Scott Barry Kaufman - Transcend

The need for safety is the basis of all other needs.

Beyond physiological needs like hunger, our sense of safety comes down to how we relate to the people around us.

One of the ways we relate to others is called attachment, and it begins in childhood. Every human is born helpless and completely dependent on the people taking care of it. From these interactions in infancy, we develop our attachment style. As we grow older, our attachment style plays a key role in our relationships. If we were lucky enough to grow up in a warm, caring environment, we learn to be attached in a secure way. We feel confident that others will accept us. But if our caregivers weren’t reliable or sufficiently available, we become anxious in future relationships. We may even avoid close relationships altogether, which is called avoidant attachment.

No one’s attachment style is completely secure. There’s a broad spectrum between secure and avoidant, and most people have at least some levels of anxious or avoidant attachment – or both – especially in times of stress.

Still, people who have a secure attachment style are better equipped to deal with life’s challenges. They cope with and regulate their emotions in more constructive ways, and have more satisfying relationships. In contrast, insecurity, especially the anxious kind, can lead to depression and loneliness.

The good news is that, though we learn our attachment style in childhood, we can change our patterns. New, positive experiences can help us develop healthier ways of interacting.

Connection is a fundamental need

The need for connection is the need for stable, positive, intimate relationships. In two words, it’s the need for belonging and intimacy.

It comes down to being a part of a social group. The need for belonging is satisfied when you feel accepted by a particular group. When you feel rejected and invisible, in contrast, that need is unsatisfied.

When you’re excluded, it’s not just your feelings that are hurt. Research shows that the pain of social rejection is indistinguishable from physical pain. And the effects don’t end there. Continued rejection can lead to all kinds of problems, from poor sleep to depression.

But connection involves more than merely not being rejected. The quality of the connection also matters. Belonging is about feeling protected by your group; intimacy is about loving, caring for and protecting others with whom you have a close relationship.

What makes for a quality connection?

Well, close connections hinge on what psychologist Carl Rogers calls unconditional positive regard. This occurs when each person feels seen, cared for, and safe expressing a whole range of feelings and experiences.

There is also mutuality in high-quality connections, which means that the people involved are engaged and participating. Such connections also encourage experiences that keep us coming back for more – laughter, joy, having fun together, and reciprocal gestures of kindness.

Healthy self-esteem is the result of positive accomplishments

Self-esteem is not the same as self-regard. It has nothing to do with narcissism or egocentricity. Rather, self-esteem is the natural result of genuine accomplishment and connection with other people. If you find yourself too focused on improving your self-esteem, that’s already a sign that something has gone wrong.

Healthy self-esteem has two aspects: self-worth and mastery. In a nutshell, it comes down to liking yourself. Do you think that you’re basically a good person, and feel comfortable with yourself? If so, then your sense of self-worth is in pretty good shape.

But self-worth is about more than just how you see yourself. We’re social beings, after all, and self-esteem is closely linked to the esteem in which others hold us. Our judgments about ourselves often factor in the judgements of others. If others like us and hold us in high regard, we have what researchers call relational social value.

People with relational social value tend to have close relationships with others, and they tend to be valued in those relationships. The higher our relational social value, the higher our sense of self-worth.

The other part of self-esteem is mastery. Mastery is the extent to which you can act intentionally, achieve your goals, and exercise your will. It comes down to feeling like a competent human being. But just like self-worth, our sense of mastery depends partly on how others judge us. That’s where another kind of social value – instrumental social value – comes in. That’s the degree to which others see us as having qualities that are important for the common good.

Of course, you’ll have more mastery in some areas of your life than others. If you repeatedly encounter obstacles when trying to achieve your goals, you may begin to feel incompetent and insecure. On the other hand, if you’re consistently able to achieve your goals, you’ll feel increasingly confident, which tends to create an upward spiral. The result: an overall sense of mastery.

Exploration enables you to grow as a person

Sadly enough, our adventuresome nature tends to fade in adulthood. As we grow up, our playfulness and wonder begin to wane. This is a shame, because exploration has many benefits. For one, it’s how we learn more about the world. It can also help us sweep away our fears and anxieties.

So what exactly is exploration? Well, it’s the desire to seek out unfamiliar information and experiences.

There are two types of exploration. One is known as behavioral exploration. The other is called cognitive exploration. Behavioral exploration has two components: social exploration and adventure-seeking.

Social exploration: it’s when we have a sincere interest in other people’s lives and are curious about what they’re thinking. It’s also what drives us to make new friends, take part in discussions, or seek out new experiences. It’s about engaging with people in a way that helps us learn more about them and the world.

So what about adventure-seeking? Well, people who seek adventure are often driven by the desire to learn and grow, to overcome challenges and learn new skills.

Cognitive exploration has two parts. One is openness to experience. This involves things like appreciating beauty, getting absorbed in activities, and enjoying artistic pursuits. People who are open to experiences in this way also tend to be intuitive, empathetic, and in touch with their emotions.

The second part is intellectual. It comes down to reasoning and understanding the world through abstract thought. It’s the desire to learn new information and discover new ideas. If you enjoy intellectual challenges and philosophical discussions, then you’re an intellectual explorer.

Love is more fulfilling when it’s not based on a deficiency

We think of love as a lack. Love is something people want, something they long for, something that must be found out there. Finding love means receiving love.

But the people who feel that they’ve truly found love, the people who don’t experience love primarily as a lack, are those who give love.

In his writings, Maslow distinguished between deficiency-love, or D-love for short, and love for a person’s whole being. He called this latter type of love B-love. D-love is something we feel like we have to search and strive for. It’s a need, and it has to be satisfied.

But that’s not how B-love works. People who love in this way don’t need to receive much love at all – their love is not about what’s missing from their lives. Instead, they’re focused on admiring others and giving.

It’s a shift from regarding love as something to be gotten to seeing it as something to be given, from depending on others and being rewarded with their love to loving the world at large.

So how do people who practice B-love act?

For one, they tend to be driven by self-transcendent values. B-loving people are also notable for high levels of tolerance, benevolence, and trustworthiness. They have character traits like kindness, humility, and forgiveness. Other people love being around them. But B-loving people are also able to look after their own needs and assert themselves when necessary – they just do it in a way that remains caring and considerate of others.

Above all, B-loving people are able to integrate two aspects of human existence that might seem contradictory: agency and communion. Agency involves independence and separation from others. It’s about how much you’re able to achieve your own goals and assert yourself. In contrast, community is about contact, openness and participation – being together with others.

B-loving people manage to bring both aspects into harmony. They do this by going beyond the need to receive love, maintaining high levels of self-reliance while also staying engaged in satisfying relationships.

Purpose is what gives meaning to our lives

It’s the center of your life, around which you can organize all your actions so that each has significance. It also gives you energy to pursue your goals and encourages perseverance.

Purpose often means having a calling – an overwhelming urge to follow a particular path in life. And for many, that calling is closely linked to work. The closer you are to seeing your work as a calling, as something you’d do regardless of pay, the more likely you are to be satisfied – not just with your job, but with your life in general.

But what if you don’t have a calling?

First, choose wisely. When you choose goals that focus on growth – like self-improvement, creativity, or making the world a better place – pursuing them will tend to bring a feeling of well-being, which often isn’t the case when you strive merely for money, power, or popularity.

Second, choose for the right reasons. That means looking for goals that feel meaningful on a deep level. The most worthy goal won’t give you a sense of purpose if it doesn’t mean anything to you. The more your goals resonate with you, the more your motivation increases – and the more likely you’ll be to achieve them.

Peak experiences enhance your sense of self and your connection with the world

That feeling you had at the lip of the Grand Canyon – that feeling of oneness with nature and the whole of existence – is what the author calls a peak experience. These are experiences of heightened beauty, wonder, joy, or serenity. Research suggests that peak experiences are great for mental health. They increase motivation and a sense of purpose, make relationships more satisfying, reduce fear of death and encourage personal growth.

And all peak experiences have one thing in common: self-loss.

Now, there are two types of self-loss.

One takes place when we’re in the grip of insecurity. We feel unsure of ourselves or of our identity. This kind of self-loss is frightening and can make the world seem bizarre and unreal.

The other kind of self-loss – the kind induced by peak experiences – it brings a deepened sense of connection with the world – a feeling of openness and curiosity. It’s a paradox: the more the self dissolves and seems to merge with the world, the more self-actualized one feels.

There’s one word that’s often used in connection with peak experiences: awe. A feeling of awe can be inspired by vastness, like a view of the ocean or of the Grand Canyon. But it can also be conceptual. For example, contemplating eternity may inspire awe. The puzzling thing about awe is that it combines feelings that don’t usually go together, such as fear and ecstasy.

Yes, although awe involves fear, people who experience it usually describe their experience as strongly positive.

And being filled with awe is good for you. Studies show that people who experience awe have increased life satisfaction; they also tend to be more generous and less aggressive.


The key message:

Human needs are all closely connected, and the greatest sense of well-being and fulfilment comes when we can integrate them into a healthy whole. With our needs integrated, we have a base for growth and self-actualization. We open ourselves to transcendent experiences and the possibility of becoming the best selves we can be.

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