Self-actualisation is the missing piece to the puzzle of a happier world. Here is why and how to get there.
According to Maslow, only 1% of the population ever reaches self-actualisation.
Considering he thought self-actualisation was the highest human need, that’s a sure recipe for an unhappy world. Promoting self-actualisation and making it likelier amongst our population might be the ultimate key to building a happier society. Self-actualisation is not a luxury; it’s a necessity if we want to build a better future.
But how do we get to a world of self-actualised people?
First things first, what is self-actualisation?
I recently wrote a post on self-actualisation, its link to happiness and how to cultivate it, so I’ll try not to repeat myself much here, but it’s essential to clarify the concept of self-actualisation before anything else.
Self-actualisation is the higher-state need in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. It would sit at the top of Maslow’s pyramid if he had ever drawn one (he didn’t). It is what human beings aspire to when they have all other needs satisfied.
Self-actualisation is not a destination but a journey; it’s about becoming the best version of ourselves, not a perfect one.
Self-actualisation manifests itself in our hunger for learning, growth, creating new things, and for achieving and maximising our highest potential.
In his later writings, Maslow called it humanness or being fully human. For him, self-actualisation was our eternal search to be the most human we could be.
Self-actualisation makes us fully human, so without it, we cannot be fully complete.
Self-actualisation, the missing piece for a happier world?
A couple of months ago, I was reading Abraham Maslow’s writings on self-actualisation when an idea struck me like a wave crashing onto the shore.
The force of the idea hit me with full impact. Here I was writing about building a better future for all, a more humane and human future of work, a more humane society, and isn’t self-actualisation one of the missing pieces?
Maybe one of the most important pieces?
In today’s Western society, we prioritise external achievements over internal fulfilment, and it’s making us miserable. We have more technological progress than ever but also more depression, anxiety and suicides than at any previous time in history. Something is not working well.
There are many things we need to fix in our world (although many others are better than ever, that’s also true), and self-actualisation is one of them.
Making it easier for people to follow their passions and purpose, helping them to learn and develop, giving them what they need to become their best version, or allowing them to reach their maximum potential, would make people much happier.
In sum, enabling people to go on their personal self-actualisation journeys would make all of us happier.
How to get to a self-actualised world
How can we get to this desired state?
Self-actualisation is a personal journey. Governments, corporations and other social agents could do more to promote it among the population (and that’s a discussion for another day), but at the end of the day, it has to come from inside each of us. Everyone has to work on their own path.
You cannot impose self-actualisation on others, but you can teach and promote it.
In the article I mentioned above, I already covered three main tips to work on your self-actualisation: know thyself, be creative and don’t stop learning.
There are three other tips anybody can undertake to self-actualise:
– Identify your life purpose and work towards achieving it.
– Identify your passions, what you enjoy doing, and what will make you enter a flow state, and double down on those activities.
– Cultivate a growth mindset and understand that mistakes and errors are only milestones in your growth and learning journey.
A protopia of self-actualisation
Some would argue that a world where everybody is self-actualised would be a utopia, but that’s incorrect. It would be a protopia.
Kevin Kelly coined the term in 2009 when most thinkers and futurists were struggling with a binary discussion: are we going towards a utopia or a dystopia? Kelly chose neither, and he settled with protopia, which means a world in progress, becoming something different, slowly but inexorably.
A utopia is stifling.
In a utopia, all problems have been solved, so there are no opportunities for the new to arrive. A utopia is stagnant. It sounds great, but it wouldn’t be nice to live in.
That’s why even if a world of self-actualised people sounds utopic, it is anything but.
Self-actualisation means people are growing and evolving, and therefore, the world they inhabit is also changing. It fits perfectly with the definition of protopia. You cannot have a utopia of self-actualised people, as they won’t want to live in a stagnant and immobile world.
Protopias are slow to materialise, but we may already be travelling towards a protopia of self-actualisation.
Today, more and more people are discovering their purpose, learning new skills and becoming the best version of themselves. The progress is slow, but it is there.
Self-actualised people may comprise 3% or 5% of the population, I don’t know, and that is not much, but it is already higher than the 1% Maslow estimated a few decades ago.
It is slow, but it is progress. That’s how protopias work. Let’s hope that the progress continues. If it does, we will eventually reach a critical mass of enough self-actualised people.
Once we get there, the process will be unstoppable. Self-actualisation is the key to a happier world, so we better be on the right track.