Abraham Maslow (1908 – 1970) had a pretty compelling reason for becoming a psychologist.
“I was awfully curious to find out why I didn’t go insane,” he said, in a glass-half-full kind of way.
Before his time, most psychology had focused on the abnormal; he, on the other hand, wanted to know what contributed to positive mental health.
Maslow believed that humans have different levels of needs, and we’re compelled to fulfill them in a certain order, starting with the most basic. This hierarchy is usually depicted as a pyramid or a ladder, with fundamental biological needs at the bottom. The next level up is safety, then psychological needs for love and belonging, followed by esteem. At the top is self-actualization—to become the best, highest version of ourselves.
As baby boomers in our fifties and beyond, however, I’d wager we interpret these needs and how to fulfill them a bit differently from when we were younger. To wit:
Level 1: Biological and Physiological Needs
Maslow set down the basics as air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex and sleep. Sure, we boomers still need all these (well, for some at this age, sex may be more of a meh than a must-have), but now there are qualifiers:
- Air may have to be delivered via continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) for folks with sleep apnea
- Food must be non-spicy for those with acid reflux, low in saturated fat for heart health—you get the idea
- Drink is more than fluids for hydration; good wine (or the adult beverage of your choice) is also essential, IMHO
- Shelter’s still a necessity, but at this age it makes increasing sense to downsize to one-floor condo living, or hit the road in an RV
- Warmth often means retirement to or winters in warm-weather climes
- Sleep is vital, but many of us find it elusive, what with fluctuating hormones and a bladder that needs emptying in the wee hours—making sleep aids a related necessity
I’d also add to the basic-needs list:
- Regularity, since a good poop is akin to the holy grail
- Freedom from hot flashes, mood swings and other menopausal symptoms
- A good moisturizer with sunscreen
- Exercise—sorry, couch potatoes, but it really is essential to health
- Crossword puzzles and other cognitive challenges to keep our minds sharp
- A sense of humor—it really is hard to survive without one
Level 2: Safety Needs
Maslow delineated these as protection from the elements, security, law and order, stability, and freedom from fear. Between climate change and the haters emboldened by Trump’s election, getting these needs met has become more challenging—especially if you’re a person of color, Jewish, Muslim, gay, a woman or an immigrant.
I’d add these to the safety needs list:
- Condoms—if you’re still fulfilling your basic need for sex and it’s outside a monogamous relationship, wrap it up; you’re not immune from STIs at any age
- Grab bars in the shower
- Nightlights for those 3:00 a.m. bathroom visits
- Affordable health insurance
- A guarantee that Social Security is going to be around when we retire
- Comfortable shoes so you don’t lose your balance or throw your back out
- Protection against identify theft and credit card fraud
- Strong passwords
- Regular screening colonoscopies
Level 3: Belonging and Love
According to Maslow, we humans need to feel a sense of belonging among our peeps, which can include family, intimate partners, friends, colleagues and blog followers. We need to love and be loved, show and receive affection, feel part of a group.
I submit that we also need:
- The ability to ignore internet trolls since those fuckers can really knock you off your stride if you let them
- Pets—talk about unconditional love!
- Good personal hygiene (because people tend to not want to get close to you otherwise)
- Kindness and empathy
- The discernment to surround yourself with people who aren’t all judgmental and withholding
Level 4: Esteem
Esteem refers to our desire to be valued for our achievements and who we are. Maslow said there are lower and higher versions of esteem. The lower version refers to the need for recognition from others in the form of status, fame, prestige and attention (hmmm, sound like any president-elect you know?). The higher version manifests as the need for self-respect.
To meet this need, it helps to:
- Have good hair days
- Receive thank-you notes
- Get lots of (positive) comments on your blog
- Not read fashion magazines
- Buy bras that fit
- Remember where you parked the car
- Stop spending time with people who suck you dry
- Stay away from magnifying mirrors (except to pluck facial hairs)
- Stop caring so much about what other people think
- Focus on being healthy versus attaining a certain weight or pants size
- Stop comparing yourself to the limber 20-something on the yoga mat next to you
- Learn that no one’s going to die if you say no (well, except if someone asks you for a kidney, maybe, but that’s a whole other issue…)
Level 5: Self-actualization
Maslow described this as the desire to achieve your personal best; to be all that you can be. He said self-actualizing people tend to focus on problems beyond their own, have a clear sense of what’s real versus phony, are spontaneous and creative, and aren’t strictly bound by social conventions.
In other words, they’ve gotten to a point in life where they’re comfortable in their own skin, trust their gut, contribute to the world around them in an attempt to leave it better than they found it, and simply don’t have any more fucks to give about stuff that doesn’t really matter.
I think a lot of it comes down (up?) to this:
At this age we learn
how to differentiate
between need and want.
Maslow also said that the self-actualized person has what’s called peak experiences: profound moments of love, understanding, even rapture, when she feels more whole and alive, self-sufficient yet connected to the world, and attuned to truth, justice, goodness and harmony.
I’ll have what she’s having.
So what do you think? Where are you on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? What strategies have you found successful for meeting these needs? What’s most important to you at this stage of life? What no longer matters? Please share!