The story of the human race is the story of men and women selling themselves short.” The modern era gave birth to a new field, the study of human behavior or psychology. Engrossed in the study of pathology, mainstream.psychologists such as Freud and Skinner did not give as much thought to the sources of happiness as to the roots of unhappiness. One of the earliest psychologists to focus attention on happy individuals and their psychological trajectory was Abraham Maslow, who is most well known for his “hierarchy of needs.” Inspired by the work of the humanistic psychologist Erich Fromm, Maslow insists that the urge for self-actualization is deeply entrenched in the human psyche, but only surfaces once the more basic needs are fulfilled. Once the powerful needs for food, security, love and self-esteem are satisfied, a deep desire for creative expression and self-actualization rises to the surface. Through his “hierarchy of needs,” Maslow succeeds in combining the insights of earlier psychologists such as Freud and Skinner, who focus on the more basic human instincts, and the more upbeat work of Jung and Fromm, who insist that the desire for happiness is equally worthy of attention.

Human life will never be understood unless its highest aspirations are taken into account. Growth, self-actualization, the striving toward health, the quest for identity and autonomy, the yearning for excellence (and other ways of phrasing the striving “upward”) must by now be accepted beyond question as a widespread and perhaps universal human tendency…

Abraham Maslow essentially made self-fulfillment and happiness a central part of his life’s work. In a break from the other experts of his time, he wanted to understand what motivated the great people of history and to understand human potential; he wanted to know what humans are capable of as their healthiest self.
Maslow: A Little Background

Maslow’s studies in psychological health and happiness are rooted in a surprisingly...

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