People view their lives as more satisfying when those around them also have their needs fulfilled, according to a search for the ingredients of happiness by researchers at the University of Illinois, who also found that American psychologist Abraham Maslow correctly named the pieces of a fulfilled life when he created his "hierarchy of needs" pyramid.
Maslow's pyramid, created in 1943, is well known to everyone who ever took a psychology class, said study leader Ed Diener, a University of Illinois professor emeritus of psychology. But while students learn the theory, little research has been conducted to vet it, he said. So they used data from 123 countries, including every major region of the world, collected as part of the Gallup World Poll. It asks about money, shelter, food, safety, social support and about feelings, like whether one feels respected, competent, emotionally up and down and more. Diener is also a senior scientist for Gallup and helped design the survey.
Maslow had suggested that the base of the pyramid — and the needs requiring most immediate attention — were food, sleep, breathing, sex and other fundamentals. Next, he placed safety and security issues like health and employment, then love and belonging, then esteem and, at the top, what he called "self-actualization." In that category, he included concepts like morality, creativity, problem-solving and others.
The new research is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, an American Psychological Association publication.
The study discovered that "fulfillment of a diversity of needs, as designed by Maslow, do appear to be universal and important to individual happiness." But the order in which the higher and lower needs are met "has little bearing on how much they contribute to life satisfaction and enjoyment," according to a summary of the research.
Diener said that fulfillment of more basic needs was more closely linked to a positive life evaluation. The satisfaction of higher needs like social support, respect, autonomy or mastery was "more strongly related to enjoying life."
And he called "important" the finding that people have higher life evaluations when others in society also have their needs fulfilled. "Thus, life satisfaction is not just an individual effort," he said in a written statement, "but depends substantially also on the quality of life of one's fellow citizens."
Types of wellbeing vary depending on the need, he noted.
An interesting sidelight is that a team of scientists a year ago updated Maslow's pyramid. The new version's changes were described this way last August on PsychCentral: "The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow's, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all. At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked – mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting,"
"Among human aspirations that are most biologically fundamental are those that ultimately facilitate reproduction of our genes in our children's children," the article written by Rick Nauert, PsychCentral senior news editor, explained at that time. "For that reason, parenting is paramount."
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