The Spirituality-Motivation Link

In my post The 16 Drivers of Meaning and Motivation I outlined the desires that activate people’s internal energy and behavior. According to Dr. Steven Reiss, and his research with thousands of people around the world, these drivers are basic to every human and are associated deeply with our sense of value and meaning.

You might ask, “So where is spirituality in the 16?” As a spiritual person –I like to think of myself as spiritual much more than religious – I seek to find the spiritual thread in all things. This certainly includes who we are as humans, how we behave, and what motivates us to act in certain ways.

At face value, the 16 basic desires seem to be missing a spiritual element and “spiritual people” may discount the theory prematurely because they do not see overt terminology to describe spirit, God, higher power, religion, or some associated concept. However, if you look into each element you will find that spirituality is evident in each. This is significant to our understanding of our pursuit of meaning and happiness.

Because I place a high priority on spirituality, I like to think of this spiritual element in each desire as the component that gives it energy. In essence, each desire factor has a spiritual nucleus. If we seek each desire we only find partial fulfillment if we neglect to fulfill our spiritual connection for each of our high intensity desires. I won’t go through them all, but here are a few examples of the spiritual nucleus for several of the basic desires.

Acceptance – Almost all religions and beliefs systems place high value on acceptance. God, or a higher power is the premier example of ultimate acceptance and love. Most religions teach that we should love and accept others.

Power – Power is the desire to influence or lead. Spirituality can drive our desire to influence our children, family members, friends, and others through relationships, teaching, mentoring, service, and ministry.

Idealism – Idealism is the desire to create fairness, justice, and equality in the world. Seeking spiritual growth and connectedness is rooted in a belief in something greater than ourselves and outside of an egocentric perspective. Spirituality holds unselfishness, humility, and aiding those who are treated unjustly.

Tranquility – Tranquility is the desire to avoid stress. Almost all spiritual activities are geared to provide solace via prayer, meditation, song, study, and social connection or to seek and contemplate an ultimate tranquility in the afterlife.

Social Contact – Social Contact is the desire to be with other people. Most spiritual and religious organizations and activities involve some element of social contact and support. Although a person may not always have a high desire for social contact, people report greater spiritual satisfaction and consistency when they are involved in a community of similar believers.

I think it’s important to note that a person doesn’t need a strong intense desire in each of the 16 factors to be a spiritual person. It’s actually the uniqueness of a person’s combination of intensity in each of the 16 desires that determine their interest in certain spiritual activities

Let’s take a person who has a weak desire for interdependence, a strong desire for idealism, and weak desire for social contact as an example. This person may find greater spiritual satisfaction in helping a single mother fix her car on a Sunday morning than attending a church service. For this kind of person, service and less social forms of spiritual activity is more attractive and leads to greater motivation and spiritual fulfillment.

As a contrasting example, let’s take a person who has a strong desire for curiosity, a strong desire for social contact, and a weak desire for expedience. This person may find greater spiritual fulfillment in studying the Bible to uncover truths with a group of people on a Sunday morning.

As a species, we are more diverse that we think. Although our basic desires and motivational drivers are common, it is the intensity of these desires that make us unique in how motivated we are for certain activities and how we work, play, love, and live out our spirituality.

4 Comments on “The Spirituality-Motivation Link

  1. Hi there Dr Jones, I love your site and I think I’ve read all your posts!! I came here looking for ways to motivate myself but I come away from your site understanding so much more – your book is on my list :)

    “Tranquility is the desire to avoid stress” – this is something I have been yearning for so long and all the other tips and posts combined along with your book, no doubt, will instil the greatest confidence in me to better my life and become a leader in my own right. Thank you!!

  2. I think that spirituality does not necessary mean someone who is deeply religious, as you say, I think of myself as spiritual but not necessarily religious. You mentioned ‘social contact’ and although this is a huge human trait that everyone should work to putting high on their list of life I don’t think it always goes hand in hand with spirituality.

    One of my neighbors is very spiritual and she hardly ever goes out, she finds her spirituality in her walking tours and hiking trips, she finds it in the outdoor world and not always sharing her feelings with other people. Personally I agree with you that sharing such a belief is best for most people but not everyone.

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