Is the pursuit of happiness the only reason for our behavior?

Best-selling author Andrew Matthews wrote in his book Happiness in Hard Times that: “The motivation behind everything you do – and the motivation behind everything everybody does – is to feel better. Don’t take my word for it. Ask the psychologists or read Plato, Aristotle and Sigmund Freud… There is broad agreement about why we do what we do – we want to be happy and stay happy.”

The late famous French physicist and inventor Blaise Pascal had a similar point-of-view. He said that: “All men seek happiness… Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end… This is the motive of every action of every man…”

I believe that happiness is a powerful motive, and it’s probably the most common. But there can be others. Fear, habit and survival are three of them.

Choose care, kindness and respect as our key motives. They’ll help ensure that our health and happiness soar.

What are some common motives?

First, let’s explore some possible reasons for our behavior:

  • Love.
  • Fear. Example: some people stay in bad relationships that they dislike because they fear that if they leave them, the alternatives might be worse.
  • Addiction/habit. They might give us short-term happiness, but can be followed by longer lasting unhappiness, guilt and shame.
  • To fit in with our culture, friends, work group etc.
  • Anger caused by hatred, jealousy or revenge.
  • To make other people feel happy. Example: to please their spouses, children or employers, some people do things that they dislike.
  • Real – or perceived – obligation.
  • To stay alive/to survive.

You might say that the underlying motive for all of the reasons listed above – and any other reason – is still the desire to be happy. I disagree. Not all behaviors are conscious – they are given little, if any, thought. Some people might have behaviors that they don’t want. They might prefer to do other things that make them happier, but they have little or no control over one or more of their behaviors. People with obsessive compulsive disorder, addictions and bad habits can feel like this.

Reasons people can provide for their behavior that they thought little about

Below are some reasons that people can give for why they did something that they gave little thought:

  • I don’t know why I did it.
  • I wasn’t thinking.
  • It was a spur of the moment thing.
  • I was out of control! (this can relate to sudden outbursts of anger)
  • I didn’t want to do it; I just snapped!

Are motives important?

So why write about what motivates us? Does it matter? Yes, it matters a lot! Most of us want to have lots of energy. We might pop pills, or drink tea and coffee… to boost our energy. Pills and drinks are tangible. On an intangible level, emotions and motives affect our energy.

Negative motives can destroy our energy

Motives fuelled by negative emotions drain our energy. Over time, they can destroy our health, happiness and success. Research shows that stress and anger, for instance, cause our bodies to produce the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. High stress and chronic anger cause high levels of these hormones. This can increase our risk of high blood pressure, inflammation and many other illnesses. The Dalai Lama sums it up well in his book The Little Book of Wisdom. He says: “If we live our lives continually motivated by anger and hatred, even our physical health deteriorates.”

Love is a powerful motive

On the other hand, love is a strong emotion and a powerful fuel – a super motivator. Love gives us the best results and the highest energy. I don’t mean just romantic love, although this type of love can motivate us. I mean a broader meaning of love: care, kindness and respect for people, animals, our world, and so on.

When we love what we do, love one another, and love life itself, we gain energy. The most successful and happiest people care about what they do. They do their best, they respect others, and others respect them. They often say that they love their work, and they enjoy bringing happiness to others through what they do.

To boost our health, happiness and success, choose love as our main motive. Whatever saying we call it, what goes around comes around, we get what we give… karma! So to get good karma flowing to us, have love as the motive behind us.

… Once you have pure and sincere motivation, all the rest follows. You can develop this right attitude towards others on the basis of kindness, love and respect.”

– the Dalai Lama, The Little Book of Wisdom

written by Nyomi Graef

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