Most of us are familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The idea is simple: you can't worry about meaning, beauty, and joy if you don't have enough to eat. We have to satisfy our most basic physical needs before we can can start thinking about love, or freedom, or purpose. Here's the usual graphic capturing the idea:
Sitting atop this pyramid is self-actualization. This, in essence, is the peak of human flourishing. In this state our top priority is simply becoming the best version of ourselves we can be in order to make the world a better place. It's what we're all aiming for, basically.
So have you gotten there yet?
The 10 components of the self-actualized personality
It seems like a pretty heavy question and not an easy one to answer, but psychology has been hard at work on the problem. Using surveys and correlations with other proven measures of flourishing and success, researchers recently had a breakthrough. They were able to break down the big, hairy goal of self-actualization into ten more manageable traits. They even came up with a simple quiz to measure them.
First, what are the essential characteristics of people who have reached the peak level of Maslow's hierarchy? Here's how Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Barnard College, Columbia University and the scientist behind the research, defined them in a recent Scientific American article:
Continued Freshness of Appreciation (i.e. "I can appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.")
Acceptance ("I accept all of my quirks and desires without shame or apology.")
Authenticity ("I can maintain my dignity and integrity even in environments and situations that are undignified.")
Equanimity ("I tend to take life's inevitable ups and downs with grace, acceptance, and equanimity.")
Purpose ("I feel a great responsibility and duty to accomplish a particular mission in life.")
Efficient Perception of Reality ("I am always trying to get at the real truth about people and nature.")
Humanitarianism ("I have a genuine desire to help the human race.")
Peak Experiences ("I often have experiences in which I feel new horizons and possibilities opening up for myself and others.")
Good Moral Intuition ("I can tell 'deep down' right away when I've done something wrong.")
Creative Spirit ("I have a generally creative spirit that touches everything I do.")
Self-actualization is awesome. Are you getting there?
Kaufman's work also confirmed that reaching this vaunted state is a really, really good thing. "Self-actualization scores were associated with multiple indicators of well-being, including greater life satisfaction, curiosity, self-acceptance, positive relationships, environmental mastery, personal growth, autonomy, and purpose in life," he reports. It was also negatively correlated with destructive and unpleasant characteristics like impulsivity and destructive brooding.
It will even help you get ahead at work. "Self-actualization predicted greater work satisfaction and work performance, as well as greater reports of talent, skill, and creative ability across a wide range of fields from the arts and sciences to business and sports," Kaufman adds.
We now know more completely what self-actualization is actually made up of, and we're also quite sure it's a wonderful thing to aim for. So how do you actually get there? Kaufman can help with that too. He's developed a simple, online quiz that can score you on each of the ten dimensions above in just minutes, suggesting strengths you can lean into and weaknesses you might want to invest in.
Take it yourself here.