Grumble Theory

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

In a famous “Saturday Night Live” skit, Gilda Radner plays a health correspondent, reporting for a news segment about the Great American Smokeout.

Warning about the dangers of tobacco use, she begins her segment by reading a letter from an American who recently quit smoking, but drifts way off topic with one grumble following another, after describing some of the challenges of quitting.

It’s Always Something

Psychologist Abraham Maslow could have inspired the skit with his widely-accepted theory of human behavior that explains the pursuit of happiness as a hierarchy of needs, nicknamed the “Grumble Theory.”

You can think of the Grumble Theory in the shape of a pyramid, with the base representing our most urgent survival needs. The pyramid’s tip represents peak experiences through our most selfish needs.

Humans rarely if ever achieve a state of motivational quiescence; in virtually every waking moment, humans are host to one motive or another, even though some motives might be so faint as to be scarcely noticed. Moreover, as soon as one motive is satisfied, another immediately “pops up to take its place,” as though it had been lurking behind the scenes all the while, just waiting for its opportunity to take center stage. When this next motive is satisfied, yet another moves in to replace it; and so on.

The Grumble Theory means that we can improve self-control with our unalienable right, or responsibility, to pursue happiness with a simple question:

What do I feel a need for right now?


Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality (New York: Harper, 1954).


2 thoughts on “Grumble Theory

  1. Such a simple, profound question to leave us with, but one that has made me vow to ask myself more. Too often we are consumed by our stress thinking that we need to fill EVERY need at once, especially in America where we are bombarded by the solutions to them on television all day everyday.

    Thank you for this! It is certainly something I will come back to several times a day and even more when I start to feel overwhelmed by the pace of life.

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