The Hierarchy of Happiness

The Hierarchy of Happiness

Please enjoy this interesting article from my friend, Lionel Ketchian’s Be Happy Zone eNewsletter.


Attending a lecture this past Thursday by Mark Setton, Ph.D., held at our New Haven Happiness Club, I realized that the characteristics of the self-actualized person are the same ones for a happy person.

Self-actualization and The Hierarchy of Needs is represented in a triangle developed by Abraham Maslow who was born on April 1, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York and died on June 8, 1970 in California. Maslow was an American psychologist and was known for his conceptualization of a “hierarchy of human needs,” and is considered the father of humanistic psychology.

Their are five levels to the pyramid of The Hierarchy of Needs. The first is Physiological, the second is Safety, the third is Love/Belonging, the fourth is Esteem, the fifth and final one is Self-actualization. After the basic needs that we share with animals, come the more subtle needs that are more truly human. The third level, which is the need for love and belonging, includes the need for friends and companions, a supportive family, identification with a group, and an intimate relationship.

The fourth level is about meeting our esteem needs. This group requires recognition from other people that results in feelings of prestige, acceptance, status, and also self-esteem. This generates feelings of adequacy, competence, and confidence. Lack of satisfaction of the esteem needs, can result in discouragement and feelings of inferiority.

Finally, self-actualization is at the top of the pyramid. This is shared by humans and includes: Morality, Creativity, Spontaneity, Problem Solving, Lack of Prejudice and Acceptance of Facts. Here is how Maslow’s five aspects relate to happy people.

Morality: Being happy produces a person who is not as driven by accumulation for oneself. Maslow said: “They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.” A happy person will include thinking about the welfare of others because they have developed a feeling of oneness for humanity. Happiness produces a feeling of virtue because happy people are friendly and love to share themselves with others. Oscar Wilde accurately described this aspect in happy people when he wrote: “When we are happy we are always good, but when we are good we are not always happy.”

Creativity: Creativity is a natural part of all of us. Happy people can and do express their creativity. Happy people seem to reach this inner state, because they are more relaxed and connected to themselves, others and to this state. The creativity they encounter is largely due to the control they experience over their thoughts and emotions.

Spontaneity: Happy people are not afraid to be spontaneous. Happiness assists them in overcoming the barrier to giving of themselves to others. They feel connected and they share this feeling with other people. I will quote Maslow here: ‘self-actualizing people are relatively spontaneous in their behavior, and far more spontaneous than that in their inner life, thoughts and impulses. Self-actualizing persons are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it. They are not conformists, but neither are they non-conformist for the sake of being so. They might act conventionally, but they seldom allow convention to keep them from doing anything they consider important or basic. They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed; rather, their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the actualization of themselves and their potentialities.”

Problem Solving: Realizing the choices happy people have available to them, as a result of being happy, is one reason that happy people know how to deal with their problems as well as the problems that other people may face. Again I quote Maslow: ‘self-actualizing people have a problem-solving orientation towards life instead of an orientation centered on self. They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems are often a key focus in their lives. They commonly have a mission in life, a problem outside themselves that enlists much of their energies. In general, this mission is unselfish and is involved with the philosophical and the ethical.”

Lack of Prejudice: As we become happy, we become less attached to our own limited beliefs about other people. Happy people are less judgmental, more forgiving, less blaming and controlling of others and have a sense of connection to all people.

Acceptance of Facts: Happy people accept the way things are and the way they are for now. Happy people are free from wanting things to be different that can’t be changed. Happy people understand that the situation has already happened and there is nothing they can do about it. They act on the choices they have available to them. Happy people accept things because they know they don’t want to fight themselves. They concentrate on changing their state of mind to create the best possible outcomes. They know better than to start the downhill spiral of unhappiness, hopelessness and helplessness. By accepting a fact, happy people eliminate the feeling of turning the situation into making them feel like a victim.

Abraham Maslow also proposed that people who have reached the state of self-actualization will sometimes experience a state he referred to as “transcendence,” in which actualized people become aware of their own fullest potential, as well as the fullest potential of human beings at large.

Mark Setton, Ph.D. is a Professor at the University of Bridgeport. To learn more about Maslow, take a look at Mark’s website:

BE HAPPY ZONE by Lionel Ketchian