Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in a nutshell

I have a feeling that in today’s world this theory has been forgotten in favor of quick turnaround, ROI, or other business-crappy needs. Which is even weirder because we have such great research available! Developed in 1943 by an American psychologist and philosopher Abraham Maslow, the hierarchy of needs is a key foundation in understanding how drive and motivation are correlated when discussing human behavior. It’s gobsmacking how logical Maslow’s pyramid, how the needs stem from us being humans, loving our families, and seeking sense in our lives.



Even though we have a humanitarian right to all the below, there are still countries and people in need, people who have to scout for food and shelter every day. Take a moment and help someone in need, find a local support organization or donate globally: UNICEF, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, The Jane Goodall Institute.

Let’s be good humans. Thank you!


As a humanist, Maslow believed that people have an innate desire to be self-accomplished and achieve their best. In order to do so, however, a number of more basic needs must be met – and the step-by-step approach to how those needs develop and depend on each other is what Maslow’s theory presents.


His hierarchy of needs is usually depicted as a pyramid, with the most basic needs at the base, and then climbing level by level to the most complex and dependent one, the fulfillment of our potential.




It’s important to know that his theory doesn’t state that we cannot live without them. It is possible not to satisfy all needs from the levels, but that would mean a skewed development. If those needs are not met, they halt our further development and can result in anxieties, traumas, mental health issues, and other disorders.


Physiological needs

The first, basic level of needs is derived from a social and anthropological theory of human survival – as in, we all want to survive without thinking about what to put on our plates or how to pay for a shirt. Or, historically, we are hunters to satisfy those basic needs. We are bound to fulfill these physiological needs first, make sure that they are saved from death and fight, in order to move further.


Safety/security needs

When food and shelter are no longer a problem, the need to be safe from any danger jumps next. This refers to protecting ourselves from various risks and dangers.
It can be physical safety (no wars or natural disasters, happy family, no racism), economic safety (enough money for physiological needs), job safety, the safety of the neighborhood and country. In the absence of these, we would naturally seek new opportunities to provide safety and forget about other, less important needs.


Social needs

When we don’t have to worry about food and clothing, shelter, and any dangers that can threaten our peaceful life, it’s when we move to the next level and seek social contact. As social creatures, we need to belong somewhere, share our history and emotions. We seek acceptance in a group that is similar. For most people, being lonely can severely impact their life and staunch their motivation and development.


Self-esteem needs

So now we have satisfied our physiological and safety needs, and there are friends and family around – this feeling of contentment moves the needs forward towards self-esteem and self-respect. It’s typically human to want to be seen as worthy, to be recognized and respected by others. Fulfilling this need makes us feel better about ourselves, the world, and any future plans. When we feel that we are on a road to be admired in the eyes of others, we generally feel more confident and believe in our own abilities way more.


Self-actualization needs

At this point, we are fed and watered, safe and sound, and respected by our peers. This is the time to finally focus on our full potential. This is the desire to accomplish whatever we can and we set out to do. Of course, this potential is different for everyone – one can want to be the best parent, one can be the greatest architect, for others, it may be any form of artistic expression, traveling, and so on. It is undoubtedly the hardest level of needs to achieve because we need to master all the previous ones, but also reflect and understand ourselves in order to find out what our own potential is.

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Humanistic Psychology: Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

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If you’re a visual person, below is a picture-like representation of the pyramid, feel free to use it anytime:



Well, simply put, we can address our own development more critically and to the point. Moreover, we can be better humans by addressing the same in others. For example, as teachers, we can provide water, healthy snacks and breaks during school time for the kids to feel safe and taken care of, thus fulfilling the first two levels of the hierarchy. Making sure bullying and intolerances don’t happen, and encouraging friendships addressed the social need to be accepted by peers. And same for managers, making sure that (business) needs of your team are met, you would have a more happy and better working team, focused on development, both for themselves and for your company as a result.


And if you’re bored by theory, give a watch to Mel Robbins, talking about needs and impulses. Same topic, different execution!