This blog post is an excerpt from our e-book, Happy Citizens: Measuring Performance in the Public Sector. You can download the whole e-book here.
For governments, quantifying performance means promoting happiness among citizens. To this end, governments can apply one of the basic concepts of psychology: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, developed by the American psychologist Abraham Maslow in the 1940’s and 50’s.
The Hierarchy of Needs covers five motivations that drive human beings: (1) Physiological, (2) Safety, (3) Love/Belonging, (4) Esteem, and (5) Self-actualization. The needs are ranked with the most fundamental towards the bottom of the pyramid. The bottom four needs are considered the “deficiency needs.” If these needs are not met, the individual will feel anxious and tense, according to Maslow. In this post, we'll examine needs #2 and #3 on the hierarchy: safety and love/belonging.
What Safety Means to Modern People
Once a person’s physiological needs are satisfied, the need for safety takes priority. In the absence of threats to physical safety (such as wars, natural disaster, or abuse) this need today manifests itself as job security, insurance, and health and well-being. This is exemplified by the following study:
Dean Karlan and Christopher Udry, two professors at Yale University, conducted a study (pdf) on whether increased safety among smallholder farmers in Ghana would lead to increased investments. From interviews, the two professors learned that the farmers chose not to invest in potentially high-profit activities because of a lack of access to capital, and the risk associated with unpredictable rainfall.
Karlan and Udry set out to find out if lowering the risk profile would increase investments. They tested whether access to capital or access to rainfall insurance would lead to the highest amount of investment activities. In the study, one group of farmers were given a cash grant, and another group of farmers were offered to purchase rainfall insurance.
Promoting Safety by Offering Insurance
The study found that farmers who had purchased rainfall insurance were, in fact, able to find capital to increase investments. Surprisingly, the rainfall insurance turned out to lead to more investments than what the cash grants spurred.
The notion that increasing people’s sense of safety by lowering risk can increase their investment—which can in turn lead to a higher income—has many practical implications for government.
What's Love Got to Do with It?
Humans are social creatures. We need to love and be loved. The need for love and belonging can be satisfied through family, partners, friends, or even social groups such as sports teams, religious congregations, and co-workers. A remarkable long-term study shows the wide-ranging positive effects of being connected, and what happens when people feel isolated.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is possibly the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 79 years, beginning in 1938, researchers have tracked the lives of 724 men. The study consisted of two groups—sophomores at Harvard College, and boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The researchers had no idea how the participants’ lives would turn out. Year after year, they would check in with the participants and ask about their work, their lives, and their health.
How Social Connections Lead to Happiness
The clearest message from the study, according to one of its directors, Robert Waldinger, is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Social connections are good for us, whereas loneliness can be toxic. People who are socially connected to family, friends, and the community are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are disconnected. The value of social connections doesn’t depend on the quantity of friends or family members, but rather the quality of those relationships. Warm relationships protect us and toxic relationships have an adverse effect on us and can lead to poor health.
Check back next week for Part III: Safety and Love. Or, download the entire e-book now:
Cover photo by Everton Vila.