Many years ago, 1943 to be precise, Abraham Maslow developed a theory titled “Maslow’s Heirarchy of Needs”. Now, a theory is never without criticism, but I have to say that this one makes a lot of sense. Essentially, it says that people can’t really focus on the higher levels until their more basic needs are fulfilled.
While on an overnight backpacking trip last year, I had an epiphany with Maslow’s hierarchy. I was hiking in the Tanque Verde Mountains with a friend. It was mid-March and colder than expected for that time of year. The trail was a lot steeper, colder, and more grueling than we had expected. Also, I left my camping stove and a meal in the car. After we had reached our campsite for the night and I had set up my tent, I climbed inside and huddled in my sleeping bag. It was already cold and I was violently shivering. It was 5:30 pm. It took me thirty minutes before I would come out of the tent and at that point a fire had been started and my teeth weren’t chattering.
So there I was, sitting by the fire, wondering who was responsible for the chilly weather and my lack of cold weather gear. Then the hunger hit me. It wasn’t the kind of hunger that made me consider eating my buddy, although I had thought of killing him for his jacket earlier. No, this was a revelatory hunger from my body saying “No more cold, now you need food.” I found a couple of peanut butter sandwiches I had brought, devoured some clif bars, and filled my belly. Since we had gotten to the campsite, almost no conversation had occurred between the two of us. For the most part this had nothing to do with his cannibalistic thoughts or my conspiracy to steal his warmer gear. We had both been focused on our basic needs and had just stuck to necessary conversation.
As the night wore on, we were joking and back to normal topics of conversation (whatever that may be). We had both perked up and by the time we went to sleep, spirits were high. I was in my sleeping bag, staying warm and cozy, when I began to think about my dogs, my girlfriend, my bed, and hot coffee. Then I had my epiphany. As soon as I was warm, I was able to feed myself. As soon as I was fed, I could converse like a human being. As soon as I was comfortably in my sleeping bag, my thoughts were drawn to the creature comforts in my life. In one day of hiking, I had descended and partially re-ascended Maslow’s hierarchy.
I definitely didn’t reach the top of the pyramid, and in all reality, I should probably be dealing with how quickly I thought of attacking a friend for warm clothes. That being said, the trip demonstrated how important our basic needs are to improving both our physical and emotional well-being. You, me, and likely anyone else who has read this, have the majority of our basic needs met. We have the luxury of sitting down and thinking about how bad things could be or what would make life better. We don’t fight to stay warm during the winter. We don’t go to sleep hungry. We don’t struggle to stay dry during a storm. We have the luxury of reflecting on how good we’ve got it, and I think that’s exactly why we are perfectly suited to help those less fortunate than ourselves.