College of LAS « Illinois


Revising Our Views on Happiness

Maslow’s ‘theory of needs’ comes under scrutiny.


It’s been 68 years since psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “theory of needs” defined how people achieve happiness and became a staple of psychology classes. Oddly enough, proof of the theory has been elusive until it came under scrutiny recently by a researcher at the University of Illinois who knows a thing or two about happiness.

Maslow proposed that enjoying life is based upon a hierarchy of needs, with the most basic being physiological necessities such as eating and breathing, followed by safety, love, esteem, and reaching potential. Psychologist Ed Diener, nicknamed “Dr. Happiness” for his work on the subject, and other researchers at Illinois tested Maslow’s theory and found that Maslow was largely correct but his idea needs revising.

Using data from the Gallup World Poll, which conducted surveys (designed by Diener) in 155 countries, they found that fulfilling a diversity of needs as defined by Maslow are important to happiness, but, contrary to Maslow’s hierarchy, the order in which the needs are met has little bearing on how much they contribute to life satisfaction and enjoyment, Diener says.

“An important departure from Maslow’s theory is that we found that a person can report having good social relationships and self-actualization even if their basic needs and safety needs are not completely fulfilled,” Diener says.

Research also indicated that people are happier when others in their society also have their needs fulfilled.

Fall 2011