For convenience sake, I will refer to Maslow's needs as follows:
Self-actualization & Esteem = high level needs
Love/belonging & Safety = mid level needs
Physiological = low level need
I find that many of us feel trapped in our current situation, not particularly satisfied with what we are doing or where we are headed. There's a mismatch between what our conscience wants us to go after, and what our current situation allows.
Looking at Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and assuming that its presumptions are reasonable, I believe that most adults have their safety needs and love needs at least partially satisfied. But we can rephrase this situation and say that they are also "stuck" at this stage. Without fully satisfying their needs here, they must continue to allocate resources to maintaining and improving their mid level needs. It is incredibly difficult to move onto satisfying the high level needs of esteem and self-actualization without freeing all of one's resources (particularly time).
The way in which we satisfy our safety needs in this era is largely through financial security. Having financial security is an ongoing maintenance effort for all but the wealthiest of individuals. We must spend a disproportionately large numbers of hours at work, which detracts from our ability to satisfy our love needs, as well as our high level needs.
The sad reality is that for most normal citizens of the world, employment becomes a burden which prevents us from addressing our higher needs. For instance, stories of people working too many hours and sacrificing their personal relationships is an all too familiar story. Similarly, our high level needs are hardly addressable when we're regularly worn out and fatigued from our day jobs. As a result, our needs remain unsatisfied; our mid level needs are only satisfied partly, and only due to our ongoing active maintenance efforts. We are vaguely conscious or subconsciously aware of our high level needs, but don't have many resources to devote to them after the day is over.
If we were all oblivious to our high level needs, then we probably wouldn't persistently feel unsatisfied with ourselves. In fact, if our physiological needs aren't satisfied, then we probably wouldn't even realize our esteem and self-actualization needs, since our minds would be so preoccupied with survival. However, once we have our mid level needs partly satisfied, we become aware of the high level needs. Since we are aware of them and yet cannot satisfy them at all, we become frustrated and unsatisfied with ourselves. Alternatively, we could choose to consciously ignore and forget about this psychological void.
While it may be all but impossible to ensure our financial security for perpetuity, we can figure exactly what we would do in order to satisfy our high level needs, if given the opportunity.
The thought experiment is quite simple. Ask yourself, "What would you do with your life if you became a billionaire?"
Note that you should ask yourself what you want to do with your life, rather that simply "what you want to do". Simple desires like "I want to travel the world", or "I would buy a Ferrari", fall into the latter. They are simple actions that take only a few years, at maximum. When trying to answer what you'd do with your ask, think in terms of decades, rather than in terms of days, months, or even years.
If you were a billionaire, would you still work? Would you still work at your current job, or would you go somewhere else? What would you aim to accomplish there, and why?? What kind of experiences do you want, and why? Who do you want to help, and why? Where do you want to live, and why? Whose life do you want to change, and why? Never stop asking why you're feeling these needs; keep digging ever deeper.
Becoming a billionaire would fully satisfy your safety needs. Once your safety needs are guaranteed, you would be able to devote near-infinite money and all the time you have to satisfy your remaining needs. Really immerse yourself in this hypothetical, and believe that you have no need to work. You should be able to feel some needs stronger than others, reflecting your own awareness of your desires. The way you want to spend your life is a reflection of the unique set of needs for you to be satisfied in this world.
This thought experiment is of course, not perfect; not even close. However, it does allow us to begin thinking of our higher level needs, if we could rid ourselves of our financial insecurities. The desires that we feel under this hypothetical situation is a reflection of who we wish to become, if given the resources to do so. This idealized image of ourselves is in turn a representation of the unaddressed and unsatisfied needs that we are consciously or subconsciously aware of. Once we become aware of these higher needs, perhaps we can work little by little to fill in these holes. Even if our current situation doesn't give us the resources to address these needs, we would at least have the peace of mind and critical awareness of the root of our psychological dissatisfaction with our current selves.
With luck, this understanding should prove to be the first step towards and eventual resolution.
Crossposted from main blog