After four posts on emotions (1,2,3,4), it's time to continue the tour of knowing thyself through evolutionary philosophy. For a quick orientation, I'm still just working through things "concerning me." I started in the past examining the question, "Where did I come from?". I moved to the present to ask, "Where am I?", and then "What am I?". The question of what has been broken down into a body, a mind, and the mind-body interface. At that mind-body interconnection, I looked first at emotions, and now it's time to move to the next area of interest: needs and desires.

First, here is what I've written about needs and desires. It's short, but bears repeating.

The body and mind together have requirements for them to function properly. Abraham Maslow in 1943 devised the currently definitive list and hierarchy of these needs.

  1. Physiological: breathing, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, excretion
  2. Safety: security of body, employment, resources, morality, the family, health, property
  3. Love / Belonging: friendship, family, sexual intimacy
  4. Esteem: self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others
  5. Self-actualization: morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts

Maslow later listed additional needs for those who live self-actualized lives. Truth, goodness, beauty, unity, aliveness, uniqueness, necessity, completeness, justice, order, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency, meaningfulness. Knowledge of these comes from philosophy. Once again, you must know philosophy to live life at its highest level. Know these needs and desires. Work to have them met. All of them. Higher order needs require the control of lower order needs. You must master them. Organize society to help individuals meet them.

How are you doing at meeting these needs and desires? At the root of my philosophy, I've pared things down to the essential truth that we are living things trying to stay alive in an uncaring universe. That sounds to some like a bleak call for meeting the minimum requirements for survival, and on occasion, that is all that we are reduced to. But in the long run, we need much more than this to want to survive. In the long run, the need for survival builds up a much more robust set of requirements. As basic physiological needs are met, we move up Maslow's hierarchy, aching for higher and higher needs that lead to longer and longer timelines of satisfaction and survival.

In Aristotle's view of ethics, he described an ideal state of man as one of eudaimonia. Historically, this word has often been translated simply as "happiness", but taken in full context, scholars now agree that Aristotle meant something more than our modern understanding of mere pleasurable happiness - he meant something closer to what can be described as human flourishing or thriving. Look again at the list of needs and desires that Maslow described above. These are a psychologists list of what it takes to flourish. This is what it takes, from a scientific point of view, for humans to thrive and survive.

In this lull between Christmas and New Years Day, once the families have been visited, the celebrations with friends have paused, the gifts have been put away, and the days have some spare time for contemplation, many of us take stock of the past year, make plans for the next one, and decide on a few resolutions to help us improve our lives. As you go through this ritual this year, keep Maslow's list in mind. Remember that the higher needs are completely undermined when lower ones go unmet. Remember that lower ones are not enough to achieve the flourishing state of eudaimonia that is necessary for long term surviving and thriving. Build a strong and unassailable base. Stretch yourself and meet higher aspirations. Know thyself. Choose your resolutions accordingly.

Do you have any resolutions that have worked for you in the past? Do you have any plans for big ones this year? What about tips to turn resolutions into lifelong habits? Share them in the comments below and help us all flourish. Until next week, have a happy new year!


01/12/2013 4:19pm

Hi Ed,
I really like your discussion about resolutions. This time each year I think back if I've been able to keep my resolutions, if they were meaningful, and if I didn't keep them, why.

For the past few years my main resolution has been to live more in line with my principles. In my work, I work with clients to articulate the principles that guide the development of their site (typically parks and historic sites with principles often including such things as maintain the integrity of the site, protect natural areas, etc.).

Articulating my own principles has been relatively clear, but putting them into action in my day-to-day life has been, sometimes, more challenging. For example, buying local is a principle for me (to support the local economy, to get to know my neighborhood, city, region better, etc.), but I really like imported Irish butter. If I buy the butter at the locally-owned Irish on Grand shop, how does this line up with my principles? I bought a new (used) car last year and tested this principle with my purchase and now have a 2008 Ford Escape hybrid (which I really like and will like better when the sunroof leak is fixed:-).
In any case, these are rather simple examples of my approach to principles-based new years resolutions. I've also tried to clarify my principle statements - not to have loopholes (e.g., buy local when it's easy and I like the stuff best anyway) - but to get to the heart of why these principles important to me.

01/14/2013 11:27pm

Thanks so much for this Reg. It spurred a lot of thoughts. Forgive my slow response to your beautiful story, but I've had a couple late nights working on a deadline for the community development project I'm volunteering for. (Hold that thought.)

This reminded me of those business magazine articles titled "What's More Important - Strategy or Execution?" It's always pretty obvious that both are required. Execution without strategy is blind. Strategy without execution is a head in the clouds - a place that's easy for me to reside at times. In the business world, we drive execution with written plans, regular status meetings with peers, performance reviews with our bosses, words of inspiration, fearful threats. In our daily lives, we're usually less rigorous about this stuff, but we do sometimes write lists of resolutions, find a workout buddy to share the struggle, tell our friends so they'll check up on us, etc. In modern management theory, we find that positive inspiration works better than negative threats for jobs with any kind of creativity, so that's what we should do for ourselves too.

I don't think you were clamoring for execution advice - I know you are quite excellent at that and were just sharing some strategy (principles) and execution (action) issues about your resolutions. I wanted to take a moment to reframe the discussion around that though since that's what I've been thinking about. Especially after your last line about loopholes and buying local when it's easy. This got me thinking about tradeoffs between doing the "right" thing and the "easy" thing. I'm often trying to think of ways to make these are the same thing so our actions always align with our principles and we execute our strategy with ease.

One of the early findings that's come out of my resolution experiment is that it's really hard to pick just one activity at a time to clock in and out of as I track my time 24 hours a day. Not because I'm multi-tasking in the modern sense of the word, but because I'm trying to track my tasks according to how they meet my Maslow's needs and desires. When I'm eating dinner with friends, I'm meeting my basic physiological needs as well as my higher love / belonging needs. When I go for a walk to burn off the extra Christmas cake I ate I'm meeting level 2 health needs, but also level 4 self esteem needs. When I'm volunteering for the local business development project, I'm taking some time away from my work, but I'm meeting needs for friendship at level 3, achievement and respect by others at level 4, and creativity and problem solving at level 5 - what a deal for my time! I didn't figure this out right away, but I'm starting to think about certain activities as much "denser" than others. Often, the "easy" ones - watching TV, wolfing down a boring sandwich - are "light" on the number of needs they meet. Now, when I examine the strategy for my life and insist on making sure I spend a certain amount of hours on meeting each level of needs, then the "easiest" thing to do is a few dense ones rather than lots and lots of light ones (if I can even find some light ones that only meet one higher level need). Maybe that gives you something to think about when you are torn between going for a longer walk to shop at several local stores vs. a quick trip in the car to the closest Mart. One's much easier to do in the short run, but over time, you make the rest of your life much harder.


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