Motivation & Emotion

Added October 2020


We are pushed to reduce drives (aroused tension states due to physiological needs), and pulled by incentives. One common list of motivations is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological, safety, belonging and love, esteem, self-actualization, self-transcendence.

When it comes to work, motivation is said to be highest when it is intrinsic (e.g. interest) rather than extrinsic (e.g. rewards or punishments); when we are in flow states; and when we have a sense of control, mastery, and purpose.

It has been suggested that willpower is like a muscle which exercise can exhaust (ego depletion) but also strengthen over time, but this research is controversial. Burnout, a state of exhausted motivation, can be addressed by social support, sleep, and reducing ambiguity in your role and goals. Unfortunately, benefits from taking vacations disspiate quickly.

Resources: Psychology Today; Ryan 2012


Emotions involve physiological arousal, expressive behaviors, and conscious experience, including thoughts and feelings. They have two dimensions: arousal and valence.

Basic emotions:

  • joy, interest-excitement, surprise
  • sadness, fear
  • anger, disgust, contempt
  • shame, guilt
  • How to be happy:

  • Relationships: Invest in close relationships; organize shared experiences; perform acts of kindness.
  • Health: Sleep, exercise, meditate, and relax. (melatonin, 10% Happier)
  • Work & Leisure: Plan your day; minimize internet use; pursue challenging leisure activities. (more)
  • Mindset: Act happy; count your blessings; record your gratitude.
  • Resources: Myers and Dewall; Diener et. al 1999; Haidt 2006, Lyubomirsky 2007


    The “Big Five” personality factors (CANOE):

  • Conscientiousness: Disorganized, careless, impulsive vs. organized, careful, disciplined
  • Agreeableness: Ruthless, suspicious, uncooperative vs. soft-hearted, trusting, helpful
  • Neuroticism (emotional stability vs. instability): Calm, secure, self-satisfied vs. anxious, insecure, self-pitying
  • Openness: Practical, prefers routine, conforming vs. imaginative, prefers variety, independent
  • Extraversion: Retiring, sober, reserved vs. sociable, fun-loving, affectionate

  • Disorders & Therapy

    The most common psychological disorders are anxiety disorders and depression.

    Anxiety disorders affect about 3.8% of the world population, or 284m people. They include generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobias. Related disorders include obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

    Depression affects about 3.4% of the world population, or 264m people. Major depressive disorder is defined by depressed mood, reduced interest, and other symptoms most of the time for at least two weeks. Persistent depressive disorder is defined by a mildly depressed mood more often than not for at least two years.

    Treatments for psychological disorders include psychotherapies, drugs, and therapeutic lifestyle change. (See here for anxiety and here for depression.)