Motivation | ˌmōdəˈvāSH(ə)n

noun: the reason or reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way.

When it comes to motivation, literature still lacks a general definition. Despite the fact that many theories have been proposed over the years, we are still unsure what determines what we want.

Meanwhile, research in the field of Positive Psychology has come closer to understanding whether what we want actually makes us happy.


Understanding Motivation

Motivation, simply put, is wanting. But what determines what we want?

Some basic ideas have been substantiated over the years. For instance, it is widely recognized that our wanting can be either a trait (reoccurring pattern of desire) or a state (a desire dependant on a particular situation) (Baumeister, 2016).

Some theories of motivation are need-based (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, or Herzberg’s Motivation-Hygiene Theory) while others are process-based (such as John Adam’s Equity Theory or Victor Vroom’s Expectancy Theory) (Ball, 2012).

The latest research in the field of motivation has identified four different drivers which may influence what we desire, collectively or individually: the sensual, material, emotional and spiritual (Shafi, Khemka, & Choudhury, 2016). The idea of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation is also a common thread.

But the question still remains unanswered: why do we want what we want?

Research has seemed to place value on understanding the drivers of motivation and learning about their consequences; how motivation influences our life satisfaction.

Motivation and Flow

It is widely accepted that motivation affects performance. However, psychology research has found that the will to attain mastery is more beneficial for performance than an actual performance goal (Utman, 1997).

This is due to the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If we concentrate on learning, we do so for the inherent satisfaction of mastery (which is considered intrinsic motivation). This leads to flexible and creative responding and we are better able to focus on the task at hand and improve our skills.

On the other hand more extrinsically motivated behavior, such as performance goals, has been found to create a feeling of pressure which reduces engagement with the task.

The good news from the field of Positive Psychology: intrinsically motivated activities not only lead to better performance but also make us happier!

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1999) refers to activities which are in themselves rewarding as “autotelic” (from the Greek words “auto” for self and “telic” for goal). The result of such activities is the experience of “flow.”

We can experience flow while performing a hobby such as painting or playing basketball or during work. Fundamental to flow are two things: we need to possess the necessary skills for the task, and the task must be challenging.

Intrinsic motivation may lead to flow at work, which is in itself rewarding, but the best is yet to come.

Flow not only lifts the spirit momentarily, but it has also been found to build psychological capital over time, which is a major component of human growth (Csikszentmihalyi, 2003).

Just to clarify, even though time flies when you are watching television, this is not considered a flow experience as no skills are required and the activity is not challenging. Consequently, you are not building psychological capital. When you find that skill which leads to an autotelic experience of flow – not only will you master it, but you will also become happier and ensure your personal growth over time.

Success | səkˈses

noun: the accomplishment of an aim or purpose:

 the attainment of popularity or profit

 a person or thing that achieves desired aims or attains prosperity

Motivation and Success

The economic principle of utility – more equals better – precludes the assumption that humans are motivated by the possibility of acquiring more goods. Hence, the more successful we are in our careers and the more we earn, the happier we are supposed to be.

To the contrary, research has found that happiness often precedes success (Achor, 2011; Boehm & Lyubomirsky, 2008). Happy people are less likely to be unemployed, are more satisfied with their jobs, and are more likely to be supported by their co-workers. This is how they are more productive and efficient.

Cabanas & Sanchez-Gonzales (2016) go so far as to claim this to be the “inversion of [Maslow’s] pyramid of needs.” They suggest raising happiness to the first-need category as a precondition for measures such as job satisfaction and performance.

Indeed, with all basic needs met, soft factors may play a central role in life satisfaction, since we live in an era where time, not money is the scarce resource. By Birgit Ohlin, MA, BBA