Thursday, October 2, 2008

Hierarchy of Needs: Part One

We all want to give a gift that is useful, something that is needed. But what is it that we really need? In general, Western civilization enjoys affluence and privilege that was unheard of a generation ago. While we may have fleeting thoughts that perhaps we need a bigger house, a better car, or a new cell phone, we instinctively know these are not “real” needs. So what are real needs? In 1943, Abraham Maslow attempted to answer this question with a theory commonly known as “Maslow’s hierarchy,” which helps breakdown what fundamental human needs are, and how we go about getting those needs met. Maslow’s hierarchy looks something like this:

This concept of needs poses a few ideas that differ from how we normally think when it comes to gifts, but it's a really useful tool to bear in mind when coming up with gift ideas:

1) It considers more than literal, physical needs.

Most of the time, when we ask ourselves, "what do I really need," we are looking for the bare necessities: food on the table, a place to live, or a source of income. But if we embrace Maslow's ideas, we admit that we also have an actual need for community, meaning, and self-development. We have a need to grow as human beings, not just to survive, but to prosper.

2) It shows us that needs are relative.

Not all needs carry the same weight. A person may not think so much about social needs if their basic physiological need for food is not fulfilled. And it's very hard to think about self-development when you're worried about actual physical safety! On the flipside, the hierarchy suggests that when a person has a measure of security as, thankfully, many of us in Western society do, other needs become pressing: love, belonging, etc.

3) It includes self actualization.

The hierarchy suggests that we have an actual need to self-actualize; to become everything we are capable of being.

This has a number of implications for gift giving. What do you get for the person who has everything? You might take a look at the hierarchy and ask yourself, what does this person actually need? Know that when you give a gift that helps a person fulfill a need, you are actually helping them move towards self-actualization. It's hard to think of a better motivation or reason for gift giving.

In an upcoming series of posts, we'll discuss the different layers of the hierarchy and the types of gifts that speak to each level of need.

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