I friend sent me a link to Seth Godin’s blog called Extending the Narrative. I’ve read his stuff in the past and he does a decent job of explaining marketing strategy along with basic human psychology to the masses. Then again, you can’t adequately express why a mid-life crisis happens in a page – just that it does and you need to move on.
That being said, it does make you think a bit more about the psychological needs versus the wants. It’s an old saying but you really need to distinguish what the human needs to survive and flourish when compared to its wants. In the 50s, Maslow described a simple pyramid of needs.
At the very bottom are what most people consider “human rights”. They are above religion or political influence – for the most part. In our country, they are assured to every citizen, even the homeless.
The second tier is where every generation above the age of 35 has lived. Very rarely have older people, as a whole, moved to the next tier. When you need to worry about food on the table, wars going on, a roof over your head or even having a job – life is hard. I’m not saying it’s not a problem today, it is, though the problem is less today than it was 30 years ago. In developing countries, this is still the primary tier.
Third tier is a psychological one for closeness. This is when you are comfortable enough in your situation that you are ready to reach out to others. Charity, equality and whatnot. As you can guess, this is something the industrial nations of the world deal with currently. Given a united planet (through the connections of the internet), this will be the main focus for some time at a group level.
Next is the self esteem or perhaps social acceptance. When your personal circle is “complete” you start branching out to other groups. Personal value/importance is always a strong motivator. Teenagers live in this group since everything below that is usually provided to them by their parents. Once you move out, then you drop down a level (or two). Our generation (35 and below) will move in and out of this tier.
The last one, self-actualization, is one that few people ever hit. Religion can never provide it, since religion by its very nature is group-minded. Money can never buy it, since it’s a personal reflection and above the material world. Other people can point in a direction but that is usually theirs and not yours. I can only think of a few people off-hand that have done this. I haven’t.
What does this have to do with anything? Well, when you’re considering your wants versus your needs it’s basically saying that you need something to complete a given tier but want something from a tier above it. Everyone wants to be loved but until their need of safety has been fulfilled, it’s only a want. People need to figure out what it is from each of these tiers that best identifies them and focus on ensuring they are actually met. If you have self-doubts or have a dire need to be respected by others you will never be able to self-actualize. If you can’t put food on the table you don’t need to be worrying about how others perceive you.
And to go full circle, if you reach a wall on a given tier you will dive into the previous one and splurge. You know you’re good but failure pushes you to ensure that if you do fall down, it’s a comfortable fall. The same goes when you’ve “completed” a tier, you celebrate it by splurging. Empty nest at home? No need to worry about safety anymore. Retired from work? Splurge. Got accolades from colleagues? Splurge. It’s a psychological reflex and completely understandable.
We celebrate our successes as well as our failures. It’s only human.