The Quandary of Self-Actualization

By Factoryjoe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia CommonsI woke up early this morning. The weak morning sunlight was creeping through the sheer curtains and my husband was snoring gently in the bed next to me … that is, until I rolled over and asked him, “Is the reason you want me to leave town because you want to get rid of me?”

After reassuring me that no, he did not want to get rid of me, our conversation turned to the Big Life Questions: our purposes in life, our individual and family moral codes, how we can best express our creativity, and so forth. After he left for work, I lay in bed for a few more moments processing everything we talked about when it struck me: we are so lucky that we are able to give attention to ourselves.

Abraham Maslow, American psychologist and creator of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, theorized that humans must have their most basic needs met before turning their attention to higher-order needs. We can have parallel processes running at the same time, but our motivation is driven from the bottom up.

Thinking about oneself—self-actualization—is at the top of the pyramid. It is the cherry on the sundae. Maslow’s theory states that to understand the concepts categorized as self-actualization, one must master the previous four levels.

Isn’t that lucky?

If I’m lying around thinking about stuff like my creativity (or lack thereof), my moral code, and life in general, that means that I have a roof over my head and enough to eat, I am safe, I have loving friends and family, and I have self-esteem and self-confidence. So many people in this world don’t have the most basic of these needs—a home and enough food—and I can hang out and ponder the Meaning of Life.

Of course, this come with its drawbacks: self-improvement—self-actualization—makes you neurotic.

Thinking about yourself all day long makes you crazy. It can turn your focus so inward that you lose touch of what’s going on outside of you, your family, and your home. You end up thinking about life inside of a vacuum when in reality, life cannot exist in a vacuum. That’s not life; that’s an experiment in control and deprivation.

Don’t deprive yourself of living your life. Continue striving to transcend yourself and your situation if you must, but don’t neglect the other components of your life.

Take some time to reaffirm others.

Focus on your family and friends for an afternoon—in person, if you can.

Tend to the safety of your home, your body, and your legacy.

Take part in a simple meal and appreciate that this is enough to sustain you.

Life doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and neither does this conversation—so I’d love to hear from you in the comments section!

Do you consider yourself lucky to be able to consider Life’s Big Questions?

Conversely, if this is a new concept for you, how is it fitting in with your previous perceptions?

This post was originally published at The Extraordinary Life Project. It has been modified for formatting purposes.