Peak Experiences: Their Definition and Origins

Let's discuss peak experiences. They are linked to your self-worth and they can happen to everybody. Even if sometimes people don't realize it.
Peak Experiences: Their Definition and Origins

Last update: 31 July, 2021

Human beings have had peak experiences since the most remote times. They were seen differently to what we see now and had different labels. Thanks to American psychologist Abraham Maslow, this concept was coined and psychology started using it.

But what are peak experiences? In this article, we’ll discuss their main characteristics and the origin of this psychological term.

“The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

-Abraham Maslow-

A happy woman.

What are peak experiences?

They’re transient moments, also known as updates. They’re moments in time when people feel complete, part of something, and aware of themselves and the world.

They’re experiences that come after self-fulfillment. Besides, you could say they’re those wonderful moments of joy that come from deep emotions and perceptions.

Also, according to Maslow in his book Religions, Values and Peak Experiences (1964), are moments of highest happiness and fulfillment. They’re about experiences where time freezes, feelings are overwhelming, and human needs are fulfilled.

Abraham Maslow first coined the term peak experiences.

The origins of the term

The term peak experiences was coined by Abraham Maslow in his psychological theories. It occurred after his interest in significance. He wondered about the highest states of fulfillment in human experiences and their relation to psychology.

The importance of this study lies in the importance of milestones. It’s about people satisfying a series of needs to reach self-fulfillment.

He discovered that there were more intense and transient moments of self-fulfillment, what he called peak experiences. He also suggested they had a mystical aspect and were scattered throughout time.

Likewise, he kept working on that concept and saw that these experiences can be triggered by intense loving emotions, art, music, and beauty. He also agreed that peak experiences can be the climax of an act of discharge.

The characteristics of peak experiences

Abraham Maslow wasn’t the only one that studied peak experiences. Other psychologists supplemented his legacy. Let’s see some characteristics of peak experiences:

  • They’re a source of positive emotions.
  • These experiences go beyond time and space.
  • Their nature is paradoxical.
  • Peak experiences have positive effects that last beyond their existence.
  • The person feels one with the universe.
  • They give a feeling of intense positive affection.
  • People feel free and complete after experiencing them.
A happy woman.

According to Abraham Maslow, everybody has had peak experiences. Sometimes people don’t give them too much importance. Thus, these are wonderful experiences that people may not be aware of. To understand this better, think about one of those times when a song made you cry, you’ve licked your lips after a great meal, or you wanted to stay in that balcony talking with your friends.

Remember that we’re talking about feeling ecstatic. To make it easier to identify, people can ask themselves: “What triggered that experience?”, “How did it feel?”, “Did it feel different?”, “Was I aware of time and space?”, “Was it passionate?”, and “Did I feel like I had a place in the universe?”

See your child being born, coming out of a deep depression, a piece of beautiful art, feeling an extraordinary affection… All of these events can be peak experiences. Also, those moments where you lose track of time and space, because you’re enjoying yourself so much.

In short, they can be experienced by any human being. On the other hand, you may not know it. You can experience it without knowing that it’s a peak experience. When experiencing this, there’s usually a deep connection with a focal point, forgetting about everything else.

It might interest you...
The Impact of Happiness on Health According to Harvard
Exploring your mind
Read it in Exploring your mind
The Impact of Happiness on Health According to Harvard

For a while, researchers have been discussing the impact of happiness on health. The question here is: can happiness lead to health?

  • Cloniger, S.C. (2002). Teorías de la personalidad. (Cap 14). Pearson.

  • Maslow, A. (1964). Religions, values, and peak-experiences. (Vol.35). Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.