[Beyond Boredom & Anxiety] Intrinsic Motivation and Enjoyment

Disclaimer: This is my attempt to read the book Beyond Boredom and Anxiety, I am but an interpreter of these ideas.

Intrinsic motivation produces enjoyment which leads to productivity

Most theories of human motivation depend on a “deficit theory”, which essentially says that all activities and engagement can be reduced to satisfaction of basic needs. With Freud, libido is the biggest basic drive, but since the societal way of living conflicts with this desire, civilizations are always discontent. This theory implies that there exists a finite number of objects and experiences that are enjoyable, and since there are finite resources for such objects and experiences, competition must take place and only few individuals can enjoy life. Another important implication is that the needs are never fully satisfied, because they are basic and on a continuous basis.

The study of plays introduces into a new factor that contradicts an implication stated earlier. Playing is an activity which provides none of the rewards that such a deficit theory model predicts. Observations have proven that any object can be potentially enjoyable. If it is true that enjoyment does not depend on a finite set of objects and states, then the quality of life can be improved.

Science always concerns with the observable actions as legitimate data. This means that inner experience is considered non-scientific. Yet, psychological events always are centered around our thoughts and feelings. For example, playing is an activity in which how people perceive what they do rather than what they actually do determines the enjoyment of the activity.

The perception of what an individual does is more important to the individual than what they do. If motivated intrinsically, he feels self-confident, contentment and harmony, while if pressured or motivated externally they may experience anxiety and boredom.

Reductionism on game and enjoyment

Psycho-analysis explains creativity or enjoyment in terms of disguised manifestations of conflicts between basic desires and social constraints. People paint pictures because they can’t indulge in libidinal curiosity, people play chess so that they can kill their father ( the opponent’s king ) and thus release the tension they experience in real life.

However, this reductionism approach is unsatisfactory. Take chess for instance, if playing chess is a way to satisfy libidinal needs, then why is the game abstract, complex and elegant ? The libido is famous for its shallowness, and eliminating the opponent’s king should have been easy. Therefore one needs to explain this by the super-ego that wishes to hide its shallowness under abstraction and complexity. However, why this particular form of manifestation (chess) ? Million of other manifestations could satisfy the same libido and are less demanding in terms of energy. Sublimation ( the process by which socially unacceptable impulses are transformed into socially acceptable actions ) may be involved, but it is not an adequate explanation for why the game is so complex and abstract, yet playing chess games is enjoyable.

It’s not that their models are wrong, but they work only within particular assumptions. They’re not the only explanation and do not exhaust the reality in question. Therefore their explanation of why a particular individual may enjoy mountain climbing would give a reason such as it is a subliminal subjection of conquering the tip of a penis, but does not explain why the activity mountain climbing itself is enjoyable.

Finally, enjoyment is important if one is to aim for a balanced life, and one can only attain enjoyment in work through intrinsic motivations. In order be intrinsically motivational, an activity must possess certain qualities or structures, which will be explored in the next blog post.

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