Happiness and Motivation

October 21, 2013

Math class!  It was the worst!  (Or English, or History, or Science…)  Remember how you had to force yourself to do the homework (if you did it at all)?  Struggling at the kitchen table, thinking you’ll never use this anyway so why do you have to do it?!  You might have clear memories of doing all your other work first, even cleaning your room, to avoid it.  Maybe you did your English homework right away because you loved reading and analyzing great literature.  So what was the difference between sitting down with Shakespeare versus calculus?  You did your English because it came naturally to you and you enjoyed it.  You did your Math because you had to.

The takeaway?  There are different reasons we do things, and some are more motivating than others.  So it is with happiness activities, according to The How of Happiness’s Lyubomirsky.  We are more likely to continue doing something if it feels natural to us (Natural), or if we find it interesting and challenging (Enjoy), or if we value and identify with doing it even when it’s not enjoyable (Value).  We’re less likely to continue with something if we’re doing it because otherwise we’d feel ashamed, guilty, or anxious (Guilty), or if someone or some circumstance forces us to (Situation).

Consider some habits you tried to get going but stopped almost before you began (remember that no-carb, sugarfree diet you tried?).  Now think of habits you’ve started and continued (e.g. bike riding with your friend once a week).  Which descriptor best fits your reason for doing the activity (Natural, Enjoy, Value, Guilt, Situation)?  If you’re intrinsically and positively motivated, you’re more likely to continue with that behavior than if you’re motivated through internal or external coercion.  Of course, we can’t always do things just because they come naturally to us, because we enjoy them, or because they have value to us.  But the more you can find those activities, or create those motivations, the more likely you are to continue with that habit.  And imagine how much happier you’d be if you started more of what you began!