Maslow and Human Happiness

A recent article in the Vancouver Sun (August 27, 2010) is causing debate about American psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous “pyramid of needs.” Many of us have taken a psych course somewhere along the line that introduced us to Maslow’s pyramid of needs which has held sway since 1943. Maslow’s theory suggests that the search for “self-actualization” is the top of the pyramid. This is a person’s highest goal.

But recent research printed in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Sciences by UBC researcher Prof. Mark Schaller and colleagues suggests that “the pursuit of self-realization, and the self-absorption that can often go with it, are not nearly as important to humans as the need to find and keep a supportive partner and raise healthy children.” The “researchers are suggesting humans are much more likely to find well-being by giving to others — including kids, partners and other loved ones — than by narrowly focusing on their own happiness.”

The Vancouver Sun article goes on to point out that, even as the research is debated and questioned, these researchers have done a great service by challenging the idea that the way to human happiness lies in seeking self-actualization. After all, the search for self-actualization often becomes nothing more than an addiction to consumption, fleeting pleasure and narcissism. What might happen if a new generation of psych students were taught that the way to human happiness lies in loving a spouse, caring for children, and having empathy for others?