The Horse Physio - Delivering care with expertise since 1992

How To Be Happier: Chapter 10


“You’re never perfectly safe. No human being on Earth ever is or ever was. To live is to risk your life, your heart, everything.” Rick Yansey, The Last Star

When I first thought about this chapter, I was going to write about how being safe makes us happier. And to a large degree, that’s true.

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist best known for putting together a hierarchy of basic needs that describes the human quest for happiness. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a model of human needs, usually shown as a pyramid with five layers. The bottom layer has to be in place for the next layer to be relevant, and so on. The first, most important need of a human being, according to this model, is physiological needs. These are food, water, warmth, and rest. Safety comes next on the layers of the pyramid. Physiological needs and safety can be classed together as ‘basic needs’. Next up the pyramid is love and belonging, then esteem, which together form psychological needs. Finally, at the top, is self actualisation, leading to self fulfilment.

When my husband left, my sense of safety was torn apart. We had been together for nearly 12 years, and we had a six year old son. We had lived in the same house for nearly ten years, but suddenly I was scared to be at home. I recognise that it was a combination of my world crumbling around me, my trust being destroyed, and getting my head around so much change and responsibility.

My physiological needs were still being met in the main. I had food, water, and warmth. Rest evaded me, and for months I didn’t sleep at all well. Thankfully a sympathetic doctor provided sleeping tablets which eased the occasional really difficult night, and herbal sleeping tablets from the chemist helped most of the time. I have always been a good sleeper, I can fall asleep any time, anywhere. I learned that without sleep, absolutely everything else in life becomes dramatically more difficult.

Since my physiological needs were being met, it was my safety that most concerned me. For some reason, it was specifically at home that I struggled. I had an alarm system fitted, got a personal alarm which I keep in my bedroom, slept with a cricket bat under the bed, and locked more doors and windows than ever before. I recognise that this is not necessarily normal behaviour, but my sense of safety was damaged, and until I could repair it, I couldn’t begin to repair my sense of love and belonging or my self esteem.

Over two years later, my fear has massively reduced, and I am rebuilding other areas of my life. So now I am tempted to write this chapter more along the lines of the quote at the beginning, with the theory that to achieve great things, you must take great risk. By great things, I mean experiencing true love, and friendship, as well as for example success in your career, building a business, or living your dream.

But still, I think, I come back to the fact that we cannot achieve any of these things if we haven’t met our basic need for safety. Only once this is met can we develop further as a person, and become happier.

So if you feel at risk in any area of your life, what can you put in place to help you feel more safe? For then, as Abraham Maslow said, “What a man can be, he must be.” With our basic physiological and safety needs met, we can work towards being the best version of ourselves, or as Brene Brown would say, we can be ‘good enough’. That’s good enough for me, and I find that this lifelong journey makes me happy. I hope it can do the same for you.

© Sue Palmer, The Horse Physio, 2021

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