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10 THINGS WE ALL WANT IN LIFE

What is your aim in life? Money, fame, promotions, status, more things? The sobering reality is even after attaining these things, many people are still not satisfied or fulfilled. Is there something missing in your life, but you’re not sure what it is, or how to find it? Something that makes one question, “What would my life be like if I could only figure out what I’m looking for? How do I find my purpose?

What do people really and truly want most out of life? After quite a bit of research, I discovered there are ten things that consistently top the list of wants, and we all essentially want the same things!

Not surprisingly, what people really want falls in line with Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Motivation and Personality, 1954). Maslow made self-fulfillment and happiness a central part of his life’s work. He determined that self-actualization is deeply entrenched in the human desire, and is what people fundamentally want. Self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and discovery that is present throughout a person’s life. Self-actualized people are fulfilled and doing all they are capable of. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them. It is the ultimate happy place, and it is at the top of the hierarchy.

Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualization.

Abraham Maslow

Our most basic needs – the biological requirements for human survival and safety are the first two levels in the hierarchy, and according to Maslow all the other needs become secondary until these needs are met.

It makes perfect sense. At this most basic level a person who is preoccupied with finding their next meal may describe their happy place as a place where there is plenty of food. A starving person may feel that a guarantee of food for life will be perfect happiness. But once the basic need for nourishment is satisfied, his mind is free to think of the higher-level aspirations. As we move up the hierarchy of needs, with each level being satisfied, we move closer to the ultimate goal of self-actualization. 

MASLOW’S HIERARCHY OF NEEDS

HERE ARE THE TEN THINGS THAT PEOPLE SAY THEY WANT MOST FROM LIFE.

1. HAPPINESS

In survey after survey on what people want out of life, “happiness” consistently ranks as the number one popular “want”.  But one doesn’t have to reach self-actualization to be happy.  Since happiness is a state of mind that means different things to different people, one could argue that if we are happy, our wants and needs have been met, and we can achieve happiness at any and all levels that satisfy us. 

Happiness means different things to each of us.  The motivation for self-actualization, or happiness leads people in different directions.  It may take the form of the desire to be an ideal mother, in another it may be expressed academically and in still another it may be expressed in sports, artwork or in inventions.

2. – 4. HEALTH, WEALTH and SECURITY

These are the next three on the top ten wants, and they fall in line with Maslow’s ‘Safety and Security’ level. These needs have to do with our natural desire for a predictable, orderly world that is somewhat within our control. We expect the security, and the freedoms that have always been there, just as sure as we expect the light to turn on when we flip the switch.

Health and wealth are typically something we have to work at.  They require a plan. 

Health can apply to the physical, mental, social, and spiritual aspects of our life, and should be pursued in a balanced way with all aspects complementing each other, rather than focusing in one area at the expense of the others.

Our greatest happiness does not depend on the condition of life in which chance has placed us, but is always the result of a good conscience, good health, occupation, and freedom in all just pursuits.

Thomas Jefferson

Wealth depends a lot on our perspective and the level of the hierarchy we are presently experiencing.  As a child, I was always told I was rich because I had a home, a family who loved me, clothes and food. I will always believe this no matter what level I achieve.  That said, as adults, most of us want to be at least financially independent, if not extremely wealthy.  Once we rise above the basic needs and are able focus our thoughts on more growth goals, we begin to move closer to self-actualization. 

5. GOOD FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS, FRIENDS AND HARMONY

If both the Physiological and Safety needs are fairly well met, the Love and Belonging needs become the center of our attention and motivator of our behavior.  Examples include friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection, love, and being part of a group. Having a sense of connection to like-minded people or others who share your perceptions and work for a common goal is important.

6. MEANINGFUL WORK

Contrary to popular belief, most people desire to work.  But they want meaningful work that primarily gives them a sense of fulfillment, respects their skills and knowledge, and allows them to make a contribution.  Along with adequate compensation, of course.  

Satisfaction of the “Esteem” need leads to feelings of self-confidence, worth, strength, capability, and adequacy – of being useful and necessary in the world.  Not only do our successes and achievements reflect and reinforce our self-esteem, but the recognition and appreciation from others provides respect from others – what I call “other-esteem”.

7. TO LEAVE A LEGACY

Most people want to leave a positive legacy. A legacy can be a material thing, but more important is the legacy we leave to family, friends, and “our world” about who we are and how we touched their lives – the essence of our lifetime on earth. 

Even if we don’t leave a legacy that changes the world, like the invention of electricity or the computer, our collective legacies of family values, customs, ethics, talents and knowledge can strongly impact the world our descendants will live in. 

8. HOPE

Hope is an optimistic attitude of mind based on an expectation or desire, and people want to know all things are possible. Hope is also seen as a prerequisite for spiritual attainment.

Psychologist, Charles R. Snyder linked hope to the existence of a goal, combined with a determined plan for reaching that goal.  As a specialist in positive psychology, Snyder identified there are three main things that make up hopeful thinking:

  • Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.
  • Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.
  • Agency – Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

Snyder argues that individuals who are able to realize these three components and develop a belief in their ability are hopeful people who can establish clear goals, imagine multiple workable pathways toward those goals, and persevere, even when obstacles get in their way.

9. PEACE OF MIND

People want freedom from anxiety, disturbance (emotional, mental, spiritual, or inner conflict) calm, and tranquillity. To some this may mean going to sleep at night with everyone in the family safely in bed. The desire for peace links back to Maslow’s Safety / Security level.

Peace is the beauty of life. It is sunshine. It is the smile of a child, the love of a mother, the joy of a father, the togetherness of a family. It is the advancement of man, the victory of a just cause, the triumph of truth.

Menachem Begin

10. FULFILLMENT:

This brings us full circle back to self-actualization and the happiness that accompanies it. Maslow stated that human motivation is based on people seeking fulfillment and change through personal growth. Essentially, people desire to become everything that they are capable of becoming.

A main characteristic of self-actualizing people is their awareness of their blessings. Their gratitude helps them overcome hedonic adaptation – the phenomenon where no matter how good (or bad) something makes us feel, we return to our original happiness :set point” within a short time. However, self-actualizing people are able to overcome the hedonic treadmill, and continue to experience lasting happiness through personal growth and peak experiences. 


Appreciate again and again, freshly and naively the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stable these experiences may have become to others.

Abraham Maslow

As we strive for self-actualization, another key way to sustain our happiness is, rather than taking something for granted, savor it.  Keep the memory of how it made you feel by being mindful and aware of the positive affect it has made on your life. Be grateful, and recognize your good fortune compared to where you have been in the past.

Let’s take a journey toward self-actualization. In my next post, I’ll talk about more characteristics of self-actualizers and how to become self-actualized.

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