Every human being has an innate urge for self-realization. At its most basic level, self-realization is manifest in the desire to reproduce and ensure the survival of the offspring. All living beings share the instinct of reproduction since, in its absence, they could have no continuity. Yet the instinct of reproduction is just a primary fundamental within the comprehensive Self- Realization Instinct (SRI).
For instance, it is the instinct of reproduction that impels salmon fish, swimming in the ocean, to take the difficult, exhausting and highly dangerous swim upstream the river, in order to reach their birth site where they spawn and fertilize their eggs. They protect the eggs as well as possible and then die. It is this instinct that sometimes compels animals to risk or sacrifice their lives for their future generation.
Among human beings, SRI has expanded to include further manifestations: the desire to leave a mark in the world, the desire to stand out or be different in any manner, the desire to attain achievements, the quest for purpose, meaning or a reason for being and more. Self-realization is also apparent in adhering to and adopting beliefs and ideologies, that could be sometimes odd or extreme. Actually, any action intended to fill a void or any emptiness is included in the definition of self- realization, such as, work, exposure to positive or negative stimuli, study, research, satisfying curiosity, sports, hobbies, satisfying needs and even entertainment. Any action that satisfies us or makes us happy is included under the definition of self-realization.
SRI actually overlaps the survival instinct to a certain extent. However, it is a separate, independent instinct that could often conflict with the survival instinct. Both instincts originate from the same trunk and, at some point, the SRI branches out of it and stands alone. We can learn about the intensity and independence of the SRI from those fanatics who, for a cause that they find sublime, are willing to join extremist organizations and even sacrifice their lives. To them, committing suicide for a cause that justifies their beliefs is the ultimate form of self-realization. This example demonstrates that the SRI can even overpower the survival instinct.
Self-Realization and Happiness
Successfully progressing toward self-realization elevates the mood and fights depression. Since the aim of this instinct is the attainment of happiness, SRI can be interchangeable with pursuit of happiness. The more significant and important the act taken toward self-realization, the greater the satisfaction and happiness that we derive from it, if successful.
A person in the midst of a significant self-realization process has a higher endurance level and ability to sustain pain. This is exemplified by the monks and fakirs, who abstain from the pleasures of life following their beliefs and expressing their uniqueness. A person suffering from a severe disease or handicap can be happy when doing something significant toward self-realization and the activity itself could prolong his life. People suffering from terminal illnesses suffer less if they engage in any activity that leads towards completing a process of significant self-realization, such as a research paper, doctoral thesis or any other activity that will leave a mark.
In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”, Viktor Frankl describes the life of concentration camp prisoners who are exploited as cheap labor, under terrible conditions until they die. Viktor Frankl concludes that man’s main desire is to fulfill the meaning of life and implement his internal values and that if he is able to find the meaning and insight, it will also solve part of his emotional distress. Apparently, even in the most horrible of conditions, SRI prevails and its activation could somewhat alleviate the suffering.
Harming the self-realization process could lead to depression. This process is impaired when a person fails to reach his individual goals, or alternately if he has no objectives or purpose, or if such objectives have become insignificant to him, or if he feels that the goals before him are beyond his ability. In the eyes of a person who has lost interest in life, all of the goals seem useless and pointless and he considers them mere chores that must be completed and not means for self-realization.
The vast majority of human beings consider childbirth and raising a child to be the uttermost expression of self-realization. Thus, it is hard to understand women who suffer from postpartum depression. This form of depression could be explained in that they might consider childbirth and child rearing to be too big a task for them and one that is beyond their abilities.
The Self-Realization Instinct and Evolution
SRI, in its most basic form, i.e. the urge to reproduce, must have been generated together with the creation of life. The mere creation of life without the primal urge to reproduce would not have enable evolution to occur. The urge to reproduce, develop and constantly improve underlies SRI. When we succeed in any activity that results in self- realization we derive happiness and conversely, when we fail we get depressed. Thus, the self- realization instinct becomes an urging and driving force that propels us by the carrot and stick method. The Self-Realization Instinct is, therefore, evolution’s hidden driving force, which led species to continuously develop and improve. It is that instinct that has brought humankind to its current level and continues to propel it forward. We are all programmed to strive toward happiness and to develop, even if it involves wars, injustice and dishonesty. At the end of the day, progress prevails.
The mere creation of life is a mysterious wonder. The fact that SRI was simultaneously created further enhances the intensity of this wonder. Another question to be asked is whether such a double wonder could have been created on its own or whether some intelligent design is behind it.