Applying Maslow's Needs in a Modern World

Updated: Feb 1

Our happiness is derived from how we choose to meet our basic needs. The quality of those activities and how and when they occur are all moving pieces of a puzzle that we are all endlessly trying to juggle.

Abraham Maslow, a renowned American psychologist credited with introducing a foundational ideology for which modern psychology is based upon, has a somewhat dated view of human behavior.

At the time that Maslow introduced his pyramid-based evaluation of basic human needs, the science was ground-breaking. But the human race evolves at a rapid pace and the nuances of modern societies have changed since Maslow’s days.

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Dr. Abraham Maslow submitted a paper in 1943 titled “A Theory of Human Motivation” that would become a foundation for studying human behavior and psychology, providing the basis for modern mental health treatments and exercises.

We are more than seventy years into the future and the basis for Maslow’s theory still holds value in our modern world. Maslow proposes that all humans share the same basic needs. These needs are arranged in tiered categories with the most basic and most important on the base of the pyramid and ascending upwards to the less-essential and more-fulfilling needs.

Physical Needs

At our most basic level, all human beings share a need for things like food, water, and sleep. These are things that are required to support life and not meeting these needs can have a range of consequences, up to and including death.

Safety Needs

If we are alive and meeting our physical needs, the next level of needs addresses our shared desire to have safety, security and stability in our lives. In the physical world, we need shelter (home) from the elements, security in our ability to provide (career), and safety in our environment (protection).

Social Needs

If we are alive and we are secure, we need connection. Humans are social creatures with the ability to make deep emotional connections. These connections are as important for our survival as they are for our mental health. All humans need love, friendship, intimacy, and family.

Esteem Needs

If we are alive and secure, our basic needs are met. And, if we have built an appropriate support network, we can begin to focus on elevating ourselves by meeting our esteem needs. Esteem needs include building confidence in yourself and respect in your relationships with others.

Self-Growth Needs

If we are alive and secure, our basic needs are met. If we have well-developed support networks our emotional needs are met. If we are confident and respected, our esteem needs are met. Only when the base layers of the pyramid have been met, can we authentically pursue meaningful self-growth. Creativity, morality, and true leadership come from a place of self-actualization and rank at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

What Maslow’s Needs Look Like in 2021

While our world still sees more poverty and hunger than it should in 2021, sustainable agriculture and well-developed infrastructure is able to provide food and water in abundant supplies. Malnutrition is less common than it was in Maslow’s heyday and most of us take our nutritional needs for granted.

Physical Needs in 2021

  • Clean-eating or low-carb diets that moderate or eliminate processed foods

  • Water Intake Tracking Water Bottles

  • Debating the merits of BPA-free plastics for food and water versus glass or stainless steel

  • Fitness trackers and smart devices that monitor sleep habits

  • Sleep meditation, sound machines, and melatonin supplements

Safety Needs in 2021

  • Home security systems and video doorbells

  • Educational opportunities (to secure employment)

  • Self-defense training; concealed-carry classes

  • Emotional, Verbal, or Physical Abuse Awareness and victim support

  • Special programs that provide pathways to homeownership (i.e. first time homebuyers)

Social Needs in 2021

  • Mindful meditation and self-love (meditation, journaling, affirmations)

  • Peaceful protesting to effect change on important issues like acceptance

  • Dating apps and social media networks

  • Emphasis on “company culture” and “work-life balance”

  • Authentic connections

Esteem Needs in 2021

  • Using the “superman” pose for a quick confidence boost

  • Embracing individuality with piercings, tattoos, and unique hair colors

  • Donating or contributing to an important cause; being charitable

  • Adopting a growth mindset; embracing change

  • Intention-setting to expand your goal-setting (achievement)

Self-Growth Needs in 2021

  • DIY Workshops and Canvas Painting Classes (Creativity)

  • Podcasts, blogs, videos and other sources of content consumption

  • Mentoring and coaching in the workplace instead of evaluating and reprimanding

  • Read or write a best-selling non-fiction book

  • Go back to school or take an online class; change careers

The world might look different today than it did in Maslow’s 1943 summation. But when you strip down the activities that we engage in to fulfill our needs today, we are serving the same purpose.

People are still seeking and drawn to attitudes of gratitude and appreciation. They still seek to find a balance between what they can control and what they cannot control. They still crave authentic, meaningful connections and principle-driven actions.

Modern society affords us a higher level of comfort than our predecessors knew, but our basic needs remain the same, even if the packaging looks a little different today.

Maslow's theory on human behavior outlined the basic needs all humans share. Meeting these needs is they key to finding happiness.
How to be Happy Based on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


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