Human Motivation

Dr. Abraham Maslow – Hierarchy of Needs.       

Stephen and Judy Uzelac

When we first wroth “Learning to Find Your Excellence,” it was a collection of material that we used for teaching and corporate speaking or training engagements.  Shortly after Stephen had a near-life death experience in 1999, we decided to take these materials and put them together in a learning guide so that we could show others what saved Stephen’s life.   In our book we referred to those who helped us along the way as “Someone to Appreciate,”  and Dr. Abraham Maslow is one such person along with many others.

“Man is always more than he can know of himself; consequently, his accomplishments time and again will come as a surprise to him.”                Golo Mann; 1909, German historian

Dr. Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology that inspired him to write a paper in 1943 on a “Theory of Human Motivation.”

Perhaps his theory can explain what ignites the human soul to want to achieve or do the things we do. His hierarchy of needs is still used as a model to illustrate human motivation in classrooms across the US – and the world. How then, can we explain the concept? And what parts of ordinary life do each of the stages relate to?

Most people want to be fully human or to put it another way, you are continually in search of meaning, purpose, and happiness in your life.  Most of us want more than we have.  We are in pursuit of total life-satisfaction.  We want to be happy.  We want to be ignited toward living,  According to Dr. Maslow once our lower-level needs are satisfied, we are automatically motivated to pursue high needs.

Dr. Maslow’s research led him to a theory of how people are motivated through the satisfaction of human needs.  He proposed that these motivational needs presented themselves in a hierarchy of needs.  By this he meant that some needs were more basic and more powerful than other needs and the basic needs would have to be satisfied before growth needs are realized.

Self-Actualization Need – Highest Need

Making a lasting and significant contributor; maximizing personal growth and potential are what Maslow labels as self-actualization.  He described self-actualization as our need to be and do that which the person was born to do.  This is referred to as your “calling.”  A musician must make music, a dancer must dance, a teacher must teach, an artist must paint, and a poet must write.  According to Maslow when this need is not met, you will feel restless, on edge, tense and as though you are missing something.  It is a feeling of not being satisfied with your achievements in life.  When this need is not fulfilled it will affect your quality of life.  You will always be in search of happiness.  It is true that every need has an effect on your quality of life; however, when lower needs produce an uneasy feeling it is much easier to find the cause.

Not everyone rises to this level, sad but true. However, those who do are rewarded with a better sense of self-awareness and understanding. By achieving each of the five stages of Dr. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you well be on a journey toward achieving happiness in life and most of what you do.

What motivates you?


Imagine what your motivation would be if you were on the Titanic, or if you were lost at sea without food or water.  This led Dr. Maslow to believe that the higher needs are expressed only when the basic needs are satisfied.  What motivated us at the age of 20, is not the same today.

The physiological need (survival) such as air, food, water, sleep, etc, plus safety and security, Maslow classified as basic needs.   Once there is a sufficient amount of balance in meeting these basic needs, then you will look to satisfying the growth needs including love and belonging needs for self-esteem, self-worth, self-respect, and self- actualization.

Physiological Needs:  These are the basic human elements of survival.   They are biological in nature and include the need for oxygen, food, water, and relatively constant body temperature.  These needs are strongest because, if denied, you, or anyone would die.

Safety Needs:  This is our need to be protected from physical danger, threat or abused.  This is your need to feel that you are physically safe.  Except in times of emergency or periods of disorganization in the social structure (such as widespread rioting, bullying, downsizing, layoffs, stock market crash, school shootings, accidents, etc.)  Most adults in our society do not experience a threat to their security needs.  However, children often display signs of insecurity, and because of their insecure nature, their need to be in a safe intensifies.

Love and Belonging – Social Needs:   We all need a stable, firm base that promotes a high level of self- respect that builds self-confidence.   Today more than ever this seems to be lacking in government, schools, families, and many organizations.  People need to have a feeling of being part of something or someone.  We need to be free of feelings of loneliness and emotional distance. We want to give, receive, and experience love and affection and feel as though we are part of something outside of ourselves.

Esteem Needs:  We need a stable firm base that promotes a high level of self-respect and self-confidence.  We need to be recognized and appreciated to feel satisfied, competent and valuable.  If these needs are not met, we may experience the feelings of inferiority, weakness, helplessness or worthlessness.

Do you know of anyone who has gone through life, not achievig their dreams, their hopes, or desires?  If you do describe the person’s level of happiness in life.


Do you know anyone who is living their dream?  Describe this person’s level of happiness in life?


When someone is hungry, feel unsafe, not loved or accepted, or suffer from the lack of self-esteem, something in their live is not being feed.  When leaders, parents, teachers and managers recognize the value of Maslow’s theory and how it relates to growth and improvement they may realize that they are the cause.  Furthermore, it is not always clearly understood what a person wants when their need for self-actualiazation is not being met.  We believe when a person is hungry it is important that we as a society find them a job, a way of living.  Work it the gateway to security.  When they see and hear that their service is of value to others and receive respect/ dignity, from those in charge and believe their contributions are making a difference, they will have the foundation that promotes the pursuit of Self-actualization.

Dr. Maslow believed that the only reason people would not move through the needs hierarchy to self-actualization is due to roadblocks placed in their path by society.  For example, a lack of education can be a hindrance, or it can promote personal growth.  Maslow suggested that the educational process should utilize some of these concepts to promote personal growth and development.  These same concepts can be applied by leaders, parents, and educators.

Today we see America’s borders being invaded by illegals because they are in pursuit of food, shelter and a better life.  Just like many who came before them.  I (Steve) am so proud of my father who came to America for the same reason that many are willing risk their lives to pursue.  Because of him I was able to pursue my dreams and what I was meant to be, a teacher.

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I am a retired community college professor, author, keynote speaker, husband, father, grandfather, lover of life, walk with faith and will never give up. Positivity is my guiding light. Judy is a retired teacher who will never give up. What is so special about her is her love of faith and all that God sends her way.

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