In 1943, psychologist, philosopher, and leader of the Human Potential movement, Abraham Maslow wrote a paper entitled, A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he produced one of the most useful diagrams for understanding the human condition, the now famous Hierarchy of Needs. It also serves as an excellent model for understanding the nature of creativity.
Represented by a pyramid with five levels, Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs shows a progression of human needs from bottom to top, beginning with the most basic physiological needs at the bottom on up to more highly evolved needs at the top, including creativity. For example, Maslow contended that the most basic physiological needs, such as adequate food, water, and sleep must be addressed before a person can have a basic sense of safety. Further on up the pyramid, one cannot have a sense of positive esteem, which includes self-esteem, confidence, achievement, and respect for and by others, without first feeling a sense of love and belonging, including friendship, family, and sexual intimacy.
Of particular interest with respect to the nature of creativity, Maslow also made an important distinction between the first four levels—physiological, safety, love/belonging, and esteem, and the fifth—Self-actualization. These first four levels he referred to as “deficiency needs,” whereas the fifth and highest level, the level of Self-actualization, the level which includes creativity, he described as “being needs.” As the names imply, the first four levels, the deficiency needs, are about fulfilling a sense of lack, whereas the fifth level, the being needs level, which includes creativity is about striving for something better.
According to Maslow’s model, when we desire to create, when we desire to delight ourselves and others by bringing something new into the world, we are actively expressing one of the highest aspects of our human potential.
In my next post, I will go into depth about the distinction between deficiency needs and being needs and how they relate to both creativity and to leading a more fulfilling life in general.