The 16 Drivers of Meaning & Motivation

The study of human behavior and motivation is fascinating. For centuries people have sought to better understand what drives us. Many have attempted to create a taxonomy of motivation drivers, desires, values, or motives that are basic to every human. Up until recently, attempts to do so have been educated guesses and theory.

The research of Stephen Reiss and Susan Haverford over the past several years has created the clearest understanding of the things we all desire, what we value, and therefore what motivates our behaviors. Their process of confirmatory factor analysis using data from people all over the world created a list of 16 basic desires. Each desire is statistically unique ( it does not overlap in meaning with the other 15 desires), universal (all humans have the desire), and intrinsic (internal drive that provides a sense of meaning). Below I have listed the 16 basic desires.

Acceptance – The desire to be accepted and to avoid criticism

Beauty – The desire to be in aesthetically pleasing environments

Curiosity – The desire to learn and understand

Eating – The desire for food

Expedience – The desire to act with self-interest

Family – The desire to raise children and spend time with family

Idealism – The desire to improve society

Interdependence – The desire to work with others to meet one’s needs

Order – The desire to be clean and organized

Physical Activity – The desire for physical movement and exercise

Power – The desire to lead and influence others

Saving – The desire to conserve and collect

Social Contact – The desire to be with people

Status – The desire for prestige and social standing

Tranquility – The desire to avoid stress and anxiety

Vengeance – The desire to confront others when offended and for competition

Every person embraces each of these desires but at different intensity levels ranging from weak to strong. Each person can be driven by multiple desires at one time, although they do compete for priority status. A person’s combination of intensity level for each desire makes us all unique. Any given person will have only an average level of intensity for most of the desires. It is the desires that are weak or strong in intensity that most drive motivation and focused behaviors to enable satisfying the desire. These behaviors become our personality traits and the desires mold our sense of meaning.

It is true. What gives us a sense of meaning and purpose does motivate. Understanding what desires drive our meaning and values can help us better position ourselves to be more motivated and satisfy our desires. When this happens we live with a greater sense of meaning, positive motivation and fulfillment.

Because desires are only satisfied for a short time, people are motivated by pursuing goals and activity that lead toward fulfilling the desire. Leaders can utilize this taxonomy to better understand the activities and environment a person can be put in to be more motivated and satisfied.

Motivating leaders give people opportunities to support and move toward fulfilling their deepest desires and values. This not only helps people feel valued and understood, it also helps people feel a sense of meaning and purpose on the job.