The important things in life
We all care about some things more than others, but there are some things in life that we all find important. These commonalities are often derived from things that used to help us survive. It can help to know what things we find important as a species. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can prioritise in this same order. It’ll often make you feel more grounded.
I’ll divide this post up in the order a famous psychologist once made: Maslow. He made the ‘hierarchy of needs’, also known as Maslow’s pyramid. The lower ranks represent the most basic needs of a person, the things one needs to survive. The more you go up, the less it’s about surviving and the more it is about thriving.
The first and most basic layer is the layer of physiological needs. It’s about sleep, food, hydration and physical health. The funny thing is that the further we go up, the more we tend to forget about these. When we’re looking for fame in the business world for instance, some tend to sleep less or eat a lot of take-aways. However, good food and a decent night of sleep is essential for your well-being and you won’t get a happily ever after.
This blog isn’t based on the mix between the body and the mind for nothing. I’ve found that when you’re feeling down, it can really be a good start to take better care of your body. Sleep 8 hours a night, eat healthy foods, drink enough water, exercise a little. It can feel a bit strange to focus on your diet before going to a psychologist. However, it may give you that little bit of energy you’ll need to work on the mental aspect of your health. The other way around also works. It can be pretty difficult to know when your mind is going down hill, so try to notice the bodily cues. Some get back pain, some sleep less or more, and some people start eating more or less. These might all be cues to help you intercept a storm coming on, before it goes too far.
Why is safety second in the hierarchy of needs?
The second need that we want to have met is the need of safety. This naturally includes not being held at gunpoint or living in a war zone. However, it also entails a whole lot more. Safety also includes a sense of security in the future for instance. Like I touched upon in the psychology of poverty, we tend to think really short-term when money (and thus the unlimited supply of food) in tight, this is part of the scarcity mindset. However, when those basic needs are met, we are able to think long-term to secure our ability to find food in the future as well. Think about times in your life when you were stressed for instance. This was probably not the time that you thought: ‘let’s check whether my insurance is still perfect for my needs’, whereas it could prevent you from more troubles in the future.
A more serious thing we see in this regard, combined with the next step, is the forming of gangs in poor areas. Because of the often dreadful situations, people hope to find safety in groups. Although this might make us feel safer, it often doesn’t work in the long-term due to group forming. These groups actually decrease the feelings of safety in the neighbourhood. However, by the time the members figure that out, they’re often way too deep in it already. The layer of safety is also the reason why I recommended to pay a lot of attention when you’re buying a house. A safe home environment is one of the most important factors in your happiness.
What does love and belonging entail?
The third layer is the one of love and belonging. We can do a while without a hug without dying, but we do get very depressed when we’re depraved of human connection. This got more and more apparent in the lockdown situations we’ve had in the past year. Without the usual faces around us and having to keep our distance, we can feel lonely. No wonder that people who get bullied in their youth still feel the effects later on! Did you know that babies can actually die from not being hugged or touched enough?
We, as a species, aren’t fast. We’re not strong. We can’t swim, fly away or dig ourselves in when things get tough. Therefore, we have to rely on our wisdom, the fact that we have hands and above all, our numbers. We keep each other save and when synergy kicks in, we thrive. This can be as friends, as family and as lovers, but often it’s also just as human beings. An extra smile to the cashier or a compliment to that random person on the streets with the nice shoes, it can all make life more pleasant.
How does esteem play a role in the hierarchy of needs?
When we finally have food, water, a roof over our heads and a warm group of people around you that you can trust, we will seek a way to boost our esteem. This layer in the hierarchy of needs is the need to feel mighty. We will seek a way to get more prestigious jobs, to gain standing in our community. We want to feel proud of ourselves and we want others to look up to us. It’s the reason why we love getting badges or fancy job titles. It’s why things like ’employee of the month’ work so motivating.
However, every group defines status differently. For some, it might be a fancy job title, for some, it might be athletic accomplishment. Therefore, it might be that you don’t care about a fancy car, but that other people would do anything to get one. People actually go pretty far to get status and it’s most often done by owning some types of things and brands that fit their group’s idea of a status symbol. For instance, some people find it cool to wear sweatpants in public from a brand like Nike, whereas others see it as ‘not done’ in public, unless they’re exercising. In some groups, getting high grades in school is for ‘nerds’, whereas for others, graduating summa cum laude is the ultimate goal.
Trying to gain esteem is thus nothing bad. It’s only natural that you want to better yourself and gain status from it. However, this need can have the backlash that we tend to compare ourselves to others a lot. This is why social media can be dangerous for our mental health, it can make us feel like we’re not good enough. Then, our need for esteem kicks in and we’ll need to find ways to boost that esteem again. This can make us do strange things, like trying to push others down to get on top, or do crazy things to get better, like diet too strict.
We need to find ways to balance this out, for instance by practising mindfulness. There are certain mindfulness exercises that help you celebrate your own personal wins more and put the amazing insta bodies and powerful, but slightly intimidating business owners into perspective. It is not necessary to demonise successful people however. It’s up to us to see them for what they can be: inspirations. We shouldn’t be jealous of their success and there’s no way that we couldn’t become as successful in our own ways as well. We need to set aside our pride and learn from the people who came before us. Go back to being that ten year old with a poster of your favourite band or soccer player on the wall. How you’d look up to them with the hopes to become like them, but all in good time.
The top of the Maslow’s pyramid: self-actualisation
We’ve come to the last step, the top of the pyramid. This layer is all about self-actualisation. After we’ve build ourselves (and our ego’s) up, we start to find more meaning in life. This is the part where we go on journeys to find ourselves, where we donate to charities, where we love listening to inspirational stories about the true meaning of life.
This layer is actually also a very special one opposed to the others. The others are all about filling up gaps. Filling up our tummies, filling up our insecurities. This one however, is about growth. This is when we stop worrying too much about what we don’t have and where we want to get to 110% instead.
This is also when we will try to help other become better and where we try to express ourselves and who we are. When you don’t have money to buy food or when you’re convinced no one likes you, you’re less likely to try to find your own unique style in clothes or make-up. You’ll just be glad to have survived that far. Your clothes can however be used to make things in the other layers happen though. Dressing cool might make you seem tougher, so no one will dare to attack you. Dressing sharp will definitely help you when you’re looking for a job. And with that will come some sense of personal style. However, really experimenting with it or stepping out of your comfort zone to find your style will be more of a thing you do when everything else is taken care of.
Is the hierarchy of needs exact science?
No, this is not hard science and there are no set rules. When I was in South-Africa, I saw photo’s from a magazine as a poster hanging on the walls of a little hut. The poster showed a soccer player that the boy admired. This was a boy that had no money. His family was struggling to get enough food and water each day to even survive. In this theory, the boy shouldn’t care less about that soccer player. Role models shouldn’t be relevant at that stage, but somehow it still was.
It’s therefore important to remind yourself that the layers aren’t set in stone. When you suddenly lose all your money, you’ll be thrown back into the first layer, according to the theory. However, they might still take the lessons they’ve learned in the last stage with them. However, going up as quickly is often harder. When people suddenly become rich, they’ll often still feel insecure about the future. Therefore, the first few decisions they make will likely still rely on a short-term vision. They’ll also be less likely to find a guru to help them grow emotionally right away. The first priorities will most likely be to buy better housing and maybe to eat and drink fancier. Those other stages will come later.
I hope all this information will help you to balance out your private priorities better. When you’re feeling overwhelmed by life (as we all do sometimes), you can grab this pyramid and see where you’re at. Are you physically okay? Do you feel safe? Then, you might want to focus on your relationships with others. Is that in order again? Esteem might be next, so maybe you need to find a way to create a promotion for yourself or to find pride in what you’re already doing.
How do you manage when you’re feeling overwhelmed? Where do you start to find your feet again? How do you prioritise what the important things in life are? Let me know in the comments below! And if you liked this post, please get yourself this e-book on saving money to get your safety needs fixed by subscribing to my blog! You can also follow me on Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter for even more content.
Lots of love,
LisaHome » Mind »
Amazing! I know nothing about traveling all over the country, what a wonderful looking place to explore.
Really insightful post. I learnt a lot. There is more to life than what we make of it.
Thank you and there really is! It’s all about knowing how to dive into it!
This was such an interesting read Lisa! I never heard of the Hierarchy’s needs before. I think that safety and physical contact are so important and learned a lot of it this year! Thanks for sharing x
Wow what a thought provoking post – and completely different to my usual reading list. Close contact is something I really miss, I am very huggy and affectionate and not being to see and hug my family has been really tough!
I can totally imagine, it’s something we all miss I think, closeness with loved ones is so important! I hope we’ll soon be able to hug our loved ones again!
I thought I knew what Maslow’s pyramid of needs was all about, but I guess you proved me wrong – especially about it not being a linear thing necessarily.
All the best, Michelle (michellesclutterbox.com)
Thank you and I’m glad to have helped you along with it 😊
Happy new year Lisa! This post brings back all kinds of memories about university psychology classes which I always enjoyed. Good point about the lower tiers of the pyramid filling in gaps!
Happy new year, I hope you had a fantastic New Year’s Eve! It did for me writing it to haha, brings back memories of some professors.
We studied this a little bit when I was in college but that was a long time ago now so this refresher was interesting. It’s a good basic concept, but it runs the risk of boxing us in and assumes to some extent that we all pin the same importance on set needs. Not a bad basic framework though x
That’s definitely true! And I think the concepts mean different things to different people as well, but it’s a nice guideline to follow when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Even if you disagree with some points!
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a theory that comes up often in my classes. I think the way that it is structured is helpful for people to think in a certain way, but I am always a little apprehensive about the allure of theoretical frameworks. They can wind up boxing people in and causing us to think in a restricted manner too. Nevertheless, this blog post is a great summary of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, and I think I learned even more about how this theory works from reading this blog post! Thanks for sharing! 🙂
I definitely agree with you there, theories like these are great as guidelines, but they’re not rules. If the situation asks for a different approach, you should always consider that as well!
I loved reading this, I learnt alot about Maslows Hierarchy of Needa during my degree so it was nice to be able to remind myself of it!
Glad that you liked it! I always like to go back to the basics of psychology every once in a while.
Great post Lisa! I get overwhelmed quite easily when there’s too many things going on or things are a mess. I often take a step back and break it into little pieces and instead of procrastinating, I deal with it right away! I loved learning in depth about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in psych class. Very interesting and creates a lot of discussion. xo
Thank you and I feel you on feeling overwhelmed easily. Dealing with it straight away is difficult, but often the best thing!