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Brooklyn-born Abraham Maslow led the positive psychology movement in the mid 1900s. Up until then, psychoanalysts like Sigmund Freud described human beings as driven almost entirely by primitive urges, such as sex and aggression. Around the same time behaviourists were arguing that humans were nothing more than biological machines who had no mind, and no free will.

Maslow constructed a hierarchy of needs to showcase his belief that we exist beyond a primal, robotic state.


At the top of the pyramid was self-actualisation, which can be best described as the recognition of one’s full potential. Self-actualisation is different to the lower level needs. We don’t feel spurred into action by a sense of deficiency: must find food… must find warmth… must make friends. Rather, we feel inspired to grow and explore our full potential. For this reason Maslow called self-actualisation a “growth need” while labelling the other needs “deficiency needs”.

What most people don’t know is that in his later years Maslow added a sixth level to his famed hierarchy of needs. While studying people who operate at the level of self-actualisation, he noticed many of them frequently had, and deliberately sought, some form of next-level experience. Something bigger than themselves.

abraham-maslow-hierarchy-of-needs-self-transcendenceST = Self-Transcendence

Maslow termed this self-transcendency and made it the capstone of his pyramid. Self-transcendency is best described as overcoming the limits of yourself and your desires through spiritual contemplation, such as considering yourself an integral part of the universe.

The idea is that once you’ve explored your own potential, you explore spirituality. Spirituality can mean a lot of things, but one thing it doesn’t mean is “you”. It means something bigger than you.

It’s worth a thought.