Saturday, April 14, 2007

In a hierarchy of needs happiness is missing

Maslow's hierarchy of needs is an intriguing construct. It attempts to capture the nature of human endeavor in the form of a ladder, arranged according to different types of pursuit, reflected by levels. The theory is that the drive for a higher tier of need only exists once the preceding level has been fulfilled. Thus it is only when the most basic survival needs of food, water and air are achieved that an individual is focused on safety needs.

There are two elements worthy of note:

!. It suggests that the drive for better and 'improving one's lot' is fundamental to human nature. This might suggest that our species is destined never to be happy, with an ever-higher level always calling and always our pursuit. OFT's dear friend Mihaly weighs in appropriately and dissents on the matter:

"This paradox if rising expectations suggests that improving the quality of life might be an insurmountable task. In fact, there is no insurmountable problem in our desire to escalate our goals as long as we enjoy the struggle along the way. The problem arises when people become so fixated of what they are trying to achieve that they cease to derive pleasure from the present. When that happens they forfeit their chance of contentment,"

2. Where does happiness fit into all this? Given how basic Maslow's ladder of needs appears to be to people's orientation and how they direct their energy, the lack of happiness explains a lot. After all, evidence suggests - as noted in this blog only yesterday - that rising material affluence does not increase happiness, and several poorer, developing countries report a higher average happiness despite lacking further progress up Maslow's hierarachy.

OFD would be intrigued indeed to hear people's thoughts on what form a hierarchy of happiness takes and how it aligns with Maslow's forerunner.

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