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Motivation Escapes Us When We Don’t Understand Its Machinery

Motivation is a mysterious mechanism that varies from person to person. Duke University professor and behavioral economist Dan Ariely says that there’s a dissonance between what we think motivates people and what actually does — the difference between short-term and long-term happiness.

The most commonly-assumed formula for motivation is that money = motivation, or that motivation = money. But, while luxury rewards are a powerful idea, they’re not necessarily what drive us. Ariely thinks our most common mistake in motivation is deferring instantly to money rather than considering the value of meaning and accomplishment.

People often seek out challenging and intense tasks — such as building furniture, running marathons, and creating music — even when they have no financial benefit. By limiting our perspective to assuming that motivation only boils down to money, we’re missing out on all of the things that motivate us that are accomplishment-related or are meaningful.

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