What Motivates Humans? Be happy and avoid suffering. Was Maslow Right?

Motivation – was Maslow Right? by Jonni Rose

During the course of studying theorists such as Maslow I have learned that most humans don’t want to die and we don’t want to feel pain.

In a nutshell, this is how I understand human motivation.  In order to not die humans look to satisfy basic needs.  Food and shelter (and if it is cold, clothing) is what most living beings seek.  Then comes safety:  eat but don’t be eaten. We are motivated to procreate to further expand our group safety (families); to have progeny to care for us when we are old; and to keep the species going.  Then we are motivated to expand our sphere of safety by forming social groups which results in sub-groups and political hierarchies.

Communication using art and language, I surmise, comes from the need to maintain social groups by having a common way to share ideas.  Common spoken language and basic written communication via rudimentary art (symbols) is developed.  A need to keep count of our possessions and mathematics is developed to keep track of food, the days, and individual humans within the group.

Spirituality becomes part of the motivation to survive: pray to the earth mother or the sun father to help crops along and not cause storms that will kill.  One of the motivations to be religious is to provide a belief system that gives humans assurance that when we do die, we will have a “better place” to go (Heaven, Nirvana, Valhalla).  Spirituality is a guide toward our kindness to and protection of each other; therefore, a reinforcement of group safety.  Spirituality is often a way to embrace and care for the nature that surrounds life on earth.

The way Maslow explains it, once basic needs are met and pain is avoided, pleasure becomes important.  Pleasure is sought in food that tastes good, not just for nutrition; sex for pleasure not just to procreate; creating artful things and seeing the beauty in the world not merely using art and language as tools to communicate.

Strife and joy become more complex as humans develop and humans are motivated by feelings of greed, envy, altruism, love, and jealousy.  The motivation toward self determination can for example, motivate serfs and slaves to fight for autonomy; the oppressed are motivated to fight for freedom; some humans are motivated by a lust for power, and many humans express a need for compassion toward all living beings.

Personal relationships within the safety of groups are motivated by the whole gamut of emotions.  Self-feelings motivate the basic needs to feel safe, not hurt and not die.  Self-feelings are also motivated by the need to help others not hurt and not die as this provides success of the group and it gives pleasure.

Having said all that, albeit in a naïve, simplistic way, I will turn the concept over to you:


What motivates you?


Resources: (Sage Prairie does not derive any income from the endorsement of these websites):




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