Maslow’s Hierarchy and the Need for Pleasure

Most of you will already be familiar with Abraham Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. A mid-20th century American psychologist who exerted a powerful influence over modern psychological theory, Maslow is famed for identifying a universal set of human needs and drivers. While there are numerous iterations of his famous pyramid, most include the following layers:

1) Safety and physiological needs – basic survival, in other words

2) Belonging – the need to belong to a social group or community

3) Esteem – the need to distinguish oneself through achievement and the acknowledgment of one’s achievements

4) Self-actualization – the search for a deeper meaning and sense of purpose, and the actualizing of one’s full potential

What I’ve always found curiously missing from Maslow’s framework is what seems to be a universal human need, and that is the need and drive to experience pleasure. In yoga terms, this equates to the second chakra… The pleasure of lovemaking, the pleasure that comes from good company with good wine, the transcendent pleasure that comes from listening to music you love, or from dancing your ass off at a party. These pleasures are not insignificant, and play an important role in the experience of life as being worth living. You could even say that our incredibly sensitive and sophisticated neural systems are designed to experience pleasure in many forms, and with tremendous nuance.

The arts, entertainment, food and beverage, travel and tourism, gaming, sports– so many industries dependent upon the powerful and diverse pleasure-related needs of human beings. Perhaps Maslow assumed these were assumed under the needs of Belonging or Esteem or Self-Actualization. Or perhaps he was someone who was not terribly interested in sensory pleasures or didn’t classify them as “needs”. But I would suggest that pleasure is not optional, it’s a mandatory for most humans. And we’re willing to allocate significant portions of our incomes to different forms of pleasure.