“Appreciation is a wonderful thing: It makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.” -Voltaire
Many of us are familiar with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It is a pyramid-shaped model made up of levels of needs which people strive to have met either by self or others throughout life. The basic needs make up the bottom of the pyramid and include food & water, shelter, sleep, and safety. The middle of the model includes psychological needs such as belonging, closeness, accomplishment, and positive self-perception. These four levels are designated as deficits to overcome.
The highest level is called Self-actualization. Achieving the highest level is based on having the basic needs/deficiencies in the first four levels met. Once a person has overcome the deficits in his life he is free to move from Doing life to Being more fully alive (receptive and whole). Being at the top level is living at the peak of the pyramid: a Peaker.
Maslow believed that our ability to be open to awe or our “awe-proneness” depended on which level we occupy on the hierarchy of needs. He had a desire to understand what allowed some people to peak at the top of the pyramid and why others (even if their needs were met) did not. Maslow created a list of twenty-five aspects of peak experiences which are open to anyone, anywhere to practice.
A person who is taught appreciation and given opportunities to practice feeling grateful may be given a window into the top level experience even if the stairs to get there are still being built. If you haven’t had all four levels of needs met in life but have still felt awe/joy it may be an outcome of practicing appreciation even when things were difficult.
Aspects of peak experiences related to feeling appreciation are:
- Perception is unselfish, transcends the ego.
- The world is viewed as beautiful, good, desirable, and worthwhile, even as evil and suffering are recognized and accepted as part of the world.
- Cognition is about being receptive and teachable – listening and hearing more.
- Emotions such as wonder, awe, reverence, humility, and surrender are reported.
- People become more loving and more accepting.
(This list is modified from Chapter 23 of Character Strengths and Virtues by Peterson & Seligman)
One Thing to Do: Pick one of the five aspects of peak experiences and try looking at life through it as though it is a new window to view your world.
Dawna Daigneault, Ed.S., LPC.