What do most people want to get out of their short years on the planet? Many would say that they want an overall sense of happiness and fulfillment, and to have a good ride on the earth as it spins around the sun — but is that what they really work toward?

A lot of people have this kind of logic:

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

First, one’s physiological necessities must be met. You’re not going to be happy if you don’t have the basics, which means food, water, clothing, shelter — these are all things that we need in order to fulfill our most biological necessities. Sexual needs also probably fall into this category. Either way, it stands to reason that without our most basic biological needs being met, there is no way we can be happy and fulfilled.

Second, we have to be safe. This can apply to physical safety, but also financial. We want that blanket of security over our shoulders, which can empower us to succeed elsewhere in life.

Sound familiar? We’re working our way up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, like it’s a ladder or a video game with multiple levels.

So the next step is love and belonging. Many people long for this next level, hoping it will be a doorway to the top two — that falling in love will make someone feel whole and solve their issues of self-esteem or other problems that permeate their minds.

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Many achieve this step, build a family and have friends they drink with every Saturday and barbecue with every Sunday.

Playing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs might be a misinterpretation of what he meant, and “happiness and fulfillment” might not have been his end goals here. Regardless, many people incidentally climb this ladder as if one stage leads to the next.

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There is truth to all these things. Physical necessities are absolute necessities. Security isn’t something you can just blow off — people often fall into deep depression when financial hardship strikes. Everyone wants to feel loved, and to belong to a family, and to hold themselves in high esteem.

The problem is that it’s not as simple as we think.

Take combat veterans with relatively successful lives back home, for example. When they get out of the military, many of them are met by loving families, enough money to satisfy their basic needs, and security on all levels. It would stand to reason that they ought to transition higher on the pyramid with relative ease.

And yet, even with all of these things, many struggle with their departure from the military. They often find themselves depressed and wrestling a profound sense of angst. They miss the military days, when even some of their most basic needs were not met. They miss something about deployments or tough military schools that they can’t quite put their finger on.

Veterans have tasted a certain way of life, and when they come back to western civilization, they long for it again. Many veterans learned that, in order to reach the top of the pyramid, you have to sacrifice some of the things on the bottom. They realize that human beings are built to live outside their comfort zones — and by “outside their comfort zones” I don’t mean picking a wooden chair over a cushioned one.

Comfort does not equal happiness, not long-term anyway, that is the lie that materialism has brought to our doorstep. That doesn’t make material things evil, it’s just something to be aware of.

Sometimes the only place to find fulfillment is out on some proverbial ledge — that means real risk. It also means real failure. It might mean going to a war-zone, or it might mean dedicating yourself to a food drive. It might mean being the sole provider for your family that you want to see thrive. It might mean giving up millions, or it might mean giving your body to a cause greater than yourself.

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Above all, it means putting yourself in the service of others. You could take a religious stance — service out of love is the paramount value in many religions. Or you could take the evolutionary stance — contributing to the group is literally what human beings are psychologically built to do. Either way, we innately value those who contribute to those around us, and serving others (in some form or another) is the greatest form of fulfillment that one can feel. It kindles a fire of passion that is in line with the greatest of the human condition, and generally the only people who disagree with this are the people who have not felt it. Service is the greatest necessity of all — even if that means giving up some of the basics.

I can’t say it better than Sebastian Junger, from his book “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.”

Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary. It’s time for that to end.”

Featured image courtesy of pxhere.