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Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization

Scott Barry Kaufman

Personal Thoughts

Summary Notes

We Crave Transcendence

  • My research has convinced me that we all have extraordinary creative, humanitarian, and spiritual possibilities but are often alienated from them because we are so focused on a very narrow slice of who we are.
  • As a result, we aren’t fulfilling our full potential. We spend so much time looking outward for validation that we don’t develop the incredible strengths that already lie within, and we rarely take the time to fulfill our deepest needs in the most growth-oriented and integrated fashion.
  • so many people today are striving for “transcendence” without a healthy integration of their other needs—to the detriment of their full potential. This ranges from people who expect a mindfulness retreat or yoga class to be a panacea for their traumas and deep insecurities, to spiritual “gurus” abusing their positions of power.

A New Hierarchy of Needs 

  • Within the humanistic psychology framework, the healthy personality is considered one that constantly moves toward freedom, responsibility, self-awareness, meaning, commitment, personal growth, maturity, integration, and change, rather than one that predominantly strives for status, achievement, or even happiness.


  • The need for safety is tied to a particular form of meaning in life. Psychologists have identified three different forms of meaning: coherence, purpose, and mattering.
  • Purpose involves a motivation to realize future-oriented and valued life goals. Mattering consists of the extent to which people feel that their existence and actions in the world are significant, important, and valuable.
  • The need for coherence is the form of meaning that is most strongly tied to the need for safety. Does my immediate environment make sense?
  • “Uncertainty is the only certainty there is, and knowing how to live with insecurity is the only security.”
  • The ability to reduce, manage, and even embrace uncertainty is important for everyone seeking to develop the whole person. It is critical not only to health and wellness but also to survival.


  • The need for connection—to form and maintain at least a minimal number of positive, stable, intimate relationships—is a fundamental need that affects our whole being, permeating our entire suite of emotions, thoughts, and behaviors.
  • The need for connection actually consists of two subneeds: (a) The need to belong, to be liked, to be accepted, and (b) The need for intimacy, for mutuality, for relatedness.
  • When one feels belonging, one feels accepted and seen, and when one is deprived of belonging, one feels rejected and invisible.
  • While the social protection system has as its main goal the avoidance of rejection, the intimacy system is more about connecting to loved ones,
  • a high-quality connection as a “dynamic, living tissue that exists between two people when there is some contact between them involving mutual awareness and social interaction.”
  • A high-quality connection makes both people feel especially vital and alive. A low-quality connection, on the other hand, can be downright depleting. As one business manager put it, “Corrosive connections are like black holes: they absorb all of the light in the system and give back nothing in return.”
  • The need for connection is most likely to be satisfied when we have secure, stable, and intimate connections with at least a few people in our lives.


  • “Dominance-feeling,” Maslow contended, includes feelings of self-confidence, high self-respect, and evaluation of self; a feeling of being able to handle other people; a feeling of mastery; a feeling that others do and ought to admire and respect one; a feeling of general capability; an absence of shyness, timidity, self-consciousness, or embarrassment; and a feeling of pride.
  • Self-esteem is one of the strongest correlates of life satisfaction (although the strength of the correlation differs based on culture), and low self-esteem is one of the biggest risk factors for depression.
  • The latest research suggests that a healthy self-esteem is an outcome of genuine accomplishment and intimate connection with others, and of a sense of growing and developing as a whole person.
  • Modern research has identified two distinct faces of healthy self-esteem: self-worth and mastery.


  • In a set of revealing studies, Geneviève L. Lavigne and her colleagues found two clear orientations that relate to the need for belonging: a growth orientation, which is driven by curiosity, sincere interest in learning about others, and a desire to learn about oneself, and a deficit-reduction orientation, which is driven by an overly high need to feel accepted and to fill a deep void in one’s life.
  • Another important form of social exploration is the drive to actively engage in novel social and physical environments.
  • This could include making new friends, engaging in new discussions, volunteering for a new organization, or even trying out a new dance club.
  • High-adventure seekers are more likely to use a problem-focused coping strategy, which allows them to see stressors in their life as manageable.


  • We must understand love; we must be able to teach it, to create it, to predict it, or else the world is lost to hostility and to suspicion.
  • “successful human development involves, first, absorbing love, next, reciprocally sharing love, and finally, giving love unselfishly away.”
  • “Infantile love follows the principle: ‘I love because I am loved.’ Mature love follows the principle ‘I am loved because I love.’ Immature love says, ‘I love you because I need you.’ Mature love says, ‘I need you because I love you.’”
  • “Love is not a specific encounter but an attitude. A problem of not-being-loved is more often than not a problem of not loving.”
  • The self-actualizing lover does not cling or push away, but witnesses, admire, and helps the other person grow.


  • Self-actualizing people are, without one single exception, involved in a cause outside their own skin, in something outside of themselves. They are devoted, working at something, something which is very precious to them—some calling or vocation in the old sense. They are working at something that fate has called them to somehow and which they work at and they love so that the work-joy dichotomy in them disappears.
  • “The actualizing person is busy with the concerns to which he has chosen to commit his living and seldom stops to assess his happiness,”
  • Another key aspect of purpose is that it is energizing. Having a purpose fuels perseverance despite obstacles because perseverance is seen as worth the effort.

Transcend: The New Science of Self-Actualization

Scott Barry Kaufman

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