The Way We Need Now

You may have heard of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a list often presented in pyramid form which “describes human motivations from the most basic to the most advanced.” Maslow’s needs, arranged from the most basic, are physiological, safety, affection/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. But in our fast-paced world, with its new freedoms and technologies, does that list still represent human wants and desires? A couple of psychologists say no, and have rebooted the chart to better reflect our modern era.

The research team – which included Vladas Griskevicius of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, and Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver – restructured the famous pyramid after observing how psychological processes radically change in response to evolutionarily fundamental motives, such as self-protection, mating or status concerns.

The bottom four levels of the new pyramid are highly compatible with Maslow’s, but big changes are at the top. Perhaps the most controversial modification is that self-actualization no longer appears on the pyramid at all.

At the top of the new pyramid are three evolutionarily critical motives that Maslow overlooked – mate acquisition, mate retention and parenting.

So parenting is now the highest goal to aspire to. (We should refer to this as the Park Slope hierarchy of needs.) It does make sense when you think about it, since the whole purpose of human existence is to procreate, and if you have not you are an utter failure as a member of your species and are probably pretty lousy at some of the other elements in the new hierarchy, particularly the one about “retaining a mate.” (Although if that new Jennifer Aniston movie teaches us anything, it’s that you don’t need a mate to be a parent. On the other hand (SPOILER ALERT FOR ANYONE WHO HAS NEVER SEEN A ROMANTIC COMEDY BEFORE), she does wind up married, so, yeah, if you don’t have a kid you’re still one of life’s losers. Sorry. It’s not me, it’s Science. And Jen Aniston.)

Still, the new chart is causing controversy, particularly among barren, loveless psychologists who cannot accept that their empty apartments, devoid of the happy sounds of mate and child which signify human fulfillment, are an indictment of their pathetic existences. Additionally, there is the very valid criticism that the new hierarchy does not reflect the broad range of lifestyles we now live. Working closely with my own team of researchers, I have assembled an alternate pyramid which, I think, squares the circle. (Of pyramids.) I’m pretty sure this one is 100% accurate and should settle any disputes. I await my call from Stockholm.

This was a rush job, so excuse me if there are typos