Abraham Maslow proposed a simple theory about human existence. He suggested that when a person has their basic needs met, then they feel happier.

Although this thought seems like common sense, the scientific world lacked any proof of validity until 2011.

Researchers led by Professor Emeritus Ed Diener at the University of Illinois discovered that people are at their happiest when they feel the most fulfilled with their basic needs met. The team gathered information from people in over 150 countries over five years. They looked at positive and negative emotions related to a variety of basic needs, including food, shelter, and money.

The research team included respect, autonomy, social relations, and respect as part of a person’s basic needs. 

Maslow Wasn’t Right About One Thing

Maslow proposed that humans have five specific areas of need: physiological, safety, love (belonging), esteem, and self-actualization.

He felt that there were higher and lower needs that people required to be fulfilled to maximize happiness. The research team led by Diener found that the sequence in which they got met was not consequential to personal joy or satisfaction.

Researchers discovered that the people who felt positive about their life had happier feelings when their most basic needs got met. Those items included money, shelter, and food. Higher needs, such as respect and autonomy, also brought positive emotions.

That means the findings suggest that the theory Maslow proposed is mostly correct. Cultures from all over our planet show us that need fulfillment has a direct link to individual happiness. The one difference is that self-actualization and social relationships can lead to a similar outcome even if all of a person’s basic needs don’t get met.

What Got Missed in the Research?

Maslow added an additional point to his hierarchy theory late in his career. He felt that transcendence, a place where self-giving is essential, was also necessary for happiness.

Transcendence includes the question to understand the spiritual dimensions that life provides – here on Earth and in the universe at large.

The research team from the University of Illinois didn’t directly look at how spiritual fulfillment could translate into happiness. 

It also creates a striking statistical point. People in the United States have a considerably higher standard of living, but they also experience some of the highest divorce and suicide rates in the world. 

More research will likely unlock additional clues to happiness. Until then, it is good to know that Maslow was on the right track.