Darwin taught us that everyone who comes into the world carries with them a wealth of resources that allow them to survive in one way or another. As explained by Abraham Maslow, survival forms the basis, while self-actualization is at the top of the hierarchical pyramid, at the apex of the tree of classification of our needs.
Our roots allow us to stay alive, but that doesn’t mean the leaves or fruit are less important. Abraham Maslow was very interested in the qualities of people who seemed to live more fully, healthily, regulated and adapted. According to Maslow, each individual has the potential to self-fulfillment, motivated by the inherent desire to get closer to the person they want to be.
Eduardo Punset, in turn, explains that, unlike that of other animals, our life cycle allows us to set two different and related goals: the maintenance and care of the organism and the achievement of happiness (quest ‘last favored by the growth of life expectancy in our species).
In 1963 Abraham Maslow stated that self-realized people share some characteristics:
- They are efficient and precise in perceiving reality.
- They accept themselves, others and nature.
- They are spontaneous in their thoughts and emotions. They are natural rather than artificial.
- They focus on problems, they worry about philosophical issues.
- They are independent and autonomous.
- They are gifted with freshness when it comes to associating knowledge and ideas.
- They often experience “oceanic feelings”, being one with nature that transcends time and space.
- They identify with humanity: they are democratic and respectful of others.
- They build deep bonds, but only with a few people.
- They have a philosophical, thoughtful and non-hostile sense of humor.
- They resort to creativity in finding solutions and have strategies to wake her up when they feel she is asleep.
- They maintain an internal detachment from the culture in which they live.
- They are strong enough, independent and have a lot of self-confidence, so much so that at times they can seem temperamental and even numb.
Intense Self-Realization: Peak Experience
Maslow used the term “peak experience” to refer to moments of intense self-realization. During these experiences, people feel they are connected to the elements of their environment. The psychologist Mihalyi Czikszentmihalyi (1975, 1988) developed the concept of Flow.
This term refers to optimal experiences, in which perception is sharper and a loss of sense of time occurs. The feelings one experiences are often one of admiration, amazement and even ecstasy. It can happen passively, by listening to a song or looking at a work of art. Although it usually occurs when the person is totally immersed in a productive activity.
Interestingly, the flow experience is made up of a few main components: clear and achievable goals, high degree of concentration and attention, direct and immediate feedback, balance between skill level and challenge, and an inherently rewarding motivation.
Flow first, then be happy
The truth is that a state of happiness and self-realization can be achieved through a conscious process. It happens when our attention is focused on “something” which later gives us a pleasant feeling.
It should be remembered that Csikszentmihalyi used the word flow to describe the state of mind people experience when they seem to maintain a high degree of concentration without any effort, even with some pleasure. This concept refers to the sensation and emotion of those actions or movements which are rarely motivated at first by external factors and which in the end never are.
But these experiences don’t have to be pleasant. As the author puts it, when we flow we are not happy, but we cannot be happy without these flow experiences. We remember that happiness is closely linked to our inner states. Flowing means that our attention is totally focused on the task. Once completed, we can focus on our state, looking back and seeing what happened.
The sequence of the flow concept would be this:
- Action : We do something and focus totally on the task.
- Vision : after the completion of the action, what happened is evaluated. Looking back, we appreciate the experience.
- Emotion : To experience happiness, one must focus on one’s inner states, and it is at this point that one can say to be happy.
Csikszentmihalyi’s philosophy conceives the verb to live as a harmonious fusion of doing, thinking and feeling. Setting goals and reaching them without the feeling that there has been a sacrifice allows us to reach the top, self-realization, but also to flow in and from our interior towards the pursuit of happiness.
Punset, E. (2009). “In search of happiness”, Publisher: Fazi.