Social psychologist Abraham Maslow created a pyramid that defined what a person needs to do to achieve what he called “self-actualization”. This is basically a state of “being the best that you could possibly be”. He saw this state as what leads an individual to lasting happiness. However, this wasn’t a state that was achieved once and continually provided happiness. The state was a constant building of self to be the best that a person could be at any given point. For example, my best for today is different than your best for today. My best for today may be better or worse than yesterday’s best – but it’s the best I could possibly do at that time.
As I look back at this pyramids, I look at what builds the individual towards self-actualization; fulfillment of physiological needs, safety needs, love/belonging needs, and esteem needs. The individual needs sustenance like food to survive, while also needing a sense of security and belonging to feel happy.
The trait that define a self-actualized person are a sense of morality, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance and so on. There are moments in my life when I feel maximized and at these traits. The more I look at them, the more I can see myself fulfilling them. However, when I get into relationships it seems that I shift out of self-actualization.
When I’m around others, I tend to neglect my own needs. I forget my need for esteem and exaggerate my need for belonging/love. Without feeling like I belong with others, I lose my self-esteem and thus, my creativity and spontaneity suffer. When I spend a lot of time alone, I seem to be able to organize my needs and focus more on self-improvement.
For some reason, it seems that these are the moments that I’m happiest. The moments when I feel like I’ve accomplished something or improved myself. My need for intimacy seems to be dramatically lower than my need for self-fulfillment. I’m not sure how much other people suffer through this but it’s a little disorienting to be with another.
The moments that are the clearest are after the water has been shaken. As it stills, you can see deeper. Right now I feel like I’m a glass of water that’s been shaken and you can’t see into it. The surface is stilling but it’s still blurred. As I look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I see where a lot of my suffering comes from. If you ever have the opportunity to read Maslow’s work, I encourage you to read into it. It adds a perspective that you couldn’t find otherwise.