Why Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is Outdated for Millennials
And why spirituality has exploded in popularity
“…You know that story of the Russian cosmonaut?…He sees the curvature of the Earth for the first time…and he’s lost in that moment. And all of a sudden (he hears) this strange ticking...few hours into this, begins to feel like torture. A few days go by with this sound, and he knows that this small sound… will break him. He’ll lose his mind…So the cosmonaut decides…the only way to save his sanity… is to fall in love with this sound. So he closes his eyes… and he goes into his imagination, and then he opens them. He doesn’t hear ticking anymore. He hears music. And he spends the sailing through space in total bliss… and peace.”
—Rhoda Williams, from Another Earth
Maslow’s needs hierarchy needs a bit of updating for the millennial. If you are a citizen of a developed nation, the needs aren’t so ‘hierarchical’ anymore in a sense that one doesn’t need to have their physiological and safety met first in order to need love, belonging, and self-actualization. Rather, technological advancement (among other evolutionary developments) has allowed the needs hierarchy to deconstruct itself. Speak to a millennial like myself, and one will find that we want it all: food, shelter, achievement, incessant adulation, affirmation, and the ever-elusive self-actualization (which, in my humble opinion, is the most challenging to attain, because an inundation of information does not necessarily give way to more wisdom).
We’ve become these crazy creatures with compulsive desires to express ourselves creatively, define our own sense of morality, build a charity, and find a start up–all at once without having a single clue about how we want to plan and spend the next week of their lives.
Yet when all these desires collide with one another and evolve to not just ‘needs’ but ‘basic needs,’ and they haven’t been met, what do we do? How do the young, naive millennial console themselves? This is where humans turn to extremism. Violence. Self-sabotage, depression, you get the idea. Or worse, resignation.
I love this quote from Another Earth, or any other stories that tell a similar tale because it highlights the necessity of human courage, endurance, and wisdom that Maslow didn’t to capture in his hierarchy. He failed to capture what we need when other needs have not been met (some may argue that falls under self-actualization, but I beg to differ, because this kind of wisdom must kick in before we ever get to self-actualization).
Which belongs to my next point—that this resilience of the human spirit that numerous authors, artists, philosophers, etc. have talked about for centuries—might not actually be a need but something that can, and must be, developed from within. The kind of endurance that helps us to overcome disappointments when our inner world doesn’t match reality, the kind of sensibility that helps us to ground ourselves and not get frivolously won over by the next worldly trend, and the kind of moral compass that allows us to feel deeply for others without letting our own egos or insecurities get in the way of the relationship.
Perhaps now, more than ever, we need the ability to fall in love with our own tribulations, just as the astronaut did. Not just to console ourselves, but to become ‘super’ millennial—the ones that won’t throw a tantrum when things go awry, but the ones that have the maturity to understand, and come to terms with, the roots of our deepest, greatest needs.