Peak experience

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Peak experience is a kind of transpersonal and ecstatic state, particularly one tinged with themes of euphoria, harmonization and interconnectedness. Individuals characterize these experiences, and the revelations imparted therein, as possessing an ineffably mystical and spiritual quality or essence.


Peak experiences were originally described by psychologist Abraham Maslow as "moments of highest happiness and fulfillment" in his 1964 work Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences.[1] To some extent the term represents Maslow's attempt to denominate those experiences which have generally been identified as religious experiences and whose origins have, by implication, been thought of as supernatural. Maslow (1970) believed the origin, core and essence of every known "high religion" was "the private, lonely, personal illumination, revelation, or ecstasy of some acutely sensitive prophet or seer" (p. 19).

In original peak experience research, Maslow utilized interviews and questionnaires to gather participants' testimonies of peak experience. These early studies suggested common triggers for peak experience included art, nature, sex, creative work, music, scientific knowledge, and introspection.[2]

Historically, peak experience is associated with the psychological phenomenon flow (psychology). Peak experience is differentiated from flow due to a number of factors including subjective level of experience intensity: while peak experience denotes a high level of stimulation or euphoria, flow is not associated with an increased level of stimulation.[2] For further differentiation, see "Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization" below.


An individual in a peak experience will perceive the following simultaneously:

  • loss of judgment to time and space[3]
  • the feeling of being one whole and harmonious self, free of dissociation or inner conflict[3]
  • the feeling of using all capacities and capabilities at their highest potential, or being "fully functioning"[3]
  • functioning effortlessly and easily without strain or struggle[3]
  • feeling completely responsible for perceptions and behavior. Use of self-determination to becoming stronger, more single-minded, and fully volitional[3]
  • being without inhibition, fear, doubt, and self-criticism[3]
  • spontaneity, expressiveness, and naturally flowing behavior that is not constrained by conformity[3]
  • a free mind that is flexible and open to creative thoughts and ideas[3]
  • complete mindfulness of the present moment without influence of past or expected future experiences[3]

Peak Experiences in Self-Actualization[edit]

Self-Actualization is a concept developed by Abraham Maslow that is characterized by one becoming all they want to be, and can be, by maximizing their potential.[4] A common phenomenon that many self-actualized people experience is called flow (psychology), proposed by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi.[4] Flow (psychology) has been described as a state of mind when one is using their full potential, completely immersed in their current activity, and are therefore not conscious of time, or anything else for that matter.[4]

Self-actualized people often experience flow (psychology), as well as peak experiences.[4] Although flow (psychology) and peak experiences are often thought of as the same thing, they are different occurrences. While flow (psychology) is a subjective conscious process that happens internally, peak experiences are describing an event that has occurred to someone who was functioning at optimal levels.[5] Peak experiences are the actual outcome of an external occurrence, while flow (psychology) is an internal mental process that may or may not precede a peak experience.[5] Due to the nature and characteristics of self-actualized individuals, peak experiences often occur in their lives with their ability to perceive, accept, understand, and enjoy the journey of life.[6]

Examples of Peak Experiences[edit]

Polyson (1985):
"Most of the peak experiences had occurred during athletic, artistic, religious, or nature experiences, or during intimate moments with a friend or family member."[7]

Maslow (1962):
"Think of the most wonderful experience of your life: the happiest moments, ecstatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in love, or from listening to music or suddenly 'being hit' by a book or painting, or from some creative moment."[3]

Specific examples of peak experiences:

  • Scientific discoveries; seeing or discovering some phenomenon for the first time[8]
  • Extreme sports activities-mountain biking, mountain/rock climbing, sky diving, snowboarding[5]
  • Musical talents-while playing an instrument alone, or with a group[9]


Abraham Maslow considers the peak experience to be one of the most important goals of life, as it is an indication of self-actualization.[3] This moment of feeling wholly and completely the true self makes the peak experience an essential component of identity.[3] The aftereffects of the peak experience leave the individual to see himself and the world in a new way. He views himself more positively, he views life as worthwhile and meaningful, and most importantly, he seeks to repeat the experience.[3] The peak experience is an exhibition of Maslow’s emphasis on the quest for positive growth maximizing potential as the true goal of human existence.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Maslow, A.H. (1964). Religions, values, and peak experiences. London: Penguin Books Limited.
  2. ^ a b Privette, G. (1983). Peak experience, peak performance and flow: A comparative analysis of positive human experiences. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 45, 1361-1368.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Maslow, Abraham H. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold. 
  4. ^ a b c d Larsen, R. J.; Buss, D. M. (2008). Personality Psychology: Domains of knowledge about human nature third edition. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. 
  5. ^ a b c Capon, John. "Flow and Peak Experience". 
  6. ^ Cherry, Kendra. "Characteristics of Self-Actualized People". 
  7. ^ Polyson, J. (1985). "Student's peak experiences: A written exercise.". Teaching of Psychology, 12. pp. 211–213. 
  8. ^ Charlton, Bruce (1998). "Peak experiences, creativity and the Colonel Flastratus phenomenon."Abraxas vol. 14"". pp. 10–19. 
  9. ^ Whaley, John; Sloboda, John; Gabrielsson, Alf (2008). "Peak experiences in music". 

Further reading[edit]