All it takes to have a peak experience is knowing about them. In other words, knowing what they are, and that they, in fact, exist. This knowledge alone will allow you, with a mental "flick of the wrist" to switch on to a highly organized and energized mental state that will be subjectively experienced as relaxation, peace of mind, optimism and even existential bliss.
Peak experiences as first described by Abraham Maslow are moments of overwhelming joy that can be experienced at will. What's more amazing and important, is that Maslow discovered that when his students began discussing these peak experiences, they would have them more often.
It seems that seeing the possibility of these peak experiences inside, internally (i.e. the "in-sight" of peak experiences) increased the likelihood of having peak experiences.
Abraham Maslow, from Wikipedia
Humanistic theories of self-actualization
Humanistic psychologists believe that every person has a strong desire to realize his or her full potential, to reach a level of "self-actualization". The main point of that new movement, that reached its peak in 1960s, was to emphasize the positive potential of human beings. Maslow positioned his work as a vital complement to that of Freud:
It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.
However, Maslow was highly critical of Freud, since humanistic psychologists did not recognize spirituality as a navigation for our behaviors.
To prove that humans are not simply blindly reacting to situations, but trying to accomplish something greater, Maslow studied mentally healthy individuals instead of people with serious psychological issues. He focused on self-actualizing people. Self-actualizing people indicate a coherent personality syndrome and represent optimal psychological health and functioning.
This informed his theory that a person enjoys "peak experiences", high points in life when the individual is in harmony with himself and his surroundings. In Maslow's view, self-actualized people can have many peak experiences throughout a day while others have those experiences less frequently.
Qualities of self-actualizing people
He realized that all the individuals he studied had similar personality traits. All were "reality centered," able to differentiate what was fraudulent from what was genuine. They were also "problem centered," meaning that those treated life's difficulties as problems that demanded solutions. These individuals also were comfortable being alone and had healthy personal relationships. They had only a few close friends and family rather than a large number of shallow relationships.
Self-actualizing people tend to focus on problems outside themselves; have a clear sense of what is true and what is false; are spontaneous and creative; and are not bound too strictly by social conventions.
Maslow noticed that self-actualized individuals had a better insight of reality, deeply accepted themselves, others and the world, and also had faced many problems and were known to be impulsive people. These self-actualized individuals were very independent and private when it came to their environment and culture, especially their very own individual development on "potentialities and inner resources".
According to Maslow, self-actualizing people share the following qualities:
Truth: honest, reality, beauty, pure, clean and unadulterated completeness
Goodness: rightness, desirability, uprightness, benevolence, honesty
Beauty: rightness, form, aliveness, simplicity, richness, wholeness, perfection, completion,
Wholeness: unity, integration, tendency to oneness, interconnectedness, simplicity, organization, structure, order, not dissociated, synergy
Dichotomy-transcendence: acceptance, resolution, integration, polarities, opposites, contradictions
Aliveness: process, not-deadness, spontaneity, self-regulation, full-functioning
Unique: idiosyncrasy, individuality, non comparability, novelty
Perfection: nothing superfluous, nothing lacking, everything in its right place, just-rightness, suitability, justice
Necessity: inevitability: it must be just that way, not changed in any slightest way
Completion: ending, justice, fulfillment
Justice: fairness, suitability, disinterestedness, non partiality,
Order: lawfulness, rightness, perfectly arranged
Simplicity: nakedness, abstract, essential skeletal, bluntness
Richness: differentiation, complexity, intricacy, totality
Effortlessness: ease; lack of strain, striving, or difficulty
Playfulness: fun, joy, amusement
Self-sufficiency: autonomy, independence, self-determining.
Dynamics of self-actualization
Maslow based his theory partially on his own assumptions about human potential and partially on his case studies of historical figures whom he believed to be self actualized, including Albert Einstein and Henry David Thoreau. Consequently, Maslow argued, the way in which essential needs are fulfilled is just as important as the needs themselves. Together, these define the human experience. To the extent a person finds cooperative social fulfillment, he establishes meaningful relationships with other people and the larger world. In other words, he establishes meaningful connections to an external reality—an essential component of self-actualization. In contrast, to the extent that vital needs find selfish and competitive fulfillment, a person acquires hostile emotions and limited external relationships—his awareness remains internal and limited.
Maslow based his study on the writings of other psychologists, Albert Einstein and people he knew who clearly met the standard of self-actualization.
Maslow used Einstein's writings and accomplishments to exemplify the characteristics of the self actualized person. But Ruth Benedict and Max Wertheimer were also Maslow's models of self-actualization. In this case, from a scientific perspective there are numerous problems with this particular approach. First, it could be argued that biographical analysis as a method is extremely subjective as it is based entirely on the opinion of the researcher. Personal opinion is always prone to bias, which reduces the validity of any data obtained. Therefore Maslow's operational definition of Self-actualization must not be blindly accepted as scientific fact.
One historical figure Maslow found to be helpful in his journey to understanding self-actualization was Lao Tzu, The Father of Taoism. A tenet of Taoism is that people do not obtain personal meaning or pleasure by seeking material possessions.
Hierarchy of NeedsMaslow described human needs as ordered in a prepotent hierarchy—a pressing need would need to be mostly satisfied before someone would give their attention to the next highest need. None of his published works, however, included a visual representation of the hierarchy. The pyramidal diagram illustrating the Maslow needs hierarchy may have been created by a psychology textbook publisher as an illustrative device. This now iconic pyramid frequently depicts the spectrum of human needs, both physical and psychological, as accompaniment to articles describing Maslow's needs theory and may give the impression that the Hierarchy of Needs is a fixed and rigid sequence of progression. Yet, starting with the first publication of his theory in 1943, Maslow described human needs as being relatively fluid—with many needs being present in a person simultaneously.
The hierarchy of human needs model suggests that human needs will only be fulfilled one level at a time.
According to Maslow's theory, when a human being ascends the levels of the hierarchy having fulfilled the needs in the hierarchy, one may eventually achieve self-actualization. However, late in his life, Maslow came to conclude that self-actualization was not an automatic outcome of satisfying the other human needs.Human needs as identified by Maslow:At the bottom of the hierarchy are the "Basic needs or Physiological needs" of a human being: food, water, sleep and sex.
The next level is "Safety Needs: Security, Order, and Stability". These two steps are important to the physical survival of the person. Once individuals have basic nutrition, shelter and safety, they attempt to accomplish more.
The third level of need is "Love and Belonging", which are psychological needs; when individuals have taken care of themselves physically, they are ready to share themselves with others, such as with family and friends.
The fourth level is achieved when individuals feel comfortable with what they have accomplished. This is the "Esteem" level, the need to be competent and recognized, such as through status and level of success.
Then there is the "Cognitive" level, where individuals intellectually stimulate themselves and explore.
After that is the "Aesthetic" level, which is the need for harmony, order and beauty.
At the top of the pyramid, "Need for Self-actualization" occurs when individuals reach a state of harmony and understanding because they are engaged in achieving their full potential. Once a person has reached the self-actualization state they focus on themselves and try to build their own image. They may look at this in terms of feelings such as self-confidence or by accomplishing a set goal.
Usually people in developed countries focus on the third and fourth level of needs while those in less developed worlds focus on the first and second.
The first four levels are known as Deficit needs or D-needs. This means that if you do not have enough of one of those four needs, you will have the feeling that you need to get it. But when you do get them, then you feel content. These needs alone are not motivating.
Maslow wrote that there are certain conditions that must be fulfilled in order for the basic needs to be satisfied. For example, freedom of speech, freedom to express oneself, and freedom to seek new information are a few of the prerequisites. Any blockages of these freedoms could prevent the satisfaction of the basic needs.
Beyond the routine of needs fulfillment, Maslow envisioned moments of extraordinary experience, known as Peak experiences, which are profound moments of love, understanding, happiness, or rapture, during which a person feels more whole, alive, self-sufficient and yet a part of the world, more aware of truth, justice, harmony, goodness, and so on. Self-actualizing people have many such peak experiences. In other words, these “peak experiences” or states of flow are the reflections of the realization of one’s human potential and represent the height of personality development.