Beyond Self-Actualization [Kaufman; Blackstock]

A came across a couple of interesting pieces recently, both exploring the boundaries of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from pretty different angles. 

The characteristics of self- actualizing people

Self-Actualizing People in the 21st Century: Integration With Contemporary Theory and Research on Personality and Well-Being (academic paper)

What Does It Mean to Be Self-Actualized in the 21st Century? (blog post)

When Abrahams Maslow first proposed his hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper, “A Theory of Human Motivation”, he also outlined some key characteristics that self-actualized people tend to possess. 

Scott Barry Kaufman set out to find using a more modern set of tools whether these characteristics do indeed sum-up to a unifying factor of self-actualization. That self-actualization factor, in turn, was found to be associated with multiple indicators of well-being, including greater life satisfaction, curiosity, self-acceptance, positive relationships, environmental mastery, personal growth, autonomy, and purpose in life. As well as multiple indicators of work performance and creativity, including greater work satisfaction, as well as greater reports of talent, skill, and creative ability across a wide range of fields from the arts and sciences to business and sports.

Out of the 17 initial traits Kaufman tested based on Malsow’s hypothesis, 10 were found to indeed contribute to the broader self-actualization factor, listed here in order from the biggest to smallest contribution: 

  1. Continued Freshness of Appreciation(Sample item: “I can appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.”)
  2. Acceptance(Sample item: “I accept all of my quirks and desires without shame or apology.”)
  3. Authenticity (Sample item: “I can maintain my dignity and integrity even in environments and situations that are undignified.”)
  4. Equanimity (Sample item: “I tend to take life’s inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.”)
  5. Purpose (Sample item: “I feel a great responsibility and duty to accomplish a particular mission in life.”)
  6. Efficient Perception of Reality (Sample item: “I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.”)
  7. Humanitarianism (Sample item: “I have a genuine desire to help the human race.”)
  8. Peak Experiences (Sample item: “I often have experiences in which I feel new horizons and possibilities opening up for myself and others.”)
  9. Good Moral Intuition (Sample item: “I can tell ‘deep down’ right away when I’ve done something wrong.”)
  10. Creative Spirit(Sample item: “I have a generally creative spirit that touches everything I do.”)

As Kaufman points out in his post: 

Later in his life, Maslow’s focus was much more on the paradoxical connections between self-actualization and self-transcendence, and the distinction between defense vs. growth motivation…

Why is it that the most self-actualized people are those who are the most self-transcendent?…

Self-actualized people don’t sacrifice their potentialities in the service of others; rather, they use their full powers in the service of others(important distinction). You don’t have to choose either self-actualization or self-transcendence — the combination of both is essential to living a full and meaningful existence.

Which neatly connects us to the 2nd piece: 

What’s beyond self-actualization? 

Maslow’s hierarchy connected to Blackfoot beliefs (post by Karen Lincoln Michel

The Emergence of the Breath of Life Theory (academic paper by Cindy Blackstock)

According to this research, Maslow drew some of his inspiration to the hierarchy of needs for the time he spent at the Blackfoot (Siksika) reserve in Alberta, Canada in the 1930s. Regardless of attribution, what’s interesting to me in this narrative, is that in the Blackfoot version of the hierarchy, self-actualization is at the basis of the pyramid (or in this case, tipi) supporting two higher level aspirations: community actualization and cultural perpetuity. 

Michel, quoting Blackstock, explained the latter in her post: 

“We have been given the ancestors’ teachings and the feelings and the spirit. We can do a couple of things with that. We can say that what we know is inadequate and that we’re not Indian enough and that we don’t know enough about it or we don’t want to pass it on. And we hold our breath and our people stop. Or you can nourish that breath. You can breathe in even deeper the knowledge of others and understand it at a deep level and then breathe it forward. That’s the breath of life,”

I’m still reflecting on this beautiful metaphor, so I’ll stop here and encourage you to do the same. 

Beyond Self-Actualization [Kaufman; Blackstock]

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