A More Fluid Look at Life and Going Beyond Maslow’s Hierarchy

I tend to be the kind of person who seeks to understand why things work, particularly when I am interacting with a subject or discipline in a creative capacity. An example of this is seen in my User Experience Design work. I know the programming languages beneath modern front-end interfaces and thus am able to approach interaction design and research from a transparent and holistic perspective, which enables me to have more mastery than someone who only sees the pixels but not the technology and capabilities beneath them.

A complex example, but I think as humans we often mistakenly seek to believe that things are simple, when the nature of reality itself is complex.

It’s not just modern reality that’s inherently complex, (i.e., technology, politics, or careers) but all of reality. Consider for a moment our individual natures: from the Coping Strategies and Defence Mechanisms that drive our behaviors, to the early childhood attachment patterns that shape our internal working models for relationships; the opaqueness of our self-schemas is so complex that few people are even aware of the factors that lie underneath our individual bias and identity.

Note: I did not include biological influences in the preceding paragraph because, while I do believe the foundational basis for our mechanisms of development is rooted within our DNA, I hold the opinion that environmental factors exert a dominant influence on our development over innate factors*.

*I do not know how an intellectual disability would effect this assumption.

The truth is, most people don’t even know why they believe the things they do and even fewer know why they do the things they do. Being human is a complex process (There are 86 billion neurons in your brain.); however, regardless of modern understandings on the complexity of human life and the incredible progress science has achieved in understanding the human mind – many people are operating based on beliefs which go back to the dawn of man (note: Why did the Neanderthals bury their dead along with tools 50,000 years ago?). Yet, even independent from our religious theologies, most adults gain their individual beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors with an operational basis for learning that closely resembles adolescent cognitive development. The progression of their identity remains a static and linear process that accommodates and assimilates ideas, concepts, and beliefs based on personal experience. Well, isn’t that how you learn about life? Yes. That’s exactly how most people learn about themselves and life. And that’s the problem. We learn like sponges and we act like sheep. I recognize that those are cheap metaphors, but I find it a pity that so few outside of academia and medical sciences seek to study and apply the ideas, theories, and models born of some of the absolute brightest minds in human history.

On the first day of my first Psych class (Psych 90) I learned an extremely important lesson on life. The professor (Whom I ultimately disagreed with in many regards i.e., she believed that ‘perpetrators of vile crimes towards children could be fully rehabilitated’.) began the class by teaching us that one must be subjective and critical in learning; that we mustn’t merely absorb what we read or hear, but that we should examine and interpret it, forming our own opinions and beliefs, and decode for ourselves what was of value and what was not. That one lesson has allowed me to learn about life in a way that has enriched and expanded my learning far beyond what I previously knew was possible. As a result, I’ve asked questions that I would have never asked and I’ve formed original and informed opinions rather than forming an allegiance solely to the ideas of others. It was a gift of autonomy as a student that benefited me immensely as a human being.

Perhaps the greatest application of this gift has been in my journey to understand myself through self-study, writing, and introspective reflection. The benefits in each of these areas have not been solely in the practice of intelligently discounting particular ideas and concepts, but moreso in the power to discern the lessons, ideas, and thoughts that have have been the greatest propellants of my growth as a human being.

Without this single consciousness expanding lesson I might have been another inmate in the asylum of life – walking around believing my waking thoughts and the words and actions of others.

Instead, I am capable of bypassing the shallow, skeptical, and biased filter of the ego and processing the internal and external data of life (thoughts, ideas, input, experiences) in a manner that reconciles the outer ‘truths’ of reality with the innermost truths of my soul. This practice of objectively processing yet subjectively filtering the world is slowly allowing me to become more aware of my Cognitive Biases.

An additional, compounded benefit is that this practice / approach allows me to have more fluidity in my identity and beliefs, and a far more open mind than I otherwise would have had. The most recent example of this and the impetus for my writing tonight was in the comments left on my previous entry on Self-Actualization vs. Self-Actualizing. The first comment brought to my attention the inherent and unattainable nature of the achievements within Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid for those with scarce resources. As someone who experienced poverty growing up, and someone who still would not meet all of the requirements as traditionally defined by Maslow, a seed was definitely planted within me. I could look at the pyramid and feel my own shortcomings to a degree that instilled a sense of inadequacy in myself compared to my goals and the ideal self model I hold.

Then tonight, an additional comment contained this statement: Trick for you: Turn Maslow’s famous pyramid upside-down and leave the levels the same.  

Hmm… So I began doing some internet searches on ‘inverted Maslow’s Hierarchy’.

One of the better thoughts on this can be seen here. (worth a read – esp for creative people.) and I’ve excerpted a key takeaway below.

It all made sense. Maslow’s theory that one must satisfy a lower-level need before addressing an upper-level need is actually sound — it’s just that he got the order inverted for creatives. Self-Actualization is the fundamental need that drives all creatives. It is, in many ways, their most basic need. Of course, once they’ve satisfied their own creative mandates, creatives want others to know and appreciate what they’ve done. Esteem is thus something that can be sought only after a creative has satisfied himself. And though many creatives long for intimate relationships, they’re rarely able or willing to put the time and energy into making them work — love simply takes too much time away from the process of creating. Thus, establishing intimate and meaningful relationships is something many creatives can do only after achieving a certain measure of self-actualization and esteem. Finally, many creatives seem to view their own safety, security and physiological needs with a sort of “disdain” — as if the act of assuaging them (or the effort spent in trying) is so pedestrian, banal and trite that their fulfillment is tantamount to “selling out.” Only the most successful, respected and loved creatives ever seem to achieve the top echelon of the inverted Maslow Pyramid.

In reading this, I connected to the idea of self-actualization being a fundamental need based on my own experience and knowledge about myself. I have 100% repressed and stifled my lower level needs based on my need to self-actualize. To some degree, this has been an almost emerging theme in my life over the past few years. Why? Because it was more important to me.

And in this way, am I not able to hypothesize that Abraham Maslow’s own bias led him to develop a hierarchy based more on his bias, then the reality of all humans. Had Abraham Maslow not heard of the starving artist who self-actualized his potential and aptitude in his art, often at the expense of his lower needs?

In returning to the excerpt above, the writer also posits that: And though many creatives long for intimate relationships, they’re rarely able or willing to put the time and energy into making them work — love simply takes too much time away from the process of creating. Thus, establishing intimate and meaningful relationships is something many creatives can do only after achieving a certain measure of self-actualization and esteem. However, in this instance, I cannot agree. I’ve often put love above my desire to self-actualize personally and professionally, and even as I’ve failed to meet lower needs at times I’ve been able to experience incredibly intimate and meaningful romantic relationships. Perhaps only lately, as my priorities have shifted and life has changed, have I invested more in my self-actualization and less in my intimacy.

As a reference, here is a drawing of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (a full list can be seen at Wikipedia)


In taking a fluid look at Maslow’s Hierarchy, I am not reinventing the wheel, but overlapping concepts seen first in Clayton Alderfer‘s 1969 revision of Maslow’s Hierarchy, known as ERG Theory (Existence, Relatedness, Growth), which is similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy, but differs mainly in the following: (source)

Alderfer’s ERG theory demonstrates that more than one need may motivate at the same time. A lower motivator need not be substantially satisfied before one can move onto higher motivators.

The ERG theory also accounts for differences in need preferences between cultures better than Maslow’s Need Hierarchy; the order of needs can be different for different people. This flexibility allows the ERG theory to account for a wider range of observed behaviors. For example, it can explain the “starving artist” who may place growth needs above existence ones.

The ERG theory acknowledges that if a higher-order need is frustrated, an individual may regress to increase the satisfaction of a lower-order need which appears easier to satisfy. This is known as the frustration-regression principle.

Another more fluid reinterpretation of Maslow’s Hierarchy was developed in 1991 by Chilean Economist Manfred Max-Neef, who created Human Needs and Human-scale Development to address the inadequacies of traditional models of human development in relation to Latin American Economic systems and Western ideas about poverty and it’s role as a barrier to fulfilling human needs.

In Max-Neef’s model for Fundamental Human needs there is no hierarchy beyond life sustaining needs, and multiple needs may be met simultaneously. Additionally, activities may be pursued that fulfill multiple needs. Another key contribution was that Max-Neef classified satisfiers (ways of meeting needs) under five different categories:

  1. Violators: claim to be satisfying needs, yet in fact make it more difficult to satisfy a need. E.g. drinking a soda advertised to quench your thirst, but the ingredients cause you to urinate more, leaving you less hydrated on net.
  2. Pseudo Satisfiers: claim to be satisfying a need, yet in fact have little to no effect on really meeting such a need. For example, status symbols may help identify one’s self initially, but there is always the potential to get absorbed in them and forget who you are without them.
  3. Inhibiting Satisfiers: those which over-satisfy a given need, which in turn seriously inhibits the possibility of satisfaction of other needs. Mostly originating in deep-rooted customs, habits and rituals. For example, an overprotective family stifles identity, freedom, understanding, and affection.
  4. Singular Satisfiers: satisfy one particular need only. These are neutral in regard to the satisfaction of other needs. They are usually institutionalized by voluntary, private sector, or government programs. For example, food/housing volunteer programs aid in satisfying subsistence for less fortunate people.
  5. Synergistic Satisfiers: satisfy a given need, while simultaneously contributing to the satisfaction of other needs. These are anti-authoritarian and represent a reversal of predominant values of competition and greed. For example, breast feeding gives a child subsistence, and aids in the development in protection, affection, and identity.

This satisfier classification makes an important distinction in that:

From the classification proposed it follows that, for instance, food and shelter must not be seen as needs, but as satisfiers of the fundamental need for Subsistence. In much the same way, education (either formal or informal), study, investigation, early stimulation and meditation are satisfiers of the need for Understanding.

I’m very excited to explore Max-Neef’s model more, and you can as well: Download Manfred Max-Neef Fundamental Human Needs

As the result of the thoughtful comments of two readers and the teachings of that Psych90 professor, I was able to examine my own inability to classify myself under the rigidity of Maslow’s Hierarchy, and recognize that there is no perfect model for every individual, but in studying the contributions to humanity from people like Abraham Maslow, Clayton Alderfer, and Manfred Max-Neef, I’m better learning about the things that motivate and drive me, and why the hell I do the things I do. We’re all just trying to get our needs met, aren’t we.

From here, I’m going to be looking at all three models, and introspectively discovering which elements of each apply to me and then creating a tailored model that reflects the integrity of each school of thought yet accounts for my own stark individuality.

I do truly believe that we can experience Self-Actualization and Freedom / Transcendence (as encompassed in Max-Neef’s model) along the entire journey of life because the potential exists in each of us. I also believe that the path to meeting the entire spectrum of our needs in healthy ways requires us to be willing to get to know ourselves at a level that’s far more complex than any understanding we’ve ever had of ourselves. The day I know what (the underlying psychology of) my real beliefs are and why I do the things I do might just be the day I understand who I am. Until then, I’m doing my best.

Self-Actualizing vs. Self-Actualization

If you’re one of my subscribers, you’ll either be happy or annoyed that I’ve published a second post today. Hopefully, you’ll be enriched regardless.

Unfortunately, the reason I have the time to write again tonight is because I’m currently sick :/, but the positive thing is that I’ve taken a night off from working to do some MUCH welcomed reading, reflection and planning. I love quiet nights of relaxing music and mental exploration.

Ironically, I also came across something that clicked for me in a MAJOR way (as tends to happen when we take the time to venture down the rabbit-hole and seek answers to the questions we are facing).

Just one of those fortunate instances where you learn something that not only provides resolution to your search, but also brings you a real sense of peace and some valuable insight into anxiety you didn’t quite understand about yourself. Perhaps that describes the feeling you get when you figure something out about life or about yourself that you previously didn’t know. I’m weird, I find great pleasure in discovering things that help me to understand life and how to live it better.

A topic I am constantly writing about is self-actualization. Why, well, because it’s fucking awesome; that’s why. Actualizing all of your latent potential into this uber mentally healthy pinnacle of what you can be is as ambitious and cool of a pursuit as you can have. When you talk about the well-known people who have been classically described as self-actualized, you’re talking about the Mahatma Gandhis, Viktor Frankls, and Nelson Mandelas of the world. Human rock stars. But a self-actualized person can also be a homemaker, or a teacher, or a mechanic.

(Read Abraham Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualized individuals to learn more about what it means to be self-actualized.)

I’ve always loved psychology and human-development and I’ll keep studying it and growing as long as I live. I want to be the best me for myself, I want to be the best me for my kids, grand kids, wife… crickets….. whenever they decide to show up in my world…haha

Yeah, that’s just what life’s about to me. Loving, and joy, and passion, but in order to experience all of that, we have to have healthy modalities for living our lives. A fulfilling life is about being that which you can be.

But at the same time, I’m a human being and I make mistakes. Hell, I think that’s why I am on this path. I want to be self-aware. I don’t want to suck. When I do something I am not proud of or something that feels out of character, I want to call myself on my shit and take healthy corrective action. So tonight I was searching about how self-actualized people deal with mistakes, when I came across a few brilliant points that really made me go ‘WOW’.

I was quite taken aback by them because they challenged what it means to be self-actualized in ways that I think addressed some of the clear fallacies people believe about self-actualization. It made incredible sense to me and endeared the concept of self-actualization to me all the more.

When people think of self-actualized people, they tend to think of someone who sits atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, and they think of these incredibly rarefied, altruistic individuals in their sixties who have ‘attained’ this state of being that few people will ever attain. It certainly supports this when I provide examples such as Ghandi, Frankl, and Mandela.

And what I came across tonight didn’t necessarily negate those rare ideals, but rather, it expanded the definition to encompass a more tangible and realistic concept that we can seek to experience. So, I just want to say that academically, I don’t think these concepts cheapen Self-Actualization in any way; if anything they make it more authentic and more valuable as a paradigm that we can share with others and use to achieve growth in our own lives.

There are two key discoveries that I came across tonight in my searching.

The first I found on an internet message board (completely valid source, I know – but hey, I’m addicted to great ideas – not people or accreditation).

Essentially, a gentleman was asking ‘how to be self-actualized’ and different people were providing different answers. One answer, fitting perhaps a classic definition and assumption, was that ‘when you start doing things for other people and not yourself’.

And then, as I scrolled down I came across this post (note: I am not linking to it because it’s not necessarily a public board, although it was not protected via google)

The Post:

A self-actualized man will want to “do more”. That’s it. Doing more can be anything from becoming the best he can be, to helping end poverty. But it doesn’t have to be so altruistic, it can be downright selfish. A self-actualized man might want to be the richest man on the world and it would still be a self-actualized goal.

The only difference between a self-actualized man having this goal and a non-self-actualized man having the exact same goal, are the intentions of the two men. Even though the goals and maybe even the end result are the same, it makes a tremendous difference in how happy and even ultimately how “successful” each individual is at the end of the day.

I put “successful” in commas because what is success? Very simply, success is the achievement of your goals. The difference between the two men is that the non-self actualized individual is getting a car or making money to satisfy the need for wanting to be loved or validated. The self-actualized individual is doing the same thing because …. maybe he wants to experience new things and so he has to save up to travel. The non-self-actualized individual might not say this is why he is working hard, but its the truth. And the trouble with trying to be loved or validated is that you will NEVER be successful by seeking it externally. He might get the house and girl, but unless he begins to love and validate himself internally, it will not translate into him feeling loved and validated, or only temporarily if he happens to lose the house and girl. In fact, you can validate and love yourself without any need for external love or validation, while the opposite is not true.

So ultimately the two individuals will look the same, but one will be happy because he will be successful and lead a fulfilling life. While the non self-actualized individual will neither be happy, nor ever see himself as successful enough, and at the end of the day look back and realize his life was wasted.

What we can learn from this is that the most important thing is to deal with our inner emotional problems, some people would call this “inner game”, but I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate. But before your life is over, I hope you will be able to come to love and validate yourself completely. When you have done this, then you can become self-actualized and start striving towards what YOU truly want. You begin to put harsher demands on yourself than anyone would ever expect of you. After all, you only live one life, you’ll think to yourself, I only have 80 years to leave my mark on this Earth for the rest of Time. Every second is precious and life is beautiful. I have a feeling that OP wants to know what a  self-actualized man wants so he can himself be self-actualized. That’s fine, but it would be a mistake to think that by modeling yourself after self-actualized men, either by doing what they do, or wanting they want, you will one day become self-actualized. That won’t get you to where you want to go, because the journey that makes the difference is internal. Pay attention to what needs you are meeting.


And I think there are a lot of great points made above, but the key distinction I took away from it is that self-actualization is not altruism. They are not mutually inclusive. And from my own experience, I’ve come across CEO’s who were not altruistic beyond perhaps their immediate family, but the achievement of their accomplishments in the context of their potential was very much internally motivated. I must add, that at the same time, self-actualization is not limited to those who reach some arbitrary financial point. I would not call Donald Trump self-actualized and he certainly falls short of many of the traditional definitions, but on the other hand, I’d be inclined to say that Elon Musk is.

The second concept I discovered tonight is from the second edition of Abraham Maslow’s Towards a Psychology of Being, 1968, wherein Maslow essentially redefines Self-Actualization not as a noun or adjective, but more as a verb.

I’ll let the text explain:

… any person in any of the peak experiences takes on temporarily many of the characteristics which I found in self-actualizing individuals. That is, for the time they become self-actualizers. We may think of it as a passing characterological change if we wish, and not just as an emotional-cognitive-expressive state. Not only are these his happiest and most thrilling moments, but they are also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfillment – in a word, his healthiest moments.

This makes it possible for us to redefine self-actualization in such a way as to purge it of its static and typological shortcomings, and to make it less a kind of all-or-none pantheon into which some rare people enter at the age of 60. We may define it as an episode, or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative, more humorous, more ego-transcending, more independent of his lower needs, etc. He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualizing his potentialities, closer to the core of his Being, more fully human.

Such states or episodes can, in theory, come at any time in life to any person. What seems to distinguish those individuals I have called self-actualizing people, is that in them these episodes seem to come far more frequently, and intensely and perfectly than in average people. This makes self-actualization a matter of degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair, and thereby makes it more amenable to available research procedures. We need no longer be limited to searching for those rare subjects who may be said to be fulfilling themselves most of the time. In theory at least we may also search any life history for episodes of self-actualization, especially those of artists, intellectuals and other especially creative people, of profoundly religious people, and of people experiencing great insights in psychotherapy, or in other important growth experiences.


Peak Experiences are one of the core defining elements within the lives of self-actualized individuals. But what Maslow has said here is that we self-actualize when we have these peak experiences.

We can then in a sense redefine self-actualization as Maslow says, and we can begin to think of it as an episodic experience that comes through peak experience. Maslow himself said that: “Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization.”

This also aligns self-actualization with peak experience, and provides much more tangibility to the concept.

In the wiki page for Peak Experience, which I linked to above – fascinating page by the way – there is a great passage that defines what Maslow describes as ‘lengthy, willfully induced peak experiences’ or ‘plateau experiences’:

Maslow defined lengthy, willfully induced peak experiences (plateau experiences) as a characteristic of the self-actualized. He described it as a state of witnessing or cognitive blissfulness, the achievement of which requires a lifetime of long and hard effort, and also self-actualization.

However, I would perhaps argue that these plateau experiences are not just characteristic of the self-actualized, but maybe even the defining quality of self-actualization as a state itself.

In this way, we can think of self-actualizing as a transient state, and being self-actualized as the indefinite or lasting attainment of that state.

What a wonderful way to better understand how we can experience this in our lives. I believe that through using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Vailant’s Categorization of Defense Mechanisms as guides to meet our needs and cope with life in healthy ways, we can drastically improve the quality of our lives.

And for those who display some of the more unhealthy (pathological, immature) defense mechanisms on Vailant’s Categorization, it may be worth looking into Schema Therapy to better understand how our early childhood might have imparted some Early Maladaptive Schemas into our mindset, which may have had a negative impact on our ability to healthily interact with the world and reach our full potential. However, I guess the caveat might be that it is really difficult to understand or even to self-identify any of this without a therapist.

In any case, I HIGHLY recommend anyone desiring to grow to find a therapist and discuss your barriers and goals with them. I happen to love learning about psychology, and 95% of what I know is from my own studies and writings, but some of the most valuable insights and most powerful growth for me has happened with professional assistance from a qualified therapist. Therapy is awesome. It’s really healthy and rewarding.

Returning to the idea of peak experience, I am very excited because I’m nearing a transitional period with my business that’s going to allow me to have more time for activities that provide the kind of peak experience that are far too rare for most people.

I’m hoping to write about Peak Experience next, and later this year I’m going to tackle Vailant’s Defense Mechanisms in a series. Thank you for joining me on this journey. There is so much to this life, and self-actualization is possible.

Happiness, YOLO Culture, and The Chinese Bamboo Tree

edit 11/16/15: I think if you look at the infographic on Sonnet 9 here, you will see right through the fallacy of YOLO, simply in the actual regrets of the dying.

For World Happiness Day, I have this to remind you: “How you spend your days is how you spend your life”.

Meaning, that while you’re waiting or dreaming for the life you want, it’s passing you by; you’re living life right now. As John Lennon famously said: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

And as I enter the dawn of my 29th year, let me tell you, three and four years can pass and leave you bewildered at how fast the time goes by. I’m reminded of a great quote that I recently read, which really encapsulated my feelings about life as of late: “..Think of life as a terminal illness, because, if you do, you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.” – Anna Quindlen

What a great paradigm; life most certainly ought to be lived with joy and passion. But I look around and I feel that modern culture has effectively debased the concept of embracing our mortality and diluted it into something vapid and hollow. I say this not because I think people are ignorant to the finite nature of life, but because I think adherence to modern ideas of what it means to live once are essentially causing people to squander their time in an attempt not to. YOLO culture, or whatever you want to call it, has watered down the objectives in life for many into two basic principles: A short-term objective of: the pursuit of fun, and a long-term objective of: the avoidance of regret. The combination of these nearsighted objectives can aptly be summarized in the oft heard rally cry of: ‘You only live once’ or perhaps more crassly in Jeffrey Lebowski’s (The Dude’s) mantra of ‘fuck it’.

Existential psychologists, such as Viktor Frankl and Rollo May held the view that an individual’s personality was constantly being governed by the choices and decisions they made in relation to the realities of life and death. Perhaps these modern ideas about pursuing fun while avoiding regret have become widespread paradigms because they provide people with a decisioning model that both excuses and validates a person’s actions in relation to both life and death.

The major fallacy with the paradigm of: ‘You only live once, have fun, you don’t ever want to be full of regret when you’re older or dying‘ is that it fails to apply any weighted logic to the integrity and intelligence of the decision itself, instead relying on the sole question of ‘Will this bring satisfaction to my life at the present day, whilst decreasing my dissatisfaction with life at some arbitrary point in the future?‘. That kind of question is akin to the logic that guides the behavior of children. The only difference being that a child is not aware of the concept of avoiding future regret.

As evidenced by the previous few paragraphs I hardly find this to be a healthy model for finding happiness in life while reconciling the truth of my mortality. When the pursuit of fun and the avoidance of regret become the chief metrics by which you assess your decisions, you essentially reduce your ability to direct your life to that of a child, and while children are often happy, as adults we have vastly different responsibilities; however, its possible that the root of the problem itself is not in this ‘YOLO logic’ but in the unevolved adolescent priorities which allow such an immature model to exist. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs provides an interesting model with which this might be assessed.

But digressing from my existential thoughts on the un-actualized potential of the masses, I want to return to what I am doing to find happiness.

You know, life is long. And despite the fact that we are all very likely going to die eventually (pending there is no singularity which transcends the human lifespan), we have to live in a manner which allows us to reconcile this fact. For me, that’s something I accomplish by loving as if each day were my last. For me, that brings peace to my heart. Do I believe in living each day as if it were my last? I don’t know if that’s realistic. Maybe for someone at sea, sailing the world. Maybe on your honeymoon. Maybe we get moments where we are able to live as if they are our last.

The second century Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius said that: “You will find rest from vain fancies if you perform every act in life as though it were your last.” I think he meant that we should do things with the knowledge that we may never get to do them again, not that we should do things because we may never get the chance to do them again. That’s a very slight but massively important distinction that says something about the quality of the things we should do.

As adults, we have adult responsibilities, and hopefully we have adult goals (internal goals: growth and development). Because that’s what life is about. It’s about transcending who you are and growing, and reaching your full potential as a self-actualized individual.

True happiness, like true love, is work, not leisure. It can be more amazing than you could ever imagine, but you have to invest in it. If you’re not willing to do the work, and to sacrifice for it, you cannot expect to break through those plateaus and reach your goals and dreams.

But I didn’t write this to talk about true happiness or to talk about living once or even to harp on the fallacies of conforming to dogma (the last part comes easiest for me). No, the real reason I wrote this is to talk about something bigger within the context of happiness, living once, and thinking for yourself. I wrote this to talk about sacrifice. And not sacrifice in a self-pitying way, but the type of sacrifice you have to choose to make if you really want an exceptional life.

The recipe for an unexceptional life is to think YOLO, and just never grow. And I’ve seen the outcomes that school of shortsighted and immature thought produces. It produces people who are complacent. It produces people who have immature needs and goals and who neither cultivate themselves nor create anything which lives up to their potential.

I’m reminded of the story of the Chinese Bamboo tree. The Chinese Bamboo tree must be watered every single day for nearly five years before it begins to grow beyond a small sprout. At about the fifth year, it explodes in growth, reaching up to 90 feet tall in a single season. That’s kind of how your dreams work. You have to be willing to water them and cultivate them every single day – focusing on the future with belief that it will be worth it.

The true point of my writing today is to outline a mental foundation for you for the following picture, and hopefully everything I’ve written here today helps to connect those dots for you in ways that allow you to adapt to life so that you can change the way you see life, change the way you see other people, and change the way you see success / your dreams.


So do today what others won’t so you can have tomorrow what others can’t.

An Essay on Love

For over three decades, George Vaillant directed a study out of Harvard, one of the longest running longitudinal studies about human development and happiness ever.

Recently, in summarizing the trends and findings from the study, he had this to say in conclusion:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”

 ‘The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’

Take that as you may – but if you are living without true love in your life, or if you’ve given up on the notion that you will ever find it again, you may find it interesting to note that Dr. Valiant also stated that the study showed that it was “never too late.”

See, you can chase things, be addicted to food, and remain stuck on that never ending cycle of doing things because you want need to change the way you feel (eat, sleep, sex, drink, TV, etc, repeat); or you can heed the findings of the Grant Study, and commit to finding TRUE happiness.

Now, I’m not saying you can’t be happy without love in your life, but in my 29 years, I’ve never seen a happiness that matches the happiness of love.

I look around, and I see so few people who are truly happy. I’m not saying I don’t see people smiling, or people who are friendly, and people who appear happy; I’m saying I see few people who are truly fucking happy. And if you’ve ever been in love then you know what I’m talking about when I say truly fucking happy.

The happiness that love brings is like ‘the invincible summer within’ that Albert Camus wrote of. It’s not the generic, fair weather, watered down version of happiness that society resigns you to aspire to. Love happy requires no faux positive mental attitude, it can survive bad days with relative ease, and there’s no big house or fancy car required.

Love happy is happiness simply for love’s sake.

Love happy is happiness simply for love’s sake.

Right about now you probably think I am a Pollyanna. Another naive person with the kind of unfounded optimism that causes people to overlook the unfortunate nature of reality.

And I don’t blame you. We don’t live in a utopia of love. Real life looks very little like the movie Valentine’s Day.

The reality of love is tough. The divorce rate is above 50%. Hell, it’s 75% in California and it’s even higher for second marriages. And as any adult knows, marriage does not imply harmony or bliss, or even true love at all – if I may be so inclined to assert.

I’m going to indulge in a bit of amateur sociology.

As a society, our hope at love is bleak because our outlook on love is cynically glum. Even the people who’ve felt the kind of love strong enough to stop the earth get older and become practical, taking a more sensible and pragmatic approach to love.

Part of the reason we are cynical on love is the fact that it’s not uncommon for people to believe in the idea of a soul-mate. This concept that there is only one true love for you in life.

This is one of the biggest limiting beliefs in the world.

There are seven billion people on the planet. Your odds of hitting the powerball are 1 in 175 million. This means that if there were only one soul-mate for you, your chances of finding them would be one in 7,000,000,000 and you would be 4 times more likely to win the lottery than to find your soul-mate.

To believe TRUE love can only happen once is a dangerous cop out. You’re much better off realizing that the idea of one true love is a product of human nature, and not nature itself.

To believe TRUE love can only happen once is a dangerous cop out. You’re much better off realizing that the idea of one true love is a product of human nature, and not nature itself.

It’s human nature to believe in the love of your life concept, it’s human to alter our beliefs and behaviors to protect ourselves from being hurt again, and it’s human to let negative events assail our hopes; and in this fashion, we have a society of people who settle, but we do not have a society of people who are happy.

To believe that there is just one true love is to do our chances at happiness a grave disservice.

The one true love idea is romantic, and it often fuels many a hormone filled love – but as soon as the relationship comes to a crashing end and life has wiped the floor with your heart, then bam. You’re fucked. The one true love will then haunt you forever – and it often does.

A recent study of 2,000 participants found that one in seven had ‘settled’ with their current partner, and of those one in seven, 73% felt they ‘were not with the love of their life’.

People tend to believe in this idea of ‘the love of their life’ and people tend to settle in part because of it; they accept that love is one thing when you are young and your hormones are in full bloom and that it’s another when you are nearing 30. People simply put away the hope of true love, pack up their baggage and wisen up before settling down. There’s a reason it’s called settling down.

There’s a reason it’s called settling down.

The unfortunate truth of love for many is that simply finding someone who treats them well and has their figurative shit together is reason enough to settle down.  Frankly, I am baffled as to why anyone would ever marry someone they weren’t madly head over heels crazy in love with. “He’ll be a good father.” Good luck with that.

As a society this tendency to settle down rather than pursue love as if it were the key to happiness is almost medievally feudalistic. Marriage should not be for the procurement and protection of property and the social milestone of settling down and raising a family.

To add to the complexity of the situation, it’s human to want to find someone who will be a good provider because no one wants to be insolvent. Money is often cited as one of the number one reasons couples fight. So, in this sense, the individual who is committed to true love and desires a financially secure partner truly is looking to eat their cake and have it too. But, you know what, I say go for it. If you don’t believe you deserve something someone else will end up with it that does (believes).

Look, this blog is eventually for my kinds and grankids. I may not convince the world of this, but love is not a matter in which you should settle on. As the Grant Study concluded, love is happiness, so unless you want to take your chances on settling when it comes to your happiness, then don’t fucking do it.

As I’ve written, people settle, people give up on love and I’m not meaning to project an air of superiority over them because of it – by all means, this is an opinion piece, but I cannot strongly enough state that we should not base our lives on the patterns of our society. Just because a way of thinking or a behavior is the de facto choice for many, does not mean it is the self-actualized choice, or the right choice for your life.

I cannot strongly enough state that we should not base our lives on the patterns of our society. Just because a way of thinking or a behavior is the de facto choice for many, does not mean it is the self-actualized choice, or the right choice for your life.

The fact of the matter is, our society is almost atheistic to the pursuit and the belief in love. We think there is one true love, we don’t find it, we settle, then we give up.

What the Grant Study revealed is that happiness is love.

Is there no more genuine a pursuit in life? I think not.

To this end, I want you to love. Be love. Find Love. Fall in Love. Make the pursuit of love your paramount goal in life. Love yourself. Love your family. Experience happiness, experience the love the world has to offer.

I’ve never found anything closer to a spiritual experience than love, and as such, the Grant Study’s premier conclusion is of absolutely no surprise to me.

There is a season for everything in life. My grandmother found love again in her eighties, decades after her husband of over twenty years had passed away.

This may seem purely anecdotal, but I like to believe that this drive for love is what helped her stay active and to take care of herself all those years. It has always been the driving force in my life, because I have always believed in it. A belief that has been extremely rewarding.

Believe in love. Be one of those rare believers in the spiritual and sacred truth that love exists and it will find you and you will find it. Like all gifts in the universe, you first have to be open to receive it.

And though the world may be full of atheists when it comes to love, you must believe in the invincible summer of love within you. You will meet people who don’t truly believe in high fidelity, true and lasting love, and that’s okay. But in believing, you will keep your heart open to the precious few you meet who do.

But if you close your heart to everything that love truly is then you will not be on the pursuit of happiness.  To live your life according to the gospel of love is simply to be love.

I will close with a note about luck. Some say luck happens when preparation meets opportunity, and I think that’s a fine poster for a low-rent office. But luck really happens when probability moves from unlikely to likely. It’s not luck that the people who were happy had found love.

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”