Science Meets Culture — What is Positive Psychology?

Love is generally ignored by science. It has always been a soft, unmeasurable mystery to the microscopes of physicists and chemists. 

On the other hand, “soft unmeasurable mysteries” like love, hope, curiosity, and citizenship have inspired millions of pages throughout dozens of philosophies and religions. It was not until the 2000s that science finally began to seriously observe this blind spot. 

Total mainstream acceptance of positive psychology arrived around the year 2005 when Time magazine began writing about “The New Science of Happiness.”

Dr. Abraham Maslow, one of the grandfathers of positive psychology, said that human beings have always had the same eight basic Needs, and that these Needs follow a predictable order. The bottom four Needs are motivated by deficiency and the two highest Needs are motivated by growth. Positive psychology is simply a change in scientific attention from deficiency to growth. 

This article is about the hard science of that brought you positive buzzwords like: “resilience, flow, and gratitude journaling.” 

Maslow’s Pyramid of Needs

  • Transcendence Needs
  • Self-actualization Needs
  • Aesthetic Needs 
  • Knowledge Needs
  • Esteem Needs
  • Belonging Needs
  • Safety Needs 
  • Physiological Needs

1. Deficiency Motivation — Physiological Needs 

These Needs are primary to human survival. They cannot be ignored and will simply increase in urgency until they are satisfied. They include food, water, air, clothing, shelter, and sleep. 

2. Deficiency Motivation — Safety Needs

Law and order come into play at this level. Maslow said that you generally had to fulfill Needs in order. This means that, on average, a person has to be able to sleep, eat, and drink before he/she prioritizes stability and freedom from fear.

Science Meets Culture What is Positive Psychology?

3. Deficiency Motivation — Love and Belongingness Needs

7.1% of Americans have experienced at least one major depressive episode in their lifetime. This stage of Needs does not deal with the physical elements of survival like Safety and Physiology, but rather the basic ingredient of human psychology: Love and Belongingness. Later psychologists, including the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, would go on to add that feeling connected to something greater than yourself is one of the essential characteristics of happiness.

4. Deficiency Motivation — Esteem Needs

There are two categories in the Esteem Needs, esteem for oneself; and esteem from others. Self-love is another buzzword that has come out of positive psychology. Does it seem odd that something so fuzzy sounding came from science? Well it did. 

The need for status and recognition from others is equally powerful. One of the characteristics of the great leaders and artists whom Maslow studied is that they knew how to get respect

5. Growth Motivation — Cognitive Needs

Maslow did not actually include Cognitive Needs in his original pyramid. The prevailing attitude during Maslow’s time (the 50s), was that most of what motivated human beings was deficiency based. In the 70s, other “grandfathers of positive psychology” like Ed Diener were among the first to propose amendments to Maslow’s original theory that better reflected changing attitudes about what motivates people.

Cognitive Needs deal with knowledge seeking and wisdom. When not fulfilled, this leads to confusion and identity crisis.

6. Growth Motivation — Aesthetic Needs

Humans need to immerse themselves in new and beautiful experiences to continue toward self-actualization. This music made especially for relaxation is an example of the human Need for aesthetic fulfillment. When properly satisfied, this Need leads to a feeling of intimacy with nature. 

7. Growth Motivation — Self-Actualization Needs

The first concept of positive psychology. This is the idea that you have manifested your potential and live on the cusp of what you are capable of. People who fit into this category include Wim Hof, Suzy Paula, and Tony Robbins.

Joyce Marter, national mental health speaker, says that the barriers you need to break through in order to receive the support you need and deserve are Trust, Control, Shame, Fear, and Guilt.

8. Growth Motivation — Transcendence Needs

These are sometimes referred to as Spiritual Needs. Satisfying this need leads to feelings of integrity and alignment with your “best self.” As people age, this step becomes more and more present until it is no longer ignorable. This Need is a bit different from the others because it can be accessed from any level, and becomes pressing only with age or dramatic circumstances that lead you to confront mortality.

Elements used to create Featured image Artwork provided by Created by Jill.

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