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“A no-nonsense approach to building your business through relationships.”

~ Jane Applegate, syndicated Los Angeles Times columnist

The Motivation of Happiness

February 19th, 2014 by Bob Burg

Happiness smiley faceRecently, on Twitter and on my Facebook page I posted:

“A person’s main motivation is happiness and this is only attained by acting in accordance with his or her values.”

While I personally believe this to be the case β€” and I think the statement is fairly intuitive β€” it does bring up a few questions:

  1. How do we define happiness?
  2. Is “a sense of” happiness different for different people?
  3. If one’s main motivation is happiness, then why do so many intelligent people seem to make decisions that are obviously contrary to their own happiness?

Believe it or not…I have my opinions on all three of the above ;-). And, in a future post, I’d like to take a deeper look at these.

Meanwhile, I’d love to know your thoughts or any one of them or even all three?

33 Responses to “The Motivation of Happiness”
  1. Here are some of my thoughts on your very thought provoking questions Bob!

    My personal definition of Happiness:

    “Happiness is knowing what you want, and then taking responsibility for taking positive action to create what you want”

    I think the definition of happiness varies, often people do have a tendency to think happiness only occurs when everything works perfectly though. I am often heard saying (and seen tweeting):
    “Being happy is not about avoiding pain, pain is an inevitable part of being human. Suffering, however is optional.”

    Sadly our society and culture is a little confused about what happiness is, and much of it is influenced by marketing. Marketing is cleverly designed to connect with any insecurities one might have, and show how this particular product is the solution!
    Also, our education system is designed to train people as employees, rather than cultivating individual talents, children are encourage to study subjects that will secure them a “good career”, but those subjects and careers may be the opposite of what that individual’s talents actually are.
    Sadly many people never get to explore fully what their natural talents are, because they are too busy earning a living..

  2. Bob Burg said at 8:51 am on

    Claire: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

  3. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the subsequent posts πŸ™‚

  4. Bob Burg said at 9:06 am on

    Thank you, Claire! πŸ™‚

  5. Gary Hedges said at 11:45 am on


    Regardless of your definition of happiness, it is true that everyone would intuitively choose happiness over unhappiness. The rub comes with the statement that happiness is based on the alignment of values and actions. The problem is two-fold.

    First, most people could not tell you what their true values are, either because they have not thought through it, or what they say is not consistent with the true values they live out.

    Second, some people whose inner lives are a mess from our perspective might have values that, if lived out, will inevitably bring consequences that are very UNhappy, even to them.

  6. Bob Burg said at 12:32 pm on

    Gary: Thank you for sharing with us. I’ll be touching on some of that (though not as eloquently as you did) in my next couple of posts. Meanwhile, I know there’ll be lots of helpful and enlightening feedback. I will say that – in my opinion – whether or not someone consciously knows what their true values are (or could even define them if asked) or not…they do have them. And, they act upon those values on an ongoing basis.

  7. Randy Stelter said at 12:21 pm on

    Hi Bob,

    As always an insightful post and another one which helps us to grow. A good friend was fond of quoting, “Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have.” I have used that throughout my teaching career. And I agree with Claire’s views on our educational system. Having spent the past 36 years in the system, all the more reason why your books have become so popular here at Wheeler. Students are taking your words to heart and following their dreams to do what they wish and find success in the process. Thanks for your willingness to share and challenge so many.

  8. Bob Burg said at 12:33 pm on

    Randy: Thank you for your always kind words, my brother. Always appreciating you!

  9. Yet another insightful and incisive post Bob!

    And so much to agree with in your words and those from other contributors.

    Yes all people have values (as do all organisations).
    Yes too few people can accurately describe their priority values – not because they are any less bright, talented or significant than the people who can but simply that values are challenging to articulate as they reside in our unconscious within the limibc system where there is no “vocabulary”.

    We experience our values as feelings – hot/cold, light/dark, me/not me, pleasure/pain. This makes stringing together a coherent sentence to say why, witnessing that particular act of generosity or bravery or determination or beauty brings us to the verge of tears, practically impossible.

    So to your questions: what is happiness? That feeling of being totally in the moment as your authentic self – no pretence, no artifice – just bringing to life the skills, talents and capacities that you have as a unique individual because in your judgement it feels like the right thing to do.

    I do like this quote from Ghandi “Happiness is when what you think and what you do are in harmony”

    Is happiness different for different people? Absolutely. I personally have a priority value around creativity so I love to “make” I can’t do “nothing”. My husband meanwhile has a priority value around relaxation – he can do nothing for ages. I am not happy doing nothing he is not happy baking cakes when nobody has a birthday and there are biscuits in the cupboard.

    Is society confused about happiness? Yes I think so and it stems from that dislocation from our own personal values and is fed by suggestions that we constantly compare ourselves with others. When we are unclear about who we are and how things turn out for someone like us we are vulnerable to trying to be different bits of other people.

    On that topic I shall leave you with these words from Rosa Parks
    “Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.”

    Looking forward to the follow up posts!

  10. Bob Burg said at 1:08 pm on

    Jackie: Thank you. Greatly appreciate you sharing your thoughts with us, as well as your personal examples. Lots of gratitude to you!

  11. Bill Ellis said at 1:46 pm on


    Defining happiness – just like success – is an individual’s responsibility. Issues arise when outside influences are brought to bear which don’t resonate with the individual’s definition. Those influencers include family, spouse, boss, friends most notably. It is human nature – at least to some degree – to accommodate other’s opinions. This reaction can be conscious or unconscious.

    I agree with your comments – very well said.

    Thank you both.

  12. Bob Burg said at 2:05 pm on

    Bill: Thank you. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts!

  13. Doug Wagner said at 2:53 pm on

    We do things that we “think” will either make us happy or will avoid unhappiness. Problem is we don’t really know what makes us happy and even repeating things that made us happy in the past does not guarantee the same level in the future. Especially when we don’t take time to think.

    Throw in the effect your current mental state and mindset play plus your expectations about a situation and it is a pretty volatile mix.

    Might be one of those three overlapping circles discussions. The circles can be different size though.

    Interesting question and interesting discussion. Does participating in this discussion make us happy?


    Thanks Bob for raising those questions and looking forward to hearing more ideas on this.

  14. Bob Burg said at 4:19 pm on

    Doug: Thanks. And, in answer to your question, you must have thought it would when you did it…or you probably wouldn’t have done it. πŸ˜‰ LOL

  15. Can’t wait to read your post

    How do we define happiness?
    I define happiness as an inner state, feeling, sense that one is in.

    Is β€œa sense of” happiness different for different people?
    Yes, I think everyone has their own sense and definition of happiness.

    If one’s main motivation is happiness, then why do so many intelligent people seem to make decisions that are obviously contrary to their own happiness?
    I think mostly it is out of fear that they don’t follow thru and also out of fear of what others will think.

  16. Erin said at 6:16 pm on

    Hi Bob,

    Your post reminds me of the phrase “Pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence, which I’ve always thought was incredibly really well worded – everybody deserves the chance to go after their own happiness; whether they achieve it or not is up to them. As to your questions, I can’t quite articulate answers to 1 or 2, but for 3, I think a lot of people don’t do what they know what will make them happy out of fear. I see that two ways: First, they are afraid of actually taking the step that would bring them happiness because they don’t know how successful they will be (such as applying for a dream job when they know they might be rejected); second, there’s fear that what you think will make you happy won’t live up to the expectations.

    Anyway, looking forward to reading your insight soon!

  17. Bob Burg said at 6:44 pm on

    Erin: Thank you for your thoughts, and for sharing them with us. Yes, I always loved the term, “pursuit of happiness” as well.

  18. Bob Burg said at 6:22 pm on

    Carly: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with us!

  19. Why do so many intelligent people make decisions contrary to their own happiness?

    Because they are making decisions to make themselves happy RIGHT NOW. Which may or may not make them unhappy later.

    I have a lot of conversations with myself on this topic:

    Me: “I want a cookie. It will make me happy right now.”

    Me: “Yes and then on Saturday, at mile 2.9 when you’re running 10 seconds behind your goal time and you don’t PR, that cookie and all his nasty friends will make you very unhappy.”

  20. Bob Burg said at 6:45 pm on

    Beth: LOL. Mmmmmm, coooookeeeeeees. πŸ™‚

  21. Anytime I try and “find” happiness it’s rarely successful.

    Instead I’ve realized that if you can condition the mind to get it into a “state” of being happy without their needing to be an external event that triggers happiness, life gets real good.

    The reason I share this is because I think the appropriate way to define happiness is that it is simply a “state”.

  22. Bob Burg said at 6:57 am on

    Blake: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us. Happiness is a great “state” indeed! Very appreciated!

  23. Yoav said at 9:02 am on

    Apparently people are very bad at predicting what will make them happier. But are very good at manufacturing happiness. So the answer is probably…

    Stop trying to create a future happiness and manufacture one right now.

    This is a briliant TED lecture on the subject…


  24. Bob Burg said at 1:22 pm on

    Yoav: Thank you for adding your thoughts and comments to the discussion!

  25. Joel Boggess said at 10:38 am on

    Hi Bob,

    In my opinion, happiness is not something that you chase. It can be like trying to catch butterflies – just out of reach. It is something that you decide, ahead of time, on the inside.

  26. Bob Burg said at 10:49 am on

    Joel: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us!

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