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Ch-1: Our Search for Happiness and Self-Actualization

Part 2

Tom G. Stevens PhD
Psychologist/Professor Emeritus, California State University, Long Beach
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CHAPTER 1,  Part 2,  from You Can Choose To Be Happy,  Tom G. Stevens PhD
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Characteristics of happy, psychologically healthy people

MASLOW'S METAVALUES (or Being values)


Dr. Abraham Maslow--a "father" of the humanistic psychology movement is one of the great psychologists of our time. He noted that most Freudian and psychodynamic approaches to psychology tend to focus on psychological sickness. These theories had also developed too many negative concepts about people and human nature. This was due in part to Freud and his students' focus on people with the most serious psychological problems. Dr. Maslow asserted that psychologists could learn more about mental health by studying the healthiest people than by studying those with the greatest problems. His message needs to be restated for many in the mental health field today.

He completed a classic observational study of historically important people and important people of his time. These people were considered to be exceptional in their personal achievements, in their contributions to society, and in their own happiness and well-being. They had to pass mental health criteria as well (Maslow, 1954). People who knew Dr. Maslow personally thought he was a self-actualizing person. Perhaps his own personal experience was an important factor for his remarkable insights into self-actualization.

How important was his study and his conclusions? It had a significant and lasting effect upon the entire field of psychology. No other study of healthy people even approaches its influence. Dr. Maslow's model of self-actualizing people has stood the test of time over several decades. It has proven to be a powerful idea about living life at its best that has not been matched in psychology to this day.

What was it about these self-actualizing people that caused them to be so happy and productive? What were their secrets--the keys to their happiness and productivity? Listed in Figure 1 are Dr. Maslow's conclusions about the key characteristics of the self-actualizing people in his study. I invite you to begin your own conscious journey to self-actualization. Consider the following list of characteristics as a role model for yourself. May it serve as a guiding light for you as it has for me. (This book is also about how to achieve self-actualization. If you want to focus on developing certain characteristics, then read the chapters listed to learn more about how to achieve them for yourself.)



1. Acceptance of self, of others, of nature--"not complaining about water because it is wet." Stoic style of calmly accepting even the worst. (How? See chapters 4, 5)

2. Identification with the human species--identification with all of humanity versus just their own family, friends, culture, or nation. (How? See chapter 3, 4)

3. Emphasis on higher level values--see METAVALUE section on next page.

4. Perception of reality--greater perceptual accuracy of reality. Superior ability to reason and perceive the truth and understand people at a deeper level.

5. Discrimination between means and ends, between good and evil--Clearer and more focused upon ends than most people; though they view their experiences and activities more as ends in themselves than most people. (How? See chapters 2, 3)

6. Resolution of dichotomies (conflicts). Resolved conflicts that plague most people, because of their highly developed, accepting philosophy of life. (How? See chapter 3)


7. Autonomy and resistance to enculturation. (How? See chapter 6)

8. Detachment and desire for privacy--high enjoyment of privacy and solitude. Calm and at peace with themselves. (How? See chapters 5, 6, 8)

9. Spontaneity, simplicity, naturalness--reflects integration of values and habits. Open, integrated values and habits. (How? See chapters 3, 6)


10. Problem-centering--easily forget self and easily absorbed in tasks they love and/or feel are extremely important. (How? See chapters 3, 8)

11. Creativeness--retain an almost childlike fresh, naive, and direct way of looking at life. May be partly a result of other factors such as problem-centering.

12. Freshness of appreciation and richness of emotional reactions--ability to intensely focus on the present and highly involved in it. Very accepting of emotions. (How? See chapters 7, 8)

13. High frequency of peak experiences. (How? See chapters 7, 8)


14. (Intimate) Interpersonal relations--"deeper and more profound interpersonal relations than any other adults." However, these very close relationships are often limited to a very few people. They tend to be kind, patient, affectionate, friendly, and unpretentious; but can be direct and assertive when needed.

15. Democratic character structure--a person's status is unimportant to them. They do respond to differences in values and character. (How? See chapter 3)

16. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor.




Dr. Maslow believed that before a higher need could become important to us, we must first get our lower, more basic needs met. Before we can become concerned about self-actualization, we need to adequately satisfy basic needs such as health, safety, belongingness, love, and status. To the degree that these needs are satisfied, then we are free to concentrate more on the higher needs or metavalues listed below.

MASLOW'S METAVALUES (or "Being" values)

Dr. Maslow observed that self-actualizing persons seem to spend less of their time concentrating on the lower values (safety, belongingness, etc. listed above) and more of their time being concerned primarily with higher values or metavalues. The content of self-actualizing people's thoughts is an extremely important way in which they live on a higher level. They spend much more time focusing on metavalues such as those listed below.

  •  WHOLENESS (unity, integration, organization, simplicity, etc.)
  •  ALIVENESS (process, life, spontaneity, self-regulation [versus. other-controlled], full-functioning)
  •  RICHNESS (differentiation, complexity, intricacy)
  •  UNIQUENESS (idiosyncrasy, individuality, novelty)
  •  EFFORTLESSNESS (ease, grace, beautifully functioning)
  •  PLAYFULNESS (fun, joy, amusement, humor)
  •  TRUTH (and knowledge?)
  •  SELF-SUFFICIENCY (autonomy, independence, environment-transcending, [taking care of oneself], separateness, living by own laws)
Focusing on satisfying these values (instead of focusing on lower values or negatives) is an important factor in why self-actualizing people are happier, more peaceful, and more productive than other people. They routinely meet their lower values (or have met them in the past), so now they are free to concentrate on these higher values.

It is interesting to note that when self-actualizing people's basic values are threatened, they do not tend to regress back to the earlier phase of development. Instead their higher values are still more important to them. Once these higher values become firmly established, they are very resistant to deterioration.

Notice how these values are general and timeless. Contrast them with the goals that commonly occupy most people's time--such as worry over meeting deadlines, getting jobs, finding others to love, making high grades, or making good impressions.

Self-actualizing people are people who have learned to look at life from a broader perspective. They are attentive to the deadlines in life, but not carried away by them. They focus their lives on these abstract metavalues. Consequently, they are not so emotionally affected by the ups and downs of daily life. They feel a sense of happiness that comes from seeing progress toward satisfying these stable, inner values that do not depend so much upon external conditions.

PRACTICE: What are your highest values? 1--What do you think about most of the time? What underlying values seem to be reflected by your goals and thoughts? 2-Do you want to give more attention to metavalues? 3--What can you do to spend less time concentrating on negatives or lower values and more time focusing on metavalues? In later chapters you will develop a greater understanding of your values and the parts of yourself that create them.

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Once people begin to live on a higher level (become more self-actualizing), their relationships tend to change. They view their old relationships in a different light. They increase their understanding and caring for others, yet feel less worried about what others think of them or their choices.

As the new metavalues become more important, people spend less time with persons or groups who don't share their emphasis on these metavalues. They often seek new relationships or groups that do share them. They actively try to bring every relationship more in line with their metavalues.

Marilyn Ferguson (in The Aquarian Conspiracy) describes the growth process from a lower to a higher state of functioning. She compares this process to the early pilgrims crossing the Atlantic ocean from the Old World to the New World of America. She describes how those who were left behind in the old country often felt and how the explorer moves on.

Those who stay behind cannot understand why the familiar did not hold the immigrant. Why did he abandon his accustomed homeland?
Saddest of all, how could their affections not hold them? . . .
Over time, differences may seem more and more pronounced,
old schisms widen. Many new friendships,
even a whole new support network, take their place.
Based as they are on shared values and a shared journey, 
these new relationships are perhaps more intense. 

(Pp. 387-388)

Several years before I met my wife Sherry, she was going through a transition period involving some dramatic personal growth. The success, social status, and money she and her friends had and spent so much time focusing on had come to mean less and less to her. She knew that something was missing in her life. As she began to find answers that most of her friends had not yet discovered, she seemed to feel less and less connected with them. As a result, she felt increasing distance from even her closest friends.

She often walked along a canal in the Naples area of Long Beach. On one of these walks, she realized that she might have to continue her journey toward self-actualization without many people she was closest to. She suddenly felt alone and frightened about going ahead in her quest if it meant leaving everyone else behind.

She stopped in at the house of the one friend she thought might understand. Her friend showed her the above passage of The Aquarian Conspiracy. It helped her understand her situation and encouraged her to continue growing and searching for people who shared her new values.

That passage helped give her the courage to make some dramatic changes. She ended an unequal marriage, she continued to support herself in real estate while getting a counseling degree and raising two children, and she made many new friends--including me. Years later, she realizes that this was one of the most important periods in her life.

However, at the time, she greatly feared leaving the old, familiar people and life patterns behind. One of her biggest fears was that she could never find a man who was growth-oriented enough. She didn't think she knew any. Many women feel that way. Though, in fact, many growth-oriented men have the same fears.

To the degree that two people share the same metavalues, they can begin to have a higher level relationship. We were lucky to find each other. When we met, we discussed many of our beliefs about what we wanted in a relationship and what we thought would make two people happy together. We especially focused upon combining intimacy, independence, open communication, and equality.

Neither of us had ever lived by these principles adequately in any previous relationship. So we began experimenting to see how this new kind of relationship would work. After much early trial and error, we found out that these principles really do work. We have developed a relationship that has evolved to a much higher level over the years. Our relationship is so loving, so freeing, and contributes so much to our own individual growth and happiness. These principles work for us and our clients.


PRACTICE: Evaluate each significant relationship and group in your life. What values are most important to each person or to each group? How similar are they to your (new?) values? Is the relationship evolving toward satisfying these metavalues?

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