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Happiness as a motivator


Explanations > Emotions > Happiness > Happiness as a motivator

Seeking happiness | Anticipating happiness | What really happens| So what


Happiness is a very common motivator. We want to be happy, so we choose things that we think will make us happy. But is it that simple?

Seeking happiness

We all want to be happy and it is often a critical motivator in the decisions that we make. Shall we go to the movies or shall we go for a pizza? The question by which the choice is made is 'What will make us happiest?'

This is the basic principle of philosophies like utilitarianism and hedonism. Do what makes you happy.

Sometimes also we make choices that avoid pain. In a sense, this is also about happiness. You can draw a single scale that goes from extreme unhappiness on the left, through a neutral 'zero' position to extreme happiness on the right. When making choices, we simply seek to get as far to the right as possible.

Anticipating happiness

When we have made our choices, we are also very good at looking forward to the wonderful things that will happen, especially if we have a more optimistic outlook.

Hope is a form of anticipated happiness, although it indicates that it may also be tinged with concern tat we may not meet out goals. It is in the balance of desire and fear that we keep our attention on the future and are motivated to keep going after our initial choice of routes into the future.

Also in optimism and pessimism, we tend to ignore the other point of view. People who anticipate happiness often miss the real cost and the possible downsides. Likewise, pessimists ignore the benefits when they dwell on possible bad things.

What really happens

Not that happy (or sad)

We are actually pretty bad at guessing how happy or not we will be in the future.

In anticipating happiness, we exaggerate the good things in the future because that makes us happier in the present. So when things turn out well, we may be a bit disappointed that it is not as wonderful as we had hoped.

The same thing happens if we are pessimistic: we exaggerate the possible bad things. This is one reason people are pessimistic as however things turn out, they can find some pleasure in it not being as bad as they thought it might be.

Not for that long

In anticipating happiness, we often think that some event will make up happier (or sadder) for a long time. Yet when you achieve your goals, you may be over the moon today, but you will be back on more neutral earth tomorrow. Likewise, when bad things happen, our amazingly adaptive nature helps us get over it and time is, as the saying goes, a great healer.

In fact...

If you measure the happiness of rich and poor people, you will find that there is not a lot of difference. Getting richer does not make you happier. Your basic level of happiness is more about your personality than your possessions.

Robert Louis Stephenson said 'It is better travel hopefully than arrive', indicating that the fantasised happiness of anticipation is often more pleasant than the mundane reality where perfection remains but a dream.

So what?

So when persuading, encourage the other person to think they will be permanently happier if they do as you ask.

In your own life, consider how long the happiness will last before you pay the price up front. Enjoy the journey. Look forward to good things, but beware of over-optimism that leads to disappointment.

See also

Ways to happiness, Motivation


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