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THE QUEST FOR SELF-ACTUALIZATION (Part 1)



The term “holy grail” is often used to denote an elusive object or goal of great importance, that is sought after. Different traditions describe the Holy Grail, as a cup, dish or stone with miraculous powers that provide happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance. It was the cup that Jesus drank from at The Last Supper that has been sought after for many years.

A quest for something important often involves a journey. This is true of the quest for the holy grail of happiness and self-actualization. The journey involves living our true potential through peak experiences created by our thoughts and actions.

In the previous post, we learned the top ten things people want most from life, and number one on the list was Happiness.  We can try to measure our happiness through the concept of the quest for self-actualization. This occurs when a person experiences the world totally for what it is, and there are feelings of euphoria, joy, and wonder.  Sounds like Happy Places to me!

Characteristics of self-actualizers:

Abraham Maslow studied people he considered to be self-actualized  (including Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein) and identified some of the “most important and useful whole characteristics of self-actualizing people.” How many of these characteristics do you have?

1. Efficient perception and acceptance of reality

  • They are able to detect the fake and dishonest people and in general judge people and events quickly and accurately.
  • Their predictions of the future from what- ever-facts are in hand, are usually correct, and not based upon wish, desire, anxiety, fear, or optimism or pessimism.

2. Acceptance of self, others and nature

They accept themselves and others for what they.  The self-actualized person sees reality more clearly and human nature as it is and not as they would prefer it to be.

3. Spontaneous (but not purposely unconventional).

  • They are less inhibited, less constricted, less bound, in a word, less enculturated.
  • Their behavior is simple, spontaneous and natural.

4. Problem-centered (not self-centered)

  • They are general strongly focused on problems outside themselves, and are not much concerned about themselves.
  • They customarily have some mission in life, some task to fulfill, or problems outside themselves which they devote much energy to solving.
  • They rise above trivialities and pettiness.
  • They have a larger horizon, a wider breadth of vision, a certain serenity and lack of worry over immediate concerns. As a result, life is easier not only for themselves, but for all who are associated with them.

5. Enjoy privacy

They positively like solitude and privacy to a greater degree than the average person, and can be comfortably alone without harm to themselves and other people. 

6. Autonomous, independent of culture and environment

  • They are not easily influenced or helplessly ‘determined” by others like salesmen, advertisers, parents, propagandists, TV, newspapers, etc.
  • Self-actualizing people are not dependent for their main satisfactions on the real world, or other people, or cultures.  They are self-deciders and self-starters, and feel responsible for themselves and their own destinies.
  • This independence give them relative stability in the face of hard knocks, blows, deprivations, frustrations, and the like.  They are sometimes referred to as “self-contained”.

7. Grateful

Basically, they are capable of “gratitude.” Self-actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic blessings in life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy. Because of this ability, they are relatively exempted from the hedonic treadmill – a profound source of human unhappiness. This awareness of gratuitous grace guarantees for them that life remains precious and never grows stale.

8. Peak experiences are common in their life.

Sounds a lot like telegrams from heaven, serendipity, and Happy Places to me. Sometimes called mystic experiences they may take the form of feeling:

  • limitless horizons opening up to their vision,
  • being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before with great ecstasy, wonder and awe,
  • there is meaning in all that happens to them although they may not know what it is at the time, and they look for the reason,
  • a conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened or is about to happen, so that they are to some extent transformed and strengthened in daily life by these experiences.

9. Unusual sense of humor

  • They do not laugh at hostile humor (making people laugh by hurting someone) or superiority humor (laughing at someone else’s inferiority) or authority-rebellion humor.
  • Characteristically what they consider humor is more closely aligned to spontaneously poking fun at themselves and at human beings in general when they are foolish, or forget their place in the universe, or try to be big when they are actually small.

10. Satisfying interpersonal relationships with a few people

  • Self-actualizing people have deeper and more profound interpersonal relations than other adults (although not necessarily deeper than those of children), and their circle of friends is rather small.
  • They have compassion for all mankind with an especially tender love for children.
  • Hostile reactions to others are usually deserved and for the good of the person or for someone else’s good, and is reactive or situational rather than character based.

11. Humble – They know that they don’t know what they don’t know.

  • They are friendly with anyone of suitable character regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or color. They give a certain amount of respect to any human being just because that person is a human individual.
  • They find it possible to learn from anyone who has something to teach them, no matter what other characteristics the teacher may have. In such learning relationships they are well aware of how little they know in comparison with what could be known and what is known by others. They are respectful and even humble before people who can teach them something that they do not know or who have a skill they do not possess.

12. Strong moral/ethical standards

They are the most ethical of people.

13. They enjoy the journey.

Rather than seeing experiences and activities as means to an end, self actualizing people often regard those experiences as ends in themselves. They enjoy the journey as well as arriving at the destination.

14. Creative

  • They show a special kind of creativeness, originality or inventiveness with characteristics similar to the creativeness of children who have not yet  been conditioned.
  • Their creativity may be shown in writing books, composing music, or producing artistic objects.  It may be an expression of a healthy personality, projected out upon the world or a certain skill like parenting, cooking, mechanics, bricklaying.   Whatever the form, it is done with a certain attitude and spirit arising out of their own nature and character.

15. Resistant to enculturation

They maintain a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they live.  While not authority rebels, they don’t accept the norms and values of society at the expense of their own character.

There are many benefits of self-actualization.

Inherent with self-actualization, are  longer, healthier lives, less negative stress, and more Happy Places. Self-actualization is actually a continual process of becoming. Rather than a perfect state one reaches at the end of the journey, it is the journey.

A person is always ‘becoming’ and never remains static in these terms. In self-actualization, a person comes to find a meaning to life that is important to them.

As each individual is unique, the motivation for self-actualization leads people in different directions. It requires change through personal growth.

Do you know any self-actualizers – people who accept themselves as they are, but at the same time seek new experiences? People who have it all together, “fulfilled and doing everything they are capable of,” according to Maslow. Who doesn’t want to live in this Happy Place? 

Things we can do to experience self-actualization.

We all have within us the innate desire to reach our true potential. With every day, every choice we make and action we take is done so with the ultimate goal of fulfillment in mind. The underlying drive is to become fully satisfied with ourselves and our world – to be happy.

No where on the top ten list of what people want did I see a desire for change.  And the paradox is, if we aren’t getting the things we want in life, change is the very thing we may have to do in order to get them.

It is not necessary to display all of the characteristics to become self-actualized.  Self-actualization does not imply perfection, it merely involves achieving one’s potential. How many of the characteristics do you have?

In Part 2 of The Quest For Self-actualization we will look at some of the things you can do to move closer to self-actualization in the quest for the holy grail of happiness, the ability to live our true potential through peak experiences created by our thoughts and actions.

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