danger so he tried to think of a plan for his safety. After some time more, he decided to head off in search for help. It started getting dark and he became really worried; his senses were tuned into every sound (L2). Then he realized that he hadn't eaten since breakfast and that he was hungry and very thirsty (L1).

After two more days, his only thoughts were about finding water to stay alive, he wasn't concerned about eating because his body knew it could survive for weeks without food, but only a few days without water. So then his immediate concern was for the basic need of water.

Suddenly! Someone jumped on him from behind, and started to choke him... he couldn't breathe! Then his need for air was stronger than his need for water! But it was only a joke; his best friend had come looking for him when he didn't show up in Darwin on time. He had found the car and then tracked his mate to where he found him, looking pretty ragged. Then as all good mates do, he decided to play a practical joke to give him a fright! They are still good friends today.

At the beginning, the story shows a person who had met all his needs and was at the highest level. He had truly manifested his dream into reality. But then he quickly went into 'Needs Deficit' (ND). Clearly we must walk before we can run. If we can't breath we aren't worried about water, we need air, our ND is air; this is a very basic example.

To look at it another way we could say that trying to be highly regarded and successful (4/5) will not be possible if we are in ND of (1, 2, or 3). Our ND needs attention first; this doesn't mean that if we don't have a house and family we can't achieve our dream ambitions. On the contrary it means that we should let go of our craving, yearning and striving to achieve success at any cost type of attitude, and maintain our lower level needs so that we can then open the path to the higher levels. Many of us, myself included, have been guilty of forgetting about our need for friends and family when we are trying to obtain our highest ideals of success.

If we maintain our basic needs we will be able share our dreams and talk about them and believe in them and be content and happy about them, thus allowing our dreams to manifest into reality. Doesn't it make sense that with this kind of thinking we will all be able to move on to the higher levels of self actualization?

Maintain your ND and believe in your dreams - the rest will happen!

Bill Boyd has been in business for 20 years; he has studied Chinese medicine, Oriental Philosophy and has a 3rd degree Black Belt in Tang Soo Do. He has coached and mentored several elite athletes to international success.

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