10 common traits of self-actualized people

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs is updated for the 21st century in a new study.

  • Maslow's famous "Hierarchy of Needs" describes different levels of human motivation.
  • A new study updates the hierarchy through modern methods.
  • The research shows that self-actualized people share 10 specific traits.

Are you a self-actualized person? The American psychologist Abraham Maslow famously proposed in 1954 the "Maslow's hierarchy of needs" which theorized that psychological health culminated in self-actualization. Maslow saw that as being able to fulfill your potential, becoming your true self.

Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, published a study that updates Maslow's work with modern statistical methods and proposes 10 specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.

The pyramid of human needs devised by Maslow was based on the idea that human motivations follow a prioritizing pattern. The 5-level hierarchy of needs goes from purely "physiological" towards "love", and "esteem," with each stage needing to be satisfied before moving on to the next.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's ideas are regarded as humanistic psychology, arising in part as a reaction to Freud's theory of psychoanalysis and B.F. Skinner's behaviorism. This line of thought sees individuals as inherently striving towards self-actualization, where their capabilities and creativity are fully expressed. This point of view also regards all people as inherently good and more than the sum of their parts.

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Abraham Maslow.

Kaufman updated Maslow's methods and language and utilized surveys of over 500 people on Amazon's Mechanical Turk to zero in on 10 characteristics that each made a distinct contribution towards self-actualization.

Here they are:

  1. Continued Freshness of Appreciation
  2. Acceptance
  3. Authenticity
  4. Equanimity
  5. Purpose
  6. Efficient Perception of Reality
  7. Humanitarianism
  8. Peak Experiences
  9. Good Moral Intuition
  10. Creative Spirit
"Taken together, this total pattern of data supports Maslow's contention that self-actualised individuals are more motivated by growth and exploration than by fulfilling deficiencies in basic needs," Kaufman writes.

Another significant takeaway from the study is that people who reach self-actualization ultimately appear to be on the path towards self-transcendence. This observation confirms Maslow's extension of his own theory in later years with concrete data. The more self-actualized you are, the more one with the world you feel.

If you'd like to know what each concept means in depth, take a look at this breakdown from the study:

Credit: Kaufman 2018

To take the test of self-actualization yourself, go to Barry Scott Kaufman's website. And if you find yourself not scoring as high as you would like, Kaufman thinks you can develop such characteristics by changing your habits.

"A good way to start with that," Kaufman told the British Psychological Society's Research Digest. "is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don't forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. … Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. I do think it's possible with conscientiousness and willpower."

Check out the psychologist's new study "Self-Actualizing People in the 21st Century: Integration With Contemporary Theory and Research on Personality and Well-Being" in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology.

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