You can be motivated to do something intrinsically (it gives you satisfaction and enjoyment) or extrinsically (you are given a reward, such as money or recognition). Most people know that intrinsic rewards are the sweeter of the two. That’s basically what those saying “Find a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life” mean.

Relying on external rewards lowers satisfaction.

  • You will like your job less if your primary motivation is prestige or money.
  • You will appreciate your relationships less if you choose your friends and partners based on their social standing.
  • You will relish your vacation less if you choose the destination for how it will look on social media.

Money, possessions, and power are all extrinsic. Emulating them in others will lead you to extrinsic motivations for your own activities, which will likely lower happiness. Instead, look for admirable intrinsic characteristics in others—such as compassion, faith, fortitude, and honesty. Imitating these characteristics cultivates intrinsic motivations. Thus, they are the best criteria for finding the right role models and mentors to imitate and learn from.

The box-checking exercise tends to be about my wants . Shifting it to others’ needs brings greater well-being. Decades of research —and millennia of common sense—have shown that self-centeredness leads to fluctuating emotions at best, while a focus on the needs of others can bring stable happiness. And lest you think this makes a person passive or unambitious, note that there is a significant body of evidence showing that a focus on the good of one’s institution (as opposed to oneself) enhances career success as well.


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