You’ve probably seen Maslow’s hierarchy of needs floating around the internet — it’s a stratified pyramid that looks sort of like the food pyramid, except instead of veggies and grains as its base it’s got basic needs like food and sleep. At the very top, there’s humanity’s sweetest, most rarified need: self-actualization. But what is that, exactly?
When psychologist Abraham Maslow thought about human needs back in 1943, he had very little data. (He also never actually represented needs as a pyramid.) Instead, he had a minimally tested theory: Human beings must have their essential needs met to a baseline degree before they can achieve “self-actualization.”
In other words, Maslow believed that when we’re not scrambling to fill in deficiencies (of food, love, self-esteem, etc.), we can pursue growth for growth’s sake and become our best, most creative, most actualized selves. Paradoxically, in this state we can also transcend ourselves, sloughing off selfishness and achieving generosity and public-spiritedness.
Maslow died suddenly in 1962, leaving behind a legacy that included half a dozen books and a humanistic approach that’s been called the “third school of psychology.” But recently, another psychologist, Scott Barry Kaufman, has revived and clarified the concept of self-actualization — an idea he views as more important than ever in what he says is an age of “increasing divides, selfish concerns, and individualistic pursuits of power.”
Drawing on Maslow’s old notes, statistical analysis, and modern psychological concepts, Kaufman has boiled self-actualization down to 10 constituent traits:
- Continued freshness of appreciation for routine things, like the sunset or an old friend
- Acceptance of yourself and others, warts and all
- Authenticity, or a willingness to be true to yourself
- Equanimity (aka levelheadedness), even in the face of obstacles
- A sense of purpose
- “Efficient perception of reality” — in other words, an ability and desire to figure out the truth
- Regular “peak experiences,” which trigger sensations of transcendence and oneness with the world
- Good, clear moral intuition
Together, these attributes add up to self-actualization, a complex but cohesive trait associated with stability and self-control — the ability to forego short-term pleasures to pursue long-term goals. Self-actualization also correlates with various other modern standards of well-being.
One thing it’s still not correlated with — as Maslow insisted himself, in his day — is selfishness. Some critics of his theory argue that it’s hyper-individualistic, focused on personal needs at the expense of communal ones. However, self-actualization requires public-spiritedness. One statement Kaufman sees as an indicator of purpose, for instance, is: “I have a purpose in life that will help the good of humankind.”
So, without further ado … how self-actualized are you?
Kaufman has a quiz on his blog to help you find out. It’s a 30-item survey, and each item is a statement, which you rate on a five-item scale from “strongly agree” to “strongly disagree.” The quiz assesses each trait of self-actualization with three different statements.
To begin, give the quiz your initials and birth year. Then, respond to the statements and supply some basic demographic information, like your gender, income bracket, and country of residence. (A lot of this is optional.) Finally, you’ll receive a raw self-actualization score, as well as a percentile that reflects how you stack up with other participants.
According to Kaufman, though, it’s less important to be the most self-actualized (not a very self-actualized pursuit!) than to find out which of the 10 traits of self-actualization are the strongest in you. In this spirit, the results page provides a list of your three strongest sources of self-actualization, followed by a detailed report on what percentile you fall in for each of the 10 dimensions of self-actualization.
Take the quiz here: https://www.scottbarrykaufman.com/characteristics-of-self-actualization-scale/
Check out my related post: How to achieve the different types of happiness?