Self-Actualization and a Life of Fulfillment
Everything can be taken from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way. - Viktor Frankl
The person that we have become today is not the person that we chose to be, nor is it the person that we would have chosen to be (most likely), if we were given the choice. But it is who we are, and it is who we have to live with for the rest of our lives. But we are not just who we are, we are who we were conditioned to be. We have all experienced this conditioning since the day we were born (and maybe earlier). This conditioning has been reinforced our entire lives by our parents and extended family, our schools and the teachers they employed, the media via the screens that we worshiped throughout our childhood, our neighbors, and our workplace.
"You are not responsible for the person you have become, but you are responsible for who you will become."
The person we have become has been molded by the decisions we have made throughout our life. It may feel like we were consciously making those choices, but in reality it was our subconscious working covertly behind the scenes that was directing those decisions. Each of those decisions was and still is a product of our conditioning, our programming.
This social programming has been going on for thousands of millennia as a way for humans to work together to satisfy their basic needs. For our hunting and gathering ancestors, our very survival depended on working together as a cohesive group. The satisfaction of our core wants and needs was only possible within the group structure.
For our ancient ancestors, our wants and needs were in very close alignment. But as humans and society evolved, so did our methods of satisfying our wants and needs. As life became easier, or at least more predictable, we saw an excess of production (wealth), and with it a way to store it. With this development of wealth we saw a widening gap between our wants and our needs.
Prior to this evolution, all we wanted was to be able to survive and propagate with this least amount of difficulty. Now we want things that have no relationship to our needs. Our needs can be arranged in a hierarchy that has existed since we decided to come down out of the trees, maybe sooner. We have a physiological need (food and water), a need for safety and security (a safe place to live), a need for love and belonging (family, friends, and a tribe), a need for esteem (to feel like we are important), and even a need for self-actualization (to feel like we are becoming the person we are supposed to become).
All of these needs could be satisfied if we could just provide and protect ourselves, our family, and our tribe. But in our very recent history, maybe even the last 50 to 100 years, we have flipped this completely on its head. While providing for our core needs for food, water, safety and security have become much easier (for most), attaining love, belonging, and self-esteem have become more and more difficult. And living a self-fulfilling life has become nearly impossible.
All of us humans (from every corner of the world) have the same needs, but the methods we employ to satisfy those needs have diverged greatly. Mix in with this our inability to differentiate between our wants and our needs, and the choices we have to make in our daily lives have become almost infinite. This has left us confused, anxious, and disillusioned. With the outcomes taking us further and further from where we really want to be (or at least where we need to be). We evolved in a world that was simple and hard, but we now live in a world that is complicated and relatively easy.
As humans, we have the ability to think and feel in ways that no other creature can. We can reflect on our lives, we can assess our situation, and we can fix what’s wrong. We are problem solvers, it’s what we do best. Whatever situation we are in, however hopeless it may seem, we have the ability to figure out what’s wrong and take the necessary actions to make things right. We just have to have the knowledge and the will to do it.
We have to be willing to forfeit our need for the pleasures and comforts that we have been programmed to desire and to welcome the adversity that this complicated world presents to us. We have to be willing to deal with the discomfort and even pain, both physical and emotional, that will accompany the changes that we must make to get back to living the life we were designed to live.