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If one of the ambitious goals of philosophy is to determine the meaning of life, one of the ambitious goals of psychology is to tell us how to achieve it. An influential work in this direction was Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs — a list of human needs, often displayed suggestively in the form of a pyramid, ranging from the most basic (food and shelter) to the most refined. At the top lurks “self-actualization," the ultimate goal of achieving one’s creative capacities. Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman has elaborated on this model, both by exploring less-well-known writings of Maslow’s, and also by incorporating more recent empirical psychological studies. He suggests the more dynamical metaphor of a sailboat, where the hull represents basic security needs and the sail more creative and dynamical capabilities. It’s an interesting take on the importance of appreciating that the nature of our lives is one of constant flux.
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Scott Barry Kaufman received his Ph.D. in cognitive psychology from Yale University. He has taught at Columbia University, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. He is the host of The Psychology Podcast. He was named by Business Insider as one of the “50 groundbreaking scientists who are changing the way we see the world.” He is the author of numerous books; his most recent, Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization, is published April 7.