Maslow’s Motivational Model in the Context of Nature
If you are familiar with Maslow and the hierarchy of needs (1943, 1954) and consequently the motivational model (1970), we realise that there is one factor that he did not take into account: Our connection and interaction with nature.
This is a theme which has been explored extensively since then and many studies (see references below) have found that active involvement and interaction with nature, plants, and the outside environment, has been shown to significantly benefit mental and physical health. Many spiritual leaders have also attributed it to enlightenment, self-realisation, and actualisation.
Today, let’s explore how nature and plants come into every level of this model. Let’s explore the original conception first: From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualisation.
Moving on to the updated models (1970): In this model, Maslow looks at a larger holistic spectrum of what influences an individual and how they learn, he explored more about growth needs and deficiency needs, yet did not explore the influence or interaction they have with nature.
Let’s explore the influence nature can have when applied to the different levels within this structure.
In bold, I have written a short description of how nature enters to each level, starting from the bottom of the pyramid.
1. Biological and physiological needs – air, food, drink, shelter, warmth, sex, sleep. Interactions with the natural world.
2. Safety needs – protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, freedom from fear. Protection, but not isolation from the natural world.
3. Love and belongingness needs – friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work). Belonging is found within, experiences of the within start with the nature outside.
4. Esteem needs – (i) esteem for oneself (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and (ii) the need to be accepted and valued by others (e.g., status, prestige). An esteem based on the natural world dictates a humility that one is nothing more or less than any other being; this promotes a natural order of balance within and outside.
5. Cognitive needs – knowledge and understanding, curiosity, exploration, need for meaning and predictability. Interaction with plants and nature stimulates learning, natural curiosity, and meaning is found within these learnings.
6. Aesthetic needs – appreciation and search for beauty, balance, form, etc. “There is no better designer than nature” – Alexander McQueen.
7. Self-actualisation needs – realising personal potential, self-fulfilment, seeking personal growth and peak experiences. Self-actualisation is a process aided and facilitated by nature and plants. A separation of the two results in an imbalance and results in egocentric actualisation where human is above all else.
8. Transcendence needs – A person is motivated by values which transcend beyond the personal self (e.g., aesthetic experiences, sexual experiences, service to others, the pursuit of science, religious faith, etc.). One can never transcend nature, she is our first and ultimate experience of being one.
When nature and plants permeate your being and your experience in this world, you become open to the world and universe in ways which cannot be quantified. With the realisation that we are not separate from nature, but a part of its infinite complexity, we can experience and live an ego death so great, so profound, which results in an altered perspective change improving mental and physical health. “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” My point here is that we all need to experience nature and this ego death. Without it, our future is set, if it already isn’t.
NB. If you have made it this far in the article, you will probably be thinking that it is almost all subjective and opinion based. Perhaps you are right… Have a read of these articles and papers and make your own mind up.
A. H. Maslow (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation
The Instinctoid Nature of Basic Needs.– Maslow (1954)
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – Simply Psychology
Maslow reconsidered: A review of research on the need hierarchy theory
The Human–Nature Relationship and Its Impact on Health: A Critical Review
Understanding the Nature and Role of Spirituality in Relation to Coping and Health: A Conceptual Framework.
Health Benefits of Nature Experience: Psychological, Social and Cultural Processes | SpringerLink
Cultivating healthy places and communities: evidenced-based nature contact recommendations
Nature and Health – https://blogs.ubc.ca/2017wufor200/files/2017/01/Nature-and-health-Hartig-et-al-2014.pdf