As a child, whenever anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always replied, “The happiest person in the world.” Adults probably saw me as either someone starting too early on a path to self-actualization or as just a really strange kid.
Most of us are in pursuit of happiness, yet most base happiness on conditions. For example, many envision they will be happy if they were wealthy.
I have met some of the wealthiest people yet they suffered from depression, loneliness and anxiety.
I have traveled across the poorest countries and met some of the most impoverished individuals. Yet, they frequently laughed and seemed to enjoy life, despite owning almost nothing.
True happiness is never in pursuit of happiness. It is a state of existence, irrespective of circumstances and this is what focusing instead on self-actualization will empower you to do.
What is self-actualization?
The psychologist Abraham Maslow created the Hierarchy of Needs 1theory, which depicts a five-tier pyramid of human necessities. It begins with the most basic needs at the base and progresses to the top tier.
The model consists of:
Tier 1. Biological and Physiological needs – food, drink, air, shelter, warmth, sleep.
Tier 2. Security needs – protection from elements, safety, security, job, stability, freedom from fear.
Tier 3. Social needs – love, family, friendship, intimacy, belonging, affection.
Tier 4. Esteem needs – achievement, accomplishment, self-worth, self-respect, respect from others.
Tier 5. Self-Actualization needs – self-fulfilment, personal growth and peak experiences.
What are the characteristics of people who have experienced self-actualization?
- Unafraid of the unknown; they accept and embrace it.
- Instead of following what society dictates, they remain true to themselves. They are not sheep, but they do not reject everything like the average rebel.
- Despite being unconventional, they are not deliberately so in a way to shock or cause a reaction.
- Accept themselves as they are, along with their flaws. They, however, recognize and work towards changing negative habits.
- Not dependent on the company of others. They are self-sufficient and can be happy being alone.
- More interested in the pursuit of deeper and more meaningful connections. As a result, they have deep relationships but only with a few people. That said, they have affection for all people and are not judgemental.
- Instead of lamenting about problems, they focus more on finding positive solutions.
- Practice gratitude and appreciate the smaller things in life.
- Have a strong moral sense of right and wrong.
- While most people focus on the lower tiers in the ‘Hierarchy of Needs,’ they are more focused on personal and meaningful growth.
- Not driven by social pressures or superficial needs.
- Search for a deeper meaning of life.
- Despite it all, they are not perfect and they are happy with that.
What are the benefits of self-actualization?
Our society is governed by pressure and competitiveness which are exacerbated by TV, newspapers, magazines, movies, billboards, the Internet, friends, family, etc. on an hourly basis.
By striving for self actualization 2, you can positively manage your life, happiness, and dreams. Your anxieties, stresses, and worries will be recognized for what they are: man-made fears, which mostly exist in the future. Anything that hasn’t yet happened (or may not happen) is not worth worrying about.
How to achieve self-actualization
Stop comparing yourself to others
Don’t measure your worth based on what other people are doing.
Maybe one of your friends became a high-flying lawyer and another friend settled into the perfect married life with children. And perhaps you haven’t found your dream career or partner yet, but maybe that gives you the freedom to go travelling. Something neither your lawyer friend nor married friend would be able to do.
Remember that everyone’s path is different and everyone has days where they feel the same as you.
Stop using social media
A study revealed that 25% of participants 3 who used social media for an average of an hour a day, showed very high signs of depression.
Social media promotes depression and jealousy. It creates indirect peer pressure. People feel inadequate by how others are (seemingly) over-achieving. They then feel pressured to validate how happy their lives are also by updating statuses or photos accordingly. It becomes a never-ending cycle where no one is ever truly being himself or herself.
Don’t log in as often or if you are truly strong, delete it. Those who are your real friends will know how to stay in touch.
This too shall pass
No matter how stressed or worried you feel, remember that it is temporary and nothing ever remains the same.
Be true to yourself
Follow your own sense of purpose and love yourself (even your flaws).
And you can still keep adopting positive habits, for instance, if you have been trying to become fitter or to stop smoking.
Experience life in the here and now
Sometimes it may feel like you are driving in the dark, with no brakes or lights. But one of the most beautiful things about life is its unpredictability. In that darkness, you never know what person, place or moment you may encounter with each turn.
Be open-minded and welcome that darkness because even if the ride is bumpy, it’s still ok because you are still moving forward.
Realize you can be happy now
Many people think they will only be happy when they become wealthy, have the perfect partner, or the successful career. But they may make millions and still have anxiety. They may find “the one” and still feel depressed.
The only one capable of making you happy is you. Don’t sabotage your own happiness by imposing conditions on it.
It is easy to forget the beautiful things to be grateful for. Maybe there is a breathtaking full moon outside your window or someone did an unselfish act of kindness for you this week.
We all know right from wrong yet sadly, not everyone will choose to do what is right. You are responsible for not only your actions, but also for how those actions will affect those around you–positively or negatively.
Practicing mindfulness and meditation. Meditating for as little as twenty minutes a day will inspire changes to your physical, emotional and mental state.
Did I grow up to be the happiest person in the world? Sometimes I think I did. For the times I think I did not, I think that is still ok too. Life is meant to challenge us, and there is still beauty in that.
Did I grow up to fulfil my own self-actualization? Sometimes I think I did. For the times I think I did not, I think that is still ok too. I will still keep striving to grow, learn and evolve into the best “me” that I can be. Life is the best unwritten script we can get; never underestimate where the adventure of those pages might lead to next.