Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applied

Lessons from my 96 year old grandmother

I consider myself lucky to have a grandmother who is 96 years old and was born in 1925. Despite her age, my grandmother is well informed. She made a conscious choice not to participate in the Internet, app and smartphone revolution. And will happily participate in just about any other conversation.

The other day my grandmother asked me about my work.

I was happy to tell my grandmother about my work as a coach. She asked me what kind of people I work with. I took my time to tell her about it.

“Many of the people I work with are in their late twenties, early thirties. Or perhaps a little bit older. People in their early forties like myself. Most of them have finished higher education and have progressed through the first stages of their careers. Often they have well paid jobs, a house or an apartment and many have families.”

Grandma looked at me and nodded. “I see. And why do they come to you, since they have a good education, a job and a house?”

“Well” I said “It depends, but the majority of these people notice that deep inside they would like to spend their lives differently. Although they might appear to have their lives sorted out, they’re not doing what makes them happy.”

My grandmother took some time before she replied.

“I think it’s great these people get to work on these topics. And I’m happy you’re able to work with them.”

“But allow me to tell you about the way these things were when I was that age”. She spoke with an open heart, without a trace of bitterness in her voice.

“Back in the days, we didn’t have coaches. If you had married a good husband and started a family -and if there was sufficient income to live a respectable life – then there wasn’t much left to wish for. At least I can’t remember having anything to wish for.

I felt touched.

I came close to feeling guilty for being part of a generation that on average is doing quite well. A generation that strives for more. And is continuously looking to further self-develop.

At the same time I felt nostalgic. About a time well before my time. When perhaps life was less complicated. En people might have been more content with life.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

One of the first models explained to me as a Masters student in Organisational Psychology was Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Originally published in 1943, Maslow continued to update his model for decades.

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According to Maslow, people are motivated by needs that form a hierarchy of needs. Lower, basic needs need to be fulfilled before changing our focus to consecutive higher level needs in the hierarchy.

Maslow made a distinction between ‘deficiency needs’ and ‘growth needs’.

Deficiency needs

The category of deficiency needs consists of the following needs:

  1. Physiological needs – These are biological requirements for human survival, such as food, drink, shelter, warmth and even sex.
  2. Security – People need a certain amount of order and control in their lives. E.g. emotional and financial stability. Being able to safely go out on the streets.
  3. A need for love and belongingness – E.g. love between partners. A family. The sense of being part of one or more groups.
  4. A need for esteem and respect – Think of self respect and respect from others.

When it comes to deficiency needs, we are most motivated to fulfill these when we feel deprived. And, the longer we have been deprived, the stronger our motivation. Once a need has been met, our attention will automatically be aimed at the next level in the hierarchy of needs.


Growth needs

The other category of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy is called Growth needs.

When it comes to our growth needs, we continuously like to experience the feeling of our needs sufficiently being met. Contrary to deficiency needs, our growth needs can grow stronger once they are engaged.

Growth needs are formed by:

  1. Cognitive needs – Knowledge and understanding, curiosity and the need for meaning.
  2. Aesthetic Needs – Appreciation of beauty. Having beautiful things around us.
  3. Self actualization – Realization of our personal potential. Fulfillment, personal growth and peak experiences.
  4. Transcendental needs – When we are motivated by values ​​beyond – or larger than – our own person. Think of spiritual experiences, experiences with nature, service to others, or a higher purpose such as religion or science.

My grandmother had made a clear distinction between the two different types of needs. For her, meeting her deficiency needs had been enough to lead a beautiful, fulfilling life.

And now that she has reached an age at which she has not worked for a long time and her children have children and grandchildren of their own, she is now able to meet her growth needs.

She does this by going out as often as she can. Going on trips to museums, visiting the House of Representatives or just strolling through a small village somewhere in the Netherlands. And very occasionally she tends to go on a short retreat, lasting a couple of days.

Applying Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy can help us understand ourselves and the people around us. It helps explain why we might radically shift our focus in times of crisis.
Upon experiencing insufficient levels of safety and control, the higher levels of the hierarchy will no longer be addressed. Something that has recently become quite visible in our society.

Upon experiencing insufficient levels of safety and control, the higher levels of the hierarchy will no longer be addressed. Something that has recently become quite visible in our society.

Applying Maslow to my personal life, I look at the level at which I experience a ‘problem’ or a ‘need’. Not to make it less important. But to be able to look at a situation from a different perspective.

Would you like to read more on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? https://www.simplypsychology.org/maslow.html