Looking back thousands of years ago at the ancient Greeks and Romans, We haven’t changed much. Today we still crave status, wealth, material things amongst others.
The only difference today is you are probably less likely to kill your farther so you can gain status as Emporer.
We tell ourselves that if we get this promotion we’ll be happy, If I get that new car then I’ll impress so and so. I need a big house then I’ll be successful.
But do achieving these things make you happy.
Researcher Tim Kasser has found that it doesn’t, After his first study surveying 316 students and a follow up on 140 18-year-olds he found that the more you value external things the higher the likely hood you will struggle with depression and anxiety (328.) This wasn’t just happening with young people Tim studied 100 adults from Upstate new york with various backgrounds and got the same results (327.)
Upon further studies, He found that not only placing a higher value on materialistic things were causing anxiety and depression, But materialistic people have a lower quality of life, they get sicker more and anger more easily has less joy and face more despair (327 & 328.)
Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation
Extrinsic motivation is when we are motivated to perform a behaviour or engage in an activity because we want to earn a reward or avoid punishment.(329& 330) Basically, you probably won’t enjoy this activity, Like putting in extra hours at work just to get a promotion, but you do it for the reward or status gain.
Intrinsic motivation is when you engage in behaviour because you find it rewarding. You are performing an activity for its own sake rather than from the desire for some external reward (329.)
When a child plays, they are playing because they enjoy it. They are not doing it for a reward, they can find joy out of anything they are acting Intrinsicly.
When an adult goes to work, to a job they hate, they are going to earn money to pay the bills. They are acting Extrincly. In my first couple of years at high school, I acted up in class, not because I wanted to because I wanted to gain status as a cool kid and impress the girls also acting exextrinsic. (And no I never gained that cool kid status.)
In and Extrinsic goals are ingrained in all of us. We all need to do stuff for the external reward (like work) and we have things we do for the pure joy of it (Like spending time with family.)
However the more we focus on one thing the less we have with the others. Imagine it as like a pie.
The more you spend on one thing the bigger that slice becomes. Say you work all the time the work slice becomes bigger whilst family time, fun time etc gets smaller.
The same is true for other things, you spend more time on your intrinsic values like painting, then you become great at painting but you will have no money because you’re hardly working.
Tim Kessler studied a group of two hundred people in detail over time (331). He got them to lay out their goals for the future. He then figured out with them if these were extrinsic goals or intrinsic goals And then he got them to keep a detailed mood diary.
The goal was to find out what the difference between achieving intrinsic goals as compared to extrinsic goals.
The results found that even though people spent huge amounts of energy achieving an extrinsic goal like a promotion they didn’t experience any increase in happiness. Your promotion? Your fancy car? The new iPhone? The expensive necklace? They won’t improve your happiness even one inch (328.)
Intrinsic goals did make you happier and less depressed and less anxious (331.) Which makes sense if your spending more time with your family simply for the joy of it, or doing something you love with no external pressure you are going to significantly boost your happiness.
Say you have a job you enjoy, you are going to perform better at it simply for the joy of it, which is going to improve your quality of work and as a byproduct, you are going to get rewarded more for that than say you have the same job but you are doing it for the status and promotion. You break your back putting in extra hours and trying to score brownie points. then say you don’t even get the promotion how is that going to make you feel.
Studies from all around the world, not just Tim Kessler have found the more you value external things the more you will struggle with depression and the more extrinsically motivated the more anxious you’ll become.
These studies just go to show that if you are struggling with anxiety and depression and you go to the doctors and they give you antidepressants they aren’t focusing on the problem so when you come off them you will still value these external things.
The solution, whilst we all need extrinsic values we need to do more things for the sake of the fact that we just want to. Paint for the sake of painting, bake for the sake of baking, do you really need to work an extra 10 hours this week, probably not.