A Bristow Beat Column

What Do You NEED to Get Happy?

Get Happier, Dammit! with Katherine Gotthardt


Remember the first column in this series? I mentioned that “asking and answering questions is a classic method that supports learning and sharing new ideas.” Today we continue our series that examines happiness, how we can get happier, and how inspiration and motivation play important parts in the journey. In this installment, writer Derek Kannemeyer answers questions on what we NEED in order to be happy.

Needs as motivators

As a species, we are enmeshed in our needs, from the bare-boned basics of food and water to what we believe is essential – whether it’s true or not. Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs examines how humans are motivated by needs. He labeled needs from the physical to the quasi-spiritual, levels like physiological (food, water, etc.), safety, belonging and love, esteem and self-actualization. These needs motivate our behavior. And every time we move to another level, we are motivated to act in some way.

So what does this have to do with getting happier?

We are all in search of happiness in some way, and what we need plays into that search. Referring to basic needs, Kannemeyer says, “When a simple, genuine need is met: we're well fed; we're loved; we're rested; we have a nice cozy place we can call our own; the world about us is rich in serenity, or beauty, or liveliness, or strangeness,” then happiness is easier to achieve.

Conversely, then, when our basic needs are not met, it’s harder for us to experience happiness because we fall into self-preservation mode. In this frame of mind, we rarely have time or space to consider things like happiness. We are largely motivated to focus on survival. Kannemeyer says, “When we're unfed, unloved, unrested, unsheltered, etc., etc.; when things are going wrong in our lives, and we have no tranquility, and our bodies are broken, happiness becomes more fragile. And yet, more temporarily, any one of those other things going right will still make us happy! “

He then takes it further, moving up Maslow’s hierarchy, talking about how inspiration can also bring happiness through creativity. This is how happiness is built when more cognitive and spiritual needs are met. Kannemeyer says, “When our curiosity is piqued, and our minds are engaged in acts of discovery and mastery; when our bodies are humming machines discovering what they're capable of and mastering that; when we make—create—even just fix something, something that's fully signed with our spirit...any and all of those can and will trigger happiness.”

It’s a lovely way of expressing those often-overlooked pathways to happiness, isn’t it?

So now, I’ll challenge you to examine your own needs. Are they being met? If not, how can you take action? Look at Maslow’s chart, if it helps. Write down what you need from each level. Then make a plan, starting from the bottom up. Step by step, day by day, when you work toward meeting those needs, you will find yourself more motivated, more inspired – and happier.


Your whole soul grumbling

like a long-starving stomach.

What is it you need?

Want to contribute your own ideas? We’re open to hearing them! Request contribution guidelines by using the form on the Get Happy, Dammit website. In the meantime, here’s to your journey. Here’s to getting happier!

Award-winning author and poet Katherine Gotthardt is the author of nine books, including the Amazon #1 New Release, A Crane Named Steve. Get Happy Dammit: Staying Inspired and Motivated in an Often-Unhappy World has been used in discussion groups and distributed through mental health non-profits. The book won a Silver Award from the Nonfiction Writers Association. Learn more at KatherineGotthardt.com.

This article is not meant to treat depression or mental illness. Those suffering from depression, anxiety or mental illness should seek professional medical help.  

Derek Kannemeyer, Katherine Gotthardt, Maslow, happiness, Get Happy, Dammit!, get happier, need to be happy, Maslow's hierarchy of needs, happiness, psychology