If you’ve ever asked yourself the question “who am I?”, then there’s a good chance that Steven Reiss’ answer may be of value to you.
In his book “Who am I?”, first published in 2000, Steven Reiss shows us how to identify our personal patterns of desire, taking us on an original approach in our search for meaning and happiness. To this end, he has asked a large number of people what is most important to them. In doing so, he has discovered 16 basic desires and values that drive nearly everything we do.
Reiss says that although we are not necessarily used to thinking about human behaviour in terms of desires, knowledge of our 16 basic desires can help us to gain insight into who we are and why we do what we do.
Through extensive research, the author has found the following desires (in no specific order): Power, Independence, Curiosity, Acceptance, Order, Saving, Honour, Idealism, Social Contact, Family, Vengeance, Romance, Eating, Physical activity and Tranquillity.
Although almost everybody embraces these 16 basic desires, what distinguishes each person is how much that person wants the “end goals” that they provide us with, and how intensely each person experiences them. This is where we find the key distinction between end goals and means.
Means and ends
When discussing desires, Reiss is referring to end goals. Essentially, means are things done because they produce something else, whereas ends are what we intrinsically value. For example, when a person goes to the gym for the joy of it, exercise is the end. When someone goes to the gym three months before summer however, there’s a high probability that exercise is an intermediate step toward feeling more comfortable taking his shirt off. In that case, the motivation is to lose weight and to seduce, which would correspond to the end motivation of “Romance”.
Here are the end goals corresponding to each basic desire, according to Reiss:
Reiss asserts that no two people enjoy the same experience in exactly the same way. It is the relative importance we each place on these 16 desires that makes us individuals. In other words, you may feel that social contact, family and eating are most important, whereas your co-worker or neighbour may feel that independence, status and romance are most important. The way we prioritize these 16 desires is what makes us uniquely us.
Our desire profile fundamentally holds the secrets of who we are. It determines what we need to gain value-based happiness, or a sense that our lives are meaningful.
In his book “Who am I?”, Reiss distinguishes two kinds of happiness: feel-good happiness and value-based happiness. Feel-good happiness, based on pleasure, generally lasts no more than a few hours. It refers to pleasant sensations and sensual feelings, such as having a good time, eating something we like or going to see a movie. Value-based happiness, in contrast, is enduring and refers to the general feeling of well-being that we experience when our lives are based on pleasure and meaning. As Reiss puts it, “When we give blood to a loved one for instance, we feel good about ourselves even though the actual sensations of giving blood are unpleasant.”
The author affirms that we as human beings cannot be truly happy unless we find a lifestyle that affirms our personal values. True happiness comes from meaning, and meaning comes from basic desires and values. Although there is nothing wrong in pursuing feel-good happiness in moderation, and these sensations add significantly to the quality of life of people who also have value-based happiness, pleasurable sensations are not enough.
Although we could argue a certain amount of discrimination when it comes to attaining feel-good happiness (for instance, if we are born into money or have natural good looks), the good news is that everyone can find value-based happiness. According to Reiss, all we have to do is to be clear about who we are and what we value, and then live our lives accordingly.
A solution to miscommunication
Another application of Reiss’ profiles involves our relationships with others, and a significantly better way of communicating. According to Reiss, there are two main types of miscommunication: ineffective communication and not getting it.
Ineffective communication occurs when we lack enough information to understand someone or each other. For example, if I receive some bad news just before getting to work and I react by being angry, my co-workers will be confused as to why I am showing anger because they do not know about the phone call. If and when later explained, my co-workers may have a better understanding of my reaction, even if they do not necessarily approve of my behaviour.
The other type of miscommunication, not getting it, is the main source of conflicts between people. This is the result of two people holding conflicting opinions or desires regarding the same value, to the extent where they literally cannot understand each other because their opinions are too different, and because they do not want the same things. More information will not solve the problem, rather it could sharpen the differences, according to Reiss. For example, if we consider the desire for “Order”, organised people think of themselves as organised and neat, but flexible people (at the opposite end of the “Order spectrum”) criticize them for being perfectionists or concerned with trivial matters. Flexible people think of themselves as being flexible and spontaneous, but organized people criticize them as sloppy, out of control, or disorganised.
Reiss’s motivation profile serves us by enabling us to consciously acknowledge differences in perception, and therefore better understand others, such as a spouse, a boss, our parents or our children. We are therefore able to significantly improve our relationships.
Find out about your own desire profile and gain insight into who you are and why you do what you do by:
• Reading Stephen Reiss’ books “Who am I”, and “The Normal Personality”
• Contacting the Reiss Motivation Profile Switzerland at rmp-swiss.ch