Five Universal Life Tasks

Alfred Adler, a leading psychologist of the early 20th century, determined that there were three Universal Life Tasks They are described as universal in that they are not characteristic of humanity, rather than limited by gender, nationality, age, culture, or any other subset of humanity.


Alfred Adler (1870-1937)

They are:

  • Social Task (developing friendships)

  • Intimacy Tasks (developing sexual, as well as loving and familial, relationships)

  • Occupational Tasks (contributing positively to community)

Adler felt that “all the questions of life can be subordinated to the three major problems–the problems of comml life, of work, and of love.”

A failure in any of these three areas can (will?) lead to serious psycho-emotional problems.

Harold Mosak and Rudolf Dreikurs of the Alfred Adler Institute of Chicago, in 1966 suggested two more Universal Life Tasks. In so doing, they were actually taking some thoughts of Adler that had not been fully developed, and added to that some ideas from Lewis Way and Irvin Neufeld. They suggested that these other two– “all interrelated, and therefore, affecting the solution of the three tasks, but transcending them.”

  • Self Tasks (accepting and respecting self)
  • Spiritual Tasks (finding positive meaning/purpose, relationship with God)

Mosak and Dreikurs did not describe the last task in exactly those terms… no direct reference to God, for example. However, the idea is there. They described this task as “the need to adjust to the problems beyond the mere existence on this earth and to find meaning to our lives, to realize the significance of human existence through transcendental and spiritual involvement.”

These five universal tasks tie nicely with one of the most well known formulas in the Bible– ‘The Great Commandment.”

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27, HCSB)

If one looks at the first three universal life tasks, healthy intimacy with others, productive role in the community, and friendships with those around, these are all “neighbor or community” tasks. As such they could arguably be seen as aspects of “Loving one’s Neighbor.” Loving one’s neighbor can be seen, although not necessarily limited to having intimate relationships with family, positive friendships with those one interacts with regularly, and positive role in the broader community.

The fourth task (self-acceptance and self-respect) certainly relates to Loving Self, a love implied in the Great Commandment.

The fifth task (Spiritual Task) can be seen as relating to loving God.

So one could break down the Great Commandment into three components

  1. Love God                   –Spiritual Tasks
  2. Love Neighbor         –Social, Intimacy, and Occupational Tasks
  3. Love Self                   –Self Tasks

Such an interconnection is not, perhaps, that interesting. What, arguably, is more interesting is the statement of Mosak and Dreikurs that the latter two tasks could be thought of as inter-related with the other three, but also transcending them.

Many theologians see the Great Commandment in a similar light. First, they see the Commandment, although consisting of two or perhaps three components, act as a unity. It is a single commandment with three inter-related parts. Second, however, two of the components transcend in a sense the third. That is, we are unable to love our neighbor unless we love God and we love ourselves. A failure of one component ultimately leads to a failure in all aspects.

If you are interested in reading the paper referenced of Mosak and Dreikurs, it is available HERE.


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