Proving Maslow

I dwell within the “Surviving, Not Thriving” set. I socialize there. I eat and sleep there. It’s who I am. Who my friends are. And though we all strive for higher, for the “thriving” goal, we may never quite reach it.  The creative accomplishments within this set, though, are phenomenal.

A friend recently introduced me to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. I didn’t know such a structure existed until I posted on Facebook, “Today I’m digging for the inspiration to get up and find some motivation.” We both agreed that, some days, we dwell on the bottom of the pyramid. We manage to feed ourselves, get up and shower. But writing or creating artwork, or anything that separates a civilization from a dwelling, just doesn’t happen. But more often… it does.

hierarchy of needs

A few months ago, my family watched a documentary called Happy. As the filmmakers traveled through several continents, they interviewed people who lived in slums and claimed their lives were filled with joy. The narrator stated that, at the point where humanity’s basic needs are met, they then blossom with goals or creativity. They move up Maslow’s scale.

happy movie

You can watch the movie here, free.

Most of my friends have successfully moved up Maslow’s scale, but are not “successful” by society’s terms. The description “starving artist” fits them very well.

Often I hear, “If only I had a bit more money. I could…” Fill in the blank. They could travel to Scotland, publish that book, open up that gallery, establish that sustainable farm. It sounds like a lot of dreaming, sometimes like whining. Yet as I pay closer attention to my friends, I realize that money is the only thing holding them back. Really, it is. They’ve done the rest of the work. They’ve researched their Scottish ancestors. They’ve written the book. They’ve created beautiful canvases worth hundreds of dollars, and they’ve educated themselves about how to live completely off the grid. They just need the money.

Joe planting flowers

To the “Surviving, Not Thriving” set, money seems to be the answer. Often we look at the middle class and think, “If we were just there, we could…” Fill in the blank. But then, if money was the only missing factor here, why isn’t the middle class “there”? Why aren’t they opening up art galleries or submitting manuscripts?

To be fair, I step back and compare friends of both middle class and “SNT” class. These names are the first ones on my Facebook friends list, and are abbreviated to protect the innocent.

From the “SNT” class…
D: Learned how to make soap and opened up an Etsy shop.
E: Last year, she built her own chicken coop and started a flock. This year, she’s learning how to garden in her climate.
K: Gave me my first cheese-making lesson! Now she’s researching how to live with a dietary intolerance without spending additional money she doesn’t have.
L: Caught in a situation most would find depressing and hopeless, she crochets stunning baby dresses to supplement her income.
R: Stuck at home because of a health condition, she makes jewelry to sell on Etsy. She also promotes her friends’ small businesses and non-profit charities.

Now I’m going to find those on my Facebook list who are “middle class”.
C: Owns some nice cars. I don’t know much else about him, since he’s only an online friend.
N: Always fashionable and well dressed, she always seems to be at the right gatherings, but isn’t artistic at all.
S: A stay-at-home mom who compliments her sister’s creative efforts but hasn’t tried many of her own.
J: Spends her day driving around and helping out needy ladies within our church. Admits that she’s never made a loaf of bread or stitched a quilt.

The list is shorter because, as I said, I socialize in the “SNT” set. And though the “middle class” set has some amazing accomplishments, I find that they’re not as creative.
In fact, I can categorize the reception I get to my own efforts by the class of the speaker. Those in the “middle class” set may express appreciation and admiration for my creative efforts. Those in the “SNT” set express admiration and a desire to learn that skill. Often they share skills of their own that they strive to achieve.

So I wonder: does comfort breed complacency? Does complacency kill creativity?

Every one of my friends who strives to thrive, who has admitted that their lives are their own, who have managed to provide basic needs… are creating. They’re building. They’re expanding. It’s stunning how many lawns are transformed into gardens, how many computers hold unpublished manuscripts. They have come so far that all they need is the money to pay an editor, or the credit to buy that 10-acre sustainable farm.


Once they admit that they can rise up Maslow’s scale, and proceed to do so, it’s not long before they’re at the top.

So is it that constant work to survive, trying to thrive, that fuels this creativity? Maybe it’s boredom that kills it, and the action of working toward progress propels it? And those people who already thrive, who don’t have to work as hard for basic comforts… do they have to work harder to achieve Maslow’s top level and actually create something?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s