It’s a glorious day. The sun is finally shining and the temperature is still mild. The air is softly scented with the wildness of privet hedge and honeysuckle. I am enjoying my personal freedom along with a raging case of spring fever. All in all, life couldn’t be much better. I am at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
In other words, I really don’t have any needs; lots of wants but not a need in sight. In all of this, I realize how fortunate we are to live in this country. We may have some wants, but none of us know the real and crushing day-to-day life drama of not being able to get water or food. We don’t know what it is like to live in a refugee tent.
We don’t know what it is like to sell all our belongings and trust a human smuggler to take us and our family to a new and hopefully safer place to start over. We aren’t displaced by war and invasions and we haven’t been gassed by the governing dictatorship.
When all is said and done, we live where everyone else longs to be.
I remember finding fascinating the theory of the human hierarchy of needs created by Abraham Maslow. He proposed it in a paper titled “Theory of Human Motivation” back in 1943. I can’t remember what class taught it; whether it was high school science fare or I got it from Psych 1 in college, but I “got” it.
Though not actually used by Maslow himself, the pyramid became an effective representation of what humans believe to be necessary and desirable to live a full and happy existence. Admittedly an oversimplification for any one person, it is intuitively understood to be a good structure to measure the important elements of the human experience.
One of the most useful things about having a twitter account is the ability to easily get news from disparate sources. I got a recent tweet from the Washington Post with a map and a study about what the people of various countries value most to have a good life.
The article didn’t use Maslow, but that is how I interpreted what this study essentially represented in a more stratified way. It was done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). OECD surveyed more than 80,000 people around the world. The index measures what the respondents think are most important to them for a “Better Life.” A Maslow’s hierarchy redux.
There are five levels to Maslow’s original pyramid. Obviously the most basic human need and the foundation of the pyramid is the physiological which considers immediate requirements such as air, water, food and sleep; those things without which we cannot survive. It is the foundation that everything else rests on. Until you satisfy those you can’t plan a future past your next meal.
The second level of the pyramid is safety which includes personal physical and financial safety along with health and well being. The next two levels are love and belonging followed by self-esteem/respect.
The top of Maslow’s original pyramid is the self-actualization stage. It is the ultimate place in human existence. It is when all the underlying needs have been met and the society as a whole provides each person the environment to concentrate on being all they can be.
The attainment of life satisfaction is how the “Better Life” index rates it. The United States survey results say that we value above all else life satisfaction. While there isn’t a precise match with Maslow’s categories I think it is pretty safe to say that we are at the top of the pyramid and we are pretty happy about it.
We are not alone in our position. There are many other countries such as Switzerland, Canada and Australia that place a high value on life satisfaction. They sit astride the top of the pyramid too. What is a sad and disturbing revelation is the number of countries who are still trying to get beyond that second tier of safety.
America remains the land of opportunity to most people. We need to remember how fortunate we are to have been born in this country where we aren’t battling daily just to survive. There is a reason we have kept a T-shirt company in business with just the slogan “Life is Good.”
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.