A study based on a survey of thousands of people from 123 countries reveals the universal needs that make us happy
What are the ingredients for happiness? It’s a question that has been addressed time and again, and now a study based on the first-ever globally representative poll on well-being has some answers about whether or not a pioneering theory is actually correct.
The theory in question is the psychologist Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” a staple of Psychology 101 courses that was famously articulated in 1954. It breaks down the path to happiness in an easy-to-digest list: Earthly needs, such as food and safety, are considered essential, since they act as the groundwork that makes it possible to pursue loftier desires, such as love, respect, and self-actualization (the realization of one’s full potential).
The problem is, Maslow’s theory remained a theory. Though it gained popularity, scientific psychologists largely ignored it. “They thought the needs were too inborn and universal,” says Ed Diener, the author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, “and that the idea of self-actualization was too fuzzy. They started to believe everything is learned and due to socialization.”
To find proof that Maslow’s theory translated into real life, Diener, a University of Illinois psychologist and senior scientist for the Gallup Organization, helped design the Gallup World Poll, a landmark survey on well-being with 60,865 participants from 123 countries that was conducted from 2005 to 2010. Respondents answered questions about six needs that closely resemble those in Maslow’s model: basic needs (food, shelter); safety; social needs (love, support); respect; mastery; and autonomy. They also rated their well-being across three discrete measures: life evaluation (a person’s view of his or her life as a whole), positive feelings (day-to-day instances of joy or pleasure), and negative feelings (everyday experiences of sorrow, anger, or stress). Finally, Diener analyzed the poll data with fellow University of Illinois psychology professor Louis Tay for a study in the current edition of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Read story at The Atlantic