How Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs Works

We can all agree that humans are strange creatures. But this hierarchy is a way to break down our behavior into a way that's easier to comprehend. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a categorization and prioritization of all the things which humans seek to attain and maintain. It's generally understood that if a person has the opportunity to satisfy all of these needs, then they will be happy.

Obviously, some things are more important to you than others. For example, if you wake up hungry, you’re more likely to think about breakfast than to enter a feeling of existential dread — “I haven’t achieved my full potential!” Thankfully, psychologist Abraham Maslow accounted for this.

The “needs” are categorized as follows, in order of importance:

  1. Physiological needs
  2. Safety needs
  3. Needs of love or belonging
  4. Esteem related needs
  5. Needs of self-actualisation.

Example Of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

Some of the needs listed above might seem a little abstract, so let’s implement them into a form that's a little more straightforward: a caveman’s daily life. To a caveman, the instinctually important aspects of life are the ones that are essential to his survival and then the survival of his species.

  • He needs to breathe, so he will make sure his airways are clear.
  • He needs to eat and drink, so he will find food and water.
  • He needs to keep away from the hot sun and harsh rain, so he will construct some shelter.
  • He needs to keep himself from freezing, so he will build a fire, and make some clothes to keep himself warm.
  • His body needs to rest, so he will take the time to sleep.
  • His species needs to live on, so he will seek out a partner.

Other important needs include safety, love, and a feeling of belonging. It's essential that the caveman is safe from danger — perhaps he will build weapons or put-up fences to keep out dangerous animals. He will keep a routine, which means he doesn't have to deal with surprises. But surely there is more to life than simply staying alive, right? The caveman will seek out others – a close family or friend group – where he can feel connected.

Following these essential needs are the personal needs of esteem and self-actualization. The caveman experiences a desire to be respected. He needs to feel happy about himself and know that others respect him too. People look for the approval of others because of this need. After that, he will seek to achieve things in his life and earn the respect he feels he deserves. This is self-actualization: seeking to be the best version of yourself.

Significance of Maslow’s Hierarchy Of Needs

This is an incredibly important theory in many fields. As a society, we want each other to be happy, so many believe that it's up to the government to fulfill some of the most essential needs. For example, many people believe that people are entitled to food, water, safe housing, etc., along with the opportunity to achieve the rest of the needs on this hierarchy. Well before Maslow published his ideas in 1943, they were echoed in the United States Declaration of Independence, labeling “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as inalienable rights.

Certainly, this research influenced the UN’s Declaration of Human Rights (1948), which has had a huge influence on legislation and policy around the globe for the last fifty years. Not only this, but the Hierarchy of Needs is a key concept, often cited in psychology. Human nature certainly owes much to Maslow.