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What is it we ultimately seek? Remember back to our discussions of Abraham Maslow and his hierarchy of needs? Towards the end of his life, Maslow tackled the question: what keeps self-actualized people going? What gives purpose to our lives when our needs have supposedly been met? Maslow then developed his theory of meta-needs, those things we pursue into order to reach our ultimate level of experience: transcendence. He said, “Transcendence represents the highest level of human need, and the most holistic levels of higher consciousness, relating to oneself, to significant others, to human beings in general, to nature, and to the cosmos.” By definition, self-actualizers have met all their human needs; therefore, the logical next step for them is to help others actualize themselves, and, in so doing, they experience a self-transcendent peak experience. In his posthumously published book, Father Reaches of Human Nature (1971), Maslow stated that self-actualizers will continue to be driven by meta-motivation in order to become fully functioning human beings; they will be devoted to some task outside themselves. Maslow died before he could fully develop his revised needs hierarchy. Koltko-Rivera (2006) introduced Maslow’s highest human motivational need to a broader psychology audience. Here is a list of Maslow’s meta-needs, that which we seek beyond ourselves, our own personalities: Wholeness (unity) Perfection (balance and harmony) Completion (ending) Justice (fairness) Richness (complexity) Simplicity (essence) Liveliness (spontaneity) Beauty (rightness of form) Goodness (benevolence) Uniqueness (individuality) Playfulness (ease) Truth (reality) Autonomy (self-sufficiency) Meaningfulness (values) However, Viktor Frankl criticized Maslow for making self-actualization as a necessary condition for self-transcendence. According to Frankl, self-transcendence was the ultimate end in life and the main purpose of human existence. Maslow’s self-actualization, Frankl argued, was merely a byproduct of finding meaning. Furthermore, Frankl proposed that individuals could pursue self-transcendence in any circumstance, even in the worst imaginable hell like the Nazi death camps. According to Frankl, self-transcendence involves a purposeful life that is dedicated to loving others or serving a cause greater than one’s self. It is the spiritual tendency to fully express itself through the liberation from self-absorption and the boundary of the physical self. A fully developed healthy self-concept is leaning towards the disappearing of defenses of the self and its territory and connecting with others, nature, and (a sense of) God. It involves active engagement with what really matters in an intentional and purposeful manner. The pursuit and attainment of transcendental values leads to deepest satisfaction because it satisfies the deepest yearning of our spiritual nature. That is why Frankl has argued that we become fully functioning human beings only when we lose ourselves in self-transcendental pursuit. How and why do we pursue transcendence? First, view this talk (Links to an external site.) by Jonathan Haidt. Emily Esfahani Smith is the author of the best-selling book The Power of Meaning. View this talk by Smith (Links to an external site.) and read this article (Links to an external site.). ************PROMPT: After considering all of these ideas, tell us how your pursuit of happiness, or eudaimonia, is or may influenced by these concepts of self-transcendence and meaning. What might you do differently in light of what you’ve learned from Maslow, Frankl, Smith, and/or Haidt? Will you still use the word “happiness” to describe what it is you ultimately seek? This post can be any length you choose.


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