Archive for december, 2013

Maslow’s inverted pyramid of needs

Maslow's inverted pyramid

Oooh, the weight!

What happened to the good ol’ fashioned pyramid of needs?

Guess we put it upside down, literally. And it might just crush us.

You remember it from sociology class, from your management training or that self-help book you didn’t finish: the pyramid depicts our “normal” hierarchy of daily needs. But today, that old model seems to be in an opposite relationship with how much time we spend on every one of its layers.

Air, food and sleep.

The very basics. We don’t last two minutes without oxygen, not much more than a month without food and maximum 18 months if you suffer from fatal familial insomnia. And yet.. we spend ridiculously little time getting those basics right. We see sleep as wasted time (recently saw a commercial for a car claiming “too bad we still need to sleep”), pop junk food in the microwave and watch TV while stuffing up on those nutritional abominations. Lastly, anyone recently seen pictures of the bright clean air above our cities? We can’t see stars anymore, and we are happily adding to the smog by insisting to drive to a fast food chain for a (paper) cup of coffee. Coffee. The easiest thing to make in the world, even a man can “make” coffee!

Sleep and good air have always been free, but we managed to screw up nature’s freebies. When it comes to food, notice that the other animals spend most of their awake time simply foraging? There’s some time left for play and sex (there should *always* be time for sex) but it’s mostly grazing or hunting for our cousins.


Well we *are* nice and warm in the West. But only because we heat up the air in our oversized palace rooms to resemble a sauna. Not too long ago, staying warm used to involve a lot of time: either chopping wood (the very act keeping you warm already), collecting dung or raising sheep to make nice woolly underwear. Today, it takes us 3 seconds to turn on that heater.

Shelter and safety

For the sake of brevity, I’ll keep it simple: try building your own house by hand, and you’ll know what it should take to be safe and sound.

Social contact

Getting your daily dose of words used to involve getting out of your rocking chair, wobbling from your porch to the neighbour’s and getting through the motions of chit chat. Unless you lived at shout’s length of your neighbours’ porch of course.

If you craved some juicy gossip, it meant wobbling another stretch to the town square. Training your ears and tongue meant training your legs.

“Getting together” meant ages of planning and prepping, and a feast was something that only happened when there was actually something to celebrate.

Recognition and self-development

If you were so lucky as to have completed building your house, feeding your family and yourself, having worked to pay for firewood and utilities, made sure the children did their homework and your tax papers were filed, then… you basically were so pooped out you had to get to bed presto. Time for asking the Big Questions was a luxury commodity, reserved for the clergy (any kind), rich fils-à-papa’s (look it up) and some retired generals.

Basically those who had the time to think were so estranged from the other 99% of the population that their own soul-searching and philosophical bouts would fall to deaf ears (if there was any merit in it to start with).

But us, we have *tons* of time for developing ourselves today! Sports, the arts, exploring the globe, learning an endangered language, … We even have time to volunteer, which means working your socks off at a job you hate, just so you can go and work for free in a field you actually care about.

If you do the math correctly, we can even do *all* of it! It’s true! Just surf the web, and you’ll see the world is full of bloggers who bungee jumped off the world’s most remote bridge, while conversing in Esperanto with their jumping buddy, only to be back in time to photograph that amazing sunset, write a song about the day’s experiences and top it all off with some home brewn artisan coffee with a dash of organic yak milk. And all that while homeschooling their children and growing all their own food! And they spend 12 hours a day in a management cubicle too!

So why are *we* not happy?

Because we were never supposed to actually have so much time to devote the Temple of “Me”. We were supposed to be working our socks off, so that in the very precious little time that remained,  we would darn well know what the single most important bit of self development would consist of.

We were never supposed to know that there is so much ancient sheet music ready to be revived, good causes to devote our time to, mountains to be explored, cake recipes to bake etc etc.

The internet already *has* become an extension of our brain, and it’s causing us to constantly question our choices, our lifestyle, our hobbies and our friendships.

We know that we’ll never make it through that pile of old National Geographic magazines.
We will never read the appendices to The Lord of the Rings.
Never learn the hobo, bassoon and euphonium.
We will never write that book, pen that hit song or succeed in our wild educational plans to raise our children 100% organic, well balanced and without a scratch.

And that is just *fine*.

Because we can actually start enjoying the other steps of the pyramid again.

When we have to grind our beans by hand again, coffee will again be a special treat on Sunday to look forward to.
When we have to walk through the fields to get to the weekly farmer’s market we won’t need to worry about beating our time on the next ultramarathon.
When you can only afford one musical instrument, you actually have a chance to get good on it.
Chopping wood means some quality for men, because wife and kids will be too afraid to get any close to you.
Having no more budget to travel to the last unexplored island in the Solomon chain means that just driving to the next province will be quite an adventure again.

Ahhh, let the next crisis hit, already! Our lives can only get better.

Author’s note on December 12:

Obviously I thought this was one clever and inventive piece of thinking at the time of writing. A quick google planted my feet firmly on the ground of course. Here’s one particular piece that I like, it’s related but not equal: The inverted Maslow on Ultrasomething.