Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Explained (Understanding Motivation)

Last Updated on November 11, 2022 by Milton Campbell

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a model in psychology used to explain motivations. In this article, we will discuss exactly what this theory is and how to use it in your life.

Table of Contents

What is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

The theory of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggests that people are motivated by a series of five needs, arranged in a hierarchy. A person’s most basic needs must be met before moving on to the next level. The higher up the pyramid, the more advanced and difficult to satisfy needs become.

Developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943, his hierarchy of needs is a theory that explains human motivation. This five-level model describes what motivates people to take certain actions. It is organized into a pyramid with each level more important than the one below it. The hierarchy is based on the following needs.

5 Levels of the Hierarchy of Needs Explained

The 5 levels are:

  1. Physiological
  2. Safety
  3. Love and Belonging
  4. Esteem
  5. Self-Actualization


Image of various vegetables for the physiological needs of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained.

The first level is Physiological needs, the most important level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Physiological needs are our most basic requirements for survival, such as air, water, food, sleep, and the like. If these areas are lacking at the base level then the higher levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are hard to achieve. For example, if you are starving you’re not going to be able to concentrate on anything else until you have eaten.


Once we meet these basic physiological needs, then we start to move up the pyramid and look at safety. Safety needs to protect us from harm in any way imaginable whether it be physical or emotional or financial harm. These include things such as a place to live and employment to provide us with a source of income. So that we can buy things we need to live such as clothing, food, and shelter.

Safety has two parts: protection from harm (including financial harm) and having a sense of stability in the world. We want to feel safe in our environment, including our homes and workplaces, as well as in our social relationships.

We also need to know that no harm will come to us from outside forces, like crime, natural disasters, or economic upheaval. This is why public institutions like police departments, fire departments, and social services are so important.

Love and Belonging

hierarchy of needs love.

As a person meets the safety needs, the individual moves up the pyramid to meet their needs for love and belonging.

The need for love and belonging is one of the most important needs that people experience in life. It includes both healthy relationships with others and one’s sense of self-worth or self-esteem. If an individual is lacking in this area of their life, they may develop unhealthy habits to fill the void. This could lead to anything from engaging in risky sexual behavior to abusing drugs or alcohol.

A lack of love early in life can cause problems later on, like difficulty forming relationships or difficulty knowing one’s self-worth or value. This can lead to depression or low self-esteem, which could eventually lead back to risky behavior.

Love and belonging come in many different activities and forms. Including healthy friendships, romantic relationships, volunteering at a homeless shelter, or even attending religious services like church or temple. These activities do not need to directly involve other people. Some people find it easier to connect with others through art, music, or even the internet. For example, a person may find it easier to connect with others through online forums or chats.

The need for love and belonging may also be fulfilled by finding a sense of purpose. This means finding a place to fit in or belong.


Esteem is the level of regard, respect, and honor a person has for oneself. It’s self-respect and is usually based on meeting one’s standards of excellence and on receiving recognition from others for such achievements. People want respect from others and to achieve their full potential.


The final need on the hierarchy is self-actualization. This idea comes from the concept of “realizing one’s true potential”. Self-actualized people are confident and feel they can achieve their full potential. They tend to be able to enjoy life and see things as positive, despite the difficulties they may face.

This need is often referred to as the need for self-fulfillment or self-realization. Once this need has been met it means we have developed ourselves fully as human beings. We can see ourselves as having no limits at all. This is called unlimited growth.

Self-Actualized people are truly happy with their lives because they know that everything they do will make them better people in some way. They are constantly striving to improve themselves. 

Image of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs Explained triangle.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Pyramid

How People Progress Through the Hierarchy of Needs

People don’t necessarily progress through the levels in a straight line. They also may be working on multiple levels at the same time. Typically, the lower levels of needs have more progress toward them than the higher levels. 

How to Use Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a framework for individuals or organizations that are trying to improve their lives. The hierarchy of needs applies to nearly every aspect of life from education, to business, relationships, etc.

You can use it to help those around you by identifying what stage they are in. Understanding what someone needs, help you understand what motivates them. What do they need at this moment? Helping them fulfill the needs at the level they are in will not only help them be better people. But will also build loyalty toward you. 

Final Thoughts

As with anything in psychology Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is just a model used to explain how people think and act. It’s not necessarily 100% accurate for every person, but it can be applied to many situations. 

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