Meaning and motivation (or lack thereof...)

Looking for what really matters and motivates in life? Meaning and motivation address basic human questions whose answers can have a significant effect on happiness and well-being. These constructs can be incorporated in one’s daily life within the context and with the help of positive psychology. 


Meaning, the misunderstood health factor
To find meaning in one’s own existence means to define an ultimate purpose that transcends life’s contingencies, while remaining capable of focusing on what happens in the present. According to Seligman (2002), meaning is attributed to positive or negative events; ensuing opportunities for growth and maturation can be confronted by using one’s signature strengths and virtues. These efforts at full resource utilization and personal coherence can be more successful if they are part of an individual’s global existential plan. In a time in which old traditions have been superseded by uncertain new ones, in which institutions no longer are a stable point of reference, the individual is faced with a fundamental existential question: what is the sense of it all? For Viktor Frankl (1959), a prolific writer and a psychotherapist who described his experiences in Nazi death camps during World War II, the search for meaning is a primary force in life and not simply a secondary rationalization of instinctual drives. He states that although we are free to choose, we are not instinctively driven to moral behavior; in each instance it is the individual who decides to behave morally and is motivated by his or her values. Research conducted on the benefits of having purpose in life shows that it can be a factor in adjustment, in overall quality of life, and in treating pathological conditions. Thompson (2003), in a major study of 1,391 adults with traumatic spinal cord injury, concluded that talk therapy aimed at strengthening the patients’ sense of purpose in life was effective at improving their adjustment and quality of life. Other studies provide evidence that positive attributions of meaning can be useful for victims of trauma (Lantz, 1997); chronic pain (Khatami, 1987); Guillain-Barre syndrome (Stavros, 1991); acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (Giovinco & McDougald, 1994); and other life-threatening diseases (Kass, 1996). Numerous studies carried out within the field of positive psychology on resilience (Tugade, 2002), general mental health (Fairman & Knapp, 2005; Lopez & Magyar-Moe, 2006; Vaillant, 2003), hardiness and coping (Lloyd & Atella, 2000), and psychology in the workplace (Luthans, 2002) reveal that having a meaningful life promotes psychophysical well-being and happiness by providing a pervasive and transcendental sense that one’s efforts matter.


Motivation, the push and pull of life
In modern psychological terminology, as well as in common parlance, the word motivation is used interchangeably to define different constructs and concepts. It may be used in reference to Freudian impulses (Freud, 1950), Skinnerian conditioned responses (Skinner, 1938), Maslowian need fulfillment efforts (Maslow, 1987) and other heterogeneous processes and behaviors. Motivation is also sometimes described as push and sometimes as a pull, depending on whether its behavioral (motivation as need fulfillment) or psychodynamic (motivation as the pull of primordial forces) characteristics are emphasized (Lazarus, 1993). The problem with these definitions is that they may oversimplify motivation, emphasizing its showier manifestations and neglecting other important aspects, such as its circular relationship to happiness and well-being. Motivation has been defined as essential to adaptive functioning and quality of life (Marin & Chakravorty, 2005), and as the content of the positive thinking one wishes to maintain towards the attainment of an objective (Schweingruber, 2006). In studying the impact of motivation on human behavior, a group of researchers has looked at the contributions of social cognitive theory and studied the ways in which individuals represent objectives and behaviors (Conroy, Kaye, & Coatsworth, 2006), perceive and evaluate their own ability to learn (Harris, Mowen, & Brown, 2005), and construct their expectation of future results (Sinkavich, 1994). This cognitive approach has placed the accent on motivation as representation. Another group of studies focused on the energetic aspects of motivation, and specifically on the factors that activate behavior towards objectives or activities that are perceived as attractive and to which the individual may attribute value. Theories of intrinsic motivation and research on self-interest are part of this line of inquiry, and they include studies by Harter (1996) and Silon (1985) on competence, on self-determination by Ryan and colleagues (2006), and work on cognitive processes and emotion (Hidi & Baird, 1986, 1988). A third aspect of motivation analyzed by researchers in recent years is the self-regulation of learning. It looks at the ways or strategies with which the individual monitors, motivates and modifies behaviors in order to reach learning objectives (Boekaerts & Minnaert, 2006; Paris & Winograd, 1990; Rozendaal, Minnaert, & Boekaerts, 2001; Zimmerman & Campillo, 2003).

Get help

To make an appointment with Dr. Z, call (678) 554-5632 or click the blue button to request an appointment using the online form. We can go over your current situation, identify the ways in which the quest for meaning or low motivation are affecting your life and that of your loved ones, or how current conflicts are impairing these relationships. We will put some dimensions to the problem, and identify your current resources that may be applied toward meaningful and lasting change. If additional resources and skills are needed, we will treat your severe symptoms and help you feel calmer and increase your ability to choose the most appropriate response to each situation. Treating family of origin or current conflicts is feasible, it’s proven to be effective, and has helped many people who had a variety of different symptoms and challenges. Call and make your appointment today and we can get started!

Schedule an appointment