What It Takes to Live

Someone was recently talking about young people graduating high school and how, in the years following, their mind changes as they start learning “what it takes to live.”

What it takes to live.

The phrase jumped out at me. The words are so simple, but I noticed them because I thought they were a great summary of what we’re all doing from the time we’re born until we die. It’s the toil that drives all human behavior. 

When we’re getting an education, making friends, seeking employment, and dreaming of what to make of ourselves, we’re simply figuring out what it takes to live.

And what does it take to live, exactly? I don’t know, and thankfully I don’t have to answer it. I thought the phrase was great on its own. But if I had to take a stab at answering it, I’d probably look to some psychological model.

I know almost nothing about psychology, but you might have heard of the model that ranks human needs called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

User: Factoryjoe, CC BY-SA 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

(I would probably place morality lower on the chart. It seems more foundational. Worship has not only been all-important for the vast majority of all humans in history, but some have argued pretty convincingly that everyone worships. Everyone ascribes ultimate value to something—looks to something to make them okay and to make life worth living—even if that works out differently from person to person and even if it’s not directed towards a god at all.)

What I just learned about the Hierarchy from this article is that the first 4 tiers of needs are considered “Deficiency Needs” and the top tier is considered a “Growth Need.” 

The motivation for meeting the deficiency needs decreases as the needs are met, whereas motivation for the growth need increases as the need is met.

The longer you go without food, water, shelter, clothing, security, safety, friends, the feeling of accomplishment, the more intense your motivation is to get them. Once you get them, your motivation and pursuit of them drops. 

Yet the more you engage in creative activities, the more you want them. This explains why some authors are so prolific or why some city builders never stop planning and dreaming. The more they engage in the creative process the more they want it and the more their motivation increases.

Whatever use you choose to make of this is up to you. I just find the model a helpful and accurate way of seeing human needs.