In this week's Happiness in Action class, we talked about the nine fundamental human needs classified by Chilean economist Manfred Max-Neef: sustenance, safety, love, understanding, community, play, creativity, contribution, and freedom.
Admittedly,I'm no scholar of Max-Neef, but I think his list is really helpful for understanding how happiness works, and how we can experience more of it, if we want to.
The way I see it, when we experience ourselves as having these needs met, we are happy. And when we're not feeling great, it's helpful to be able to look down the list to identify what's missing that we're longing for. Then we can start thinking about what we could do to get that need met.
I love Max-Neef's recognition that things like creativity, play and freedom are not selfish, childlike indulgences, but valid, universal human needs for people of all ages. Therefore, when we deny ourselves those things, it is not the mark of maturity, responsibility, or wisdom we might assume, but actually detrimental to our well-being.
I also like that, unlike with Maslow's pyramid, there is no implied hierarchy in these needs, no assumption that some have to be satisfied before others. This is consistent with life as I've experienced it. It is possible to experience love even when feeling unsafe. It is possible to feel good about one's contributions even when hungry. It is possible to be connected to community even when you lack freedom.
No one area of lack has to be permanently eliminated before you can experience the other joys of life.
In Max-Neef's model, there is also no pinnacle of existence that we can ever reach, once and for all. Once a need is met at one level, it doesn't take long to realize there are other ways it could be met even more fully.
If life is an ever-changing mixture of needs being identified and needs being met, the key to happiness is to pay enough attention so that you can catch and appreciate those "met" moments for what they are.
May we all get better and better at that!