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How to Achieve Self-Actualization for Happiness

Anne has a BSc in applied psychology and qualifications in counselling, CBT and mindfulness. She teaches mindfulness workshops and courses.

Self-actualization means reaching our full potential

Self-Actualization means reaching our full potential in all areas of life. Many psychologists believe that this will ultimately bring us happiness because life will have meaning and we will be fulfilled.

But how do we know what our full potential actually is?

And what exactly is happiness?

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

We need to take care of our basic physical needs before we can even think about fulfilling our potential

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Way back in the 1950’s, the psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with a theory of motivation that went something like this:

We all have needs that have to be fulfilled, some essential for our survival and others essential for personal growth. Maslow divided the needs into two groups:

  • Deficiency Needs: such as food, water, warmth, safety, love and self-esteem.
  • Growth Needs: such as learning and understanding, beauty and finally self-actualization. [1]

These are illustrated in a pyramid labelled Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

According to Carl Rogers, in order to achieve our potential and happiness, we must...

Have others who love us unconditionally

Be able to love ourselves

Have empathy for others.

Carl Rogers

However, in 1961 a famous psychotherapists, Carl Rogers published a book called On Becoming a Person, in which he wrote that in order for us to achieve self-actualization, the following conditions must be in place:

· Unconditional Positive Regard: That others will have ‘regard’, respect or love for us no matter what we are.

· Positive self-regard: That we will respect and accept ourselves.

· Empathy: That we will develop empathy for others.

· Congruence: That we will have all of the above in balance.

For example, Rogers believed that if others have unconditional positive regard for us, but we do not have positive self-regard, then we will be incongruent (or imbalanced) and so cannot achieve self-actualization.[2]

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Finding our strengths and using them in our everyday life can also help us to reach our potential and find happiness

Martin Seligman

But in more recent times another psychologist, Martin Seligman, came up with a theory that makes things a lot simpler. Seligman believes that we reach our full potential, or self-actualization, by playing to our strengths. This means that we do not have to depend on others or on forces outside of ourselves in order to achieve happiness. He has even come up with a questionnaire, the VIA Survey of Character Strengths that helps us to find our strengths. [3]

For example, if your top three strengths turn out to be Leadership, Helping others and Kindness, then finding new ways to apply those strengths will help you to achieve your full potential.

You could perhaps volunteer to set up a local branch of a charity for the under-privileged, or help run a soup-kitchen. Finding a career that uses your strengths would be an ever better way to achieve self-actualization and happiness. (Although this may not be likely in the current economic climate).

We can’t be in a good mood forever, but we can find fulfillment and contentment in our lives


What is happiness?

So, now we know what our full potential is, but what exactly is happiness?

Well, there are two ‘types’ of happiness:

Hedonia: This is transitory-it’s good mood, bad mood kind of happiness.

For example, you’re happy because you’ve won the lottery or you’re sad because your lover left you. Neither is sustainable; you won’t be happy for the rest of your life because you won the lottery nor will you be sad for the rest of your life because your lover left you. (I hope!)

Eudaimonia: This is the kind of contented happiness that comes from living a satisfying and fulfilling life. In fact, the kind of life that comes from finding our strengths and using them to achieve our full potential, or self-actualization.[4]

Self-actualization and happiness

So, now you know that in order to achieve self-actualization, or your full potential, you must find your strengths and discover ways to use them. This will in turn lead to a satisfying and fulfilling life, or eudaimonia.


[1] Maslow, A.H., (1954). Motivation and personality. New York: Harper & Row

[2] Rogers, C.R., (1961). On becoming a person: a therapist’s view of psychotherapy. Houghton Mifflin.


[4] Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M., (2008) Hedonia, eudaimonia, and well-being: an introduction. Journal of Happiness Studies 9 1. 1-11..


annerivendell (author) from Dublin, Ireland on October 11, 2013:

Thank you for your kind comment, CrazedNovelist. :-)

AE Williams from Atlanta, GA on September 27, 2013:

Very informative! Thanks for sharing!!

annerivendell (author) from Dublin, Ireland on February 07, 2013:

Hi, thank you for your comment. I agree with what your say. Seligman has a self-report questionnaire on his website which helps to show you your own strengths. It can be quite interesting.

levelwriter on January 29, 2013:

Martin Seligman's theory seems to show that we can have more control over our own self-actualization as opposed to Carl Rogers' book. I think that if you can't accept yourself, it's going do be difficult to play your strengths. Both seem to make sense to me. I guess it really depends on knowing who you are before you decide what helps.

annerivendell (author) from Dublin, Ireland on October 29, 2012:

Wow, that sounds like fun, eHealer. Thank you for your comment, I'm flattered. :-)

Deborah from Las Vegas on October 29, 2012:

Hey Arri, I actually went to a school "Maslow-Toffler School of Futuristic education for my senior year in HS. It was a blast! My greatest memories and actually loved school (for one year). Very interesting hub with great points of self-actualization. Voted up and shared!

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