The Complex Relationship Between Happiness and Motivation

happiness and motivation

Lately I’ve been asking myself questions about the relationship between happiness and motivation.

For example, if I’m truly happy, then why is it that I feel motivated to change certain things about my life? Why do I strive to work out and become more fit, or find a girlfriend, or improve my financial situation? Is it possible to be motivated to improve these things while still being happy and content? Or are happiness and motivation at odds with one another?

I don’t think I have a complete answer to these questions, but here are some valuable things to keep in mind about the relationship between happiness and motivation.


Can too much happiness hurt motivation?

I guess it depends on your definition of happiness. If you define happiness as being fully satisfied and content with everything in your life, then there would never be anything you’re motivated to change.

Motivation implies a willingness to make something better. But if you’re happy with everything, then there is nothing you want to make better because everything is already fine the way it is.

But maybe there’s a point where too much happiness becomes complacency?

We are told we should find happiness in the moment – whenever and wherever we are – but maybe there are times where it is appropriate to be dissatisfied and willing to change our circumstances?

I wouldn’t ask someone in an abusive relationship to find happiness with everything in their life. Instead, I would tell them they need to motivate themselves to get out of that relationships as soon as possible, because it’s unhealthy and destructive.

Happiness shouldn’t be blind contentment. We should be appreciative and grateful for all the good things in our lives, but we should also acknowledge where there is room for improvement and how we can make things better.


Can too much motivation hurt happiness?

At the opposite end of the spectrum, it may also be true that too much motivation can hurt happiness.

If you are constantly motivated to improve your life, then it’s hard to find the time to step back and really appreciate anything you already have.

When I think about too much motivation affecting our happiness, I’m reminded of the overzealous business owner who needs to make more and more profit, but can never find happiness with the money they already have.

In many ways, we strive to improve aspects of our lives when we already have plenty to be happy with. We become obsessed with something – not just money, but relationships, or health, or our jobs – and it begins to take a toll on our overall well-being.


A balance between happiness and motivation?

So how can we resolve this apparent conflict between happiness and motivation? How can we be happy with the state of our lives and still push for progress at the same time?

Here are some ways I think we can exercise a balance between happiness and motivation:

  • Change your perspective on happiness. Learn to find joy in the process of growing rather than thinking of happiness as some ideal state. Be happy with gradual improvement, not perfection.

  • Reflect on the aspects of life you love and appreciate. Make a list of some of the things you have in your life to be happy about. Be specific. Take the time to imagine how your life would be if you didn’t have these things.

  • Express gratitude through your actions. Find ways to express your gratitude through small positive actions, such as writing a letter to someone, dedicating a song or poem, giving a gift, donating to a charity, or volunteering in your community. Don’t just keep your gratitude to yourself, express it to the outside world.

  • Accept aspects of life you can’t change. Trying to change things that are outside of your control can be a waste of time and effort. It can also make you frustrated and depressed. Sometimes it is better to accept your limitations rather than attempt to change something that you have little to no power to change.

  • Take power over the things you can change. While there are many aspects of life you don’t have control over, the truth is you do have some power over your life. You cannot always change external circumstances, but you can change your beliefs, attitudes, choices, and actions within those circumstances. Recognizing this power and exercising it is an important aspect of living a happy and successful life no matter what your situation may be.

  • Discover what intrinsically motivates you. Intrinsic motivation is when you are driven to do an activity because you love doing it – not because other people think you should, or because you are going to get some external reward (like money). A big part of living a happy and motivated life is doing activities that align with your core interests and values.

  • Make time for relaxation. Relaxation is an important part of motivation. Your energy and will-power are limited, and the only way to replenish them is to take time out of your day to relax and unwind. Pushing yourself to be motivated 100% of the time is impractical and undesirable. When you start to get tired, your work begins to slack off too. Often it’s better to take a short break rather than push yourself through another hour of sloppy and unfocused work.

The more we understand the relationship between happiness and motivation, the more we can keep a healthy balance between them. Although at the surface they may seem opposed to one another, the truth is they are both important aspects to our well-being and success.


You can learn more about self-improvement in my new e-book The Science of Self Improvement.

The Science of Self Improvement