But we can't get there before we meet all the other needs, including those of basic survival. Animals don’t look at their lives in terms of their potential to grow intellectually or spiritually. They are not concerned with completing their story and creating meaningful lives for themselves. Their main concern is to eat and avoid being eaten so they can procreate and replenish the stock.
Humans, however, have a need, once all their other survival and emotional needs are met, to find meaning in their lives and to demonstrate and fulfill their particular talents, gifts, and abilities. Furthermore, it is not enough just to survive if you are a fully developed human with an intellect and spiritual yearnings. We must find the meaning behind the struggles, difficulties, and sorrows that beset us all. Life is too painful to endure just for the sake of survival.
And so, we seek answers to our deepest questions that other life forms do not concern themselves about: Who are we? Why are we here? Are we just the puppets of our genes or is there spiritual significance to what we are going through? If we are starving, freezing, under threat, and just barely hanging on, we need to take care of that first. But once that has been solved, what is the point of it all?
Thus, Maslow observed that what uniquely defines being human is the drive to self-actualize, or as the Army slogan says, “Be all that you can be.” That means, accomplishing what you love to do, what you must do, and what defines you as the one-of-a-kind being that you are. It also means finding meaning outside of the physical aspects of life. It is about finding your inner life and Soul. Without this, life is a meaningless and fear-driven round of feeding and reproducing, interspersed with short-lived pleasures until we die. And therefore, as humans, endowed with the potential for cosmic consciousness, self-actualization is our highest need.