Motivation is more than simply having the desire to wake up each morning with enthusiasm and a zest for life.
Motivation largely determines the way our lives are lived; our level of performance, and the depth and quality of our lives are largely influenced by our levels of motivation. The lot of humanity is not just to survive but to thrive through finding our identity and existential purpose.
Idealism—the forerunner of despair
Having an extreme approach to life places you at risk of becoming easily demotivated and possibly even chronically depressed. This is particularly true of radical idealists and ultra-religious people. Both groups tend to consider themselves superior to others, but this elitist spirit often leads to despair and discouragement. Great disappointments are born out of the highest expectations, the deepest scepticism is born out of perfectionist beliefs, and nihilism is often the outcome of the inevitable failure of idealism. The distance from idealism to nihilism is only a stone’s throw away.
From nothing to nothing?
Through the lens of nihilism, there is no one action that is objectively preferable to another. With no objective meaning, no essential values, and no truth, life is meaningless, and the lack of a sovereign Creator leads to moral nihilism. Nothing is morally right or wrong so objective moral absolutes do not exist.
At its core nihilism admits the possibility of absolute nothingness. If there is a finite number of elements in the world, if they are contingent and if they are also independent, it means, according to the argument of subtraction, that the elements can be reduced to nothing. Humans exist, but they may not have existed in the past. Humans exist, but there might come a time when they will no longer exist. The finite and temporary perspective of humanity reduces existence itself to nothing. What once existed in relation to eternity is reduced to nothing.
The main mechanism that fuels motivation has many forms, but it always has its origin in the answer to the question “Why?”
Why do you do what you do? Why would you do what you want or need to do? Why wouldn’t you? Life is a sum of actions, thus the following question arises: “Why do you do what you do?” This comes down to the purpose of life—why do we live?
Finding the motivation to grow and live requires more than waking up in the morning because you have to; it means waking up because you want to. This attitude comes from the identity and meaning of human existence. Knowing who we are builds who we are; knowing the purpose of our being, we build what we want to become. So, who are we and why do we exist?
The axiom of eternity
Our existence today requires something to have existed yesterday and for it to also exist tomorrow. Excluding God from our worldview does not solve the mystery of eternity, because something must have existed first, before everything. By excluding God, I change the name of eternity and turn God into something impersonal.
We can choose to believe that we come from God or from nothing, but our choice will shape the beliefs that will ultimately define our lives. We can find enough evidence to believe one or the other, but both still require an explanation of the concept of eternity.
By excluding God, we eliminate the only way of revelation by which humans can understand their identity and purpose. Without God we only know what we have seen, heard, and will hear or see. We don’t know why, when, and where. We do not know right or wrong, truth or justice. All this can only be the expression of what we can understand and what we are.
Everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind
King Solomon, described in the bible as the wisest man on earth, endeavoured to find his purpose and happiness by seeking wealth, wisdom, culture, drinking, gluttony, debauchery, sexuality, etc. Following his experience, Solomon states his conclusion in verse 14, chapter 1 of the book of Ecclesiastes: “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind”.
Despite Solomon’s status and opportunities, depression and discouragement marked much of his life. Here is what Ecclesiastes says: “I became greater by far than anyone in Jerusalem before me. In all this my wisdom stayed with me. I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labour, and this was the reward for all my toil. (…) What do people get for all the toil and anxious striving with which they labour under the sun? All their days their work is grief and pain; even at night their minds do not rest. This too is meaningless” (Ecclesiastes 2:9-10, 22-23).
The transience of human nature even empties meaning from the life of one of the most famous kings the world has ever had. Here we see that action, concentration, passionate involvement, results, professionalism, social interactions, planning, and any other mechanisms that could fuel the motivation to go on and grow are not enough.
Eternity gives mankind motivation and purpose
At the end of the book of Ecclesiastes, as a corollary to his entire search, Solomon reveals the secret of the transition from transience to eternity. “Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). Judgment being the portal between the transient and the eternal life, the fear of God and living according to His principles is the passport that allows passage. Only access to eternity gives meaning to human existence. Life here and now finds meaning and motivation if it is followed by life then and there.
The present guarantees the future
The beauty of Scripture is that the paradigm of thinking it offers to Christianity is not limited to the world to come, neglecting the present life.
It would be impossible to believe in the truthfulness of the Bible and the relevance of its principles if we were to live in the present only in the hope of the promised future. The last day on earth will be like the first day in heaven, and the confidence that the future is bright is given to us by the relevance of the Bible for the here and now. If I can’t be happy and fulfilled today, who can guarantee that I will be then? If Bible principles do not work for me today, who can guarantee that they will work then?
Motivation and humankind’s only happiness
In chapter 2, Ecclesiastes identifies the radical-conservative Christian declaring that the only happiness a human can have is to eat, drink, and enjoy themselves. “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil” (Ecclesiastes 2:24).
This conclusion appears to contradict Solomon’s seven-fold statement: “All of it is meaningless, a chasing after the wind” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). If in the beginning we are discouraged in trying to find meaning and motivation in things related to pleasure and possessions, at the end of the chapter the only happiness we have left is in the realm of pleasure and things that we have or can acquire.
The solution to the tension of this dialectic is found in the following verse: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” (Ecclesiastes 2:24-25). Even the ‘secular’ pleasures, things, and joys that we have come from God.
In another of his collections of writings, Proverbs, Solomon urges us to acknowledge God in all our ways, so that we may have a smooth, pleasant, and happy journey in life. So, God is present in every aspect of our lives. Awareness of this fact gives joy and meaning. The gifts we receive connect us more deeply to the Giver, and the value of a gift is not primarily determined by what the gift represents, but by Who gives it.
Just as God made Himself known to humankind through His incarnation in Jesus, so we need blessings that can be perceived by our senses. Otherwise, they would not be perceptible to us, and they would not make sense. What would it be like for God to reveal Himself to us in an unknown language or in a way that we cannot see or feel?
Food, drink, celebration, family, meaningful work, etc. are all ways we experience happiness. The way to maintain that happiness and find the motivation to grow and discover meaning is found by connecting all beautiful things to God. Because of God’s goodness, our happiness will last, and eternity will give us a purpose and the motivation to keep growing.
Ștefăniţă Poenariu (34 years old) is a pastor, with a bachelor’s and master’s degree in theology and sociology. He is an education PhD student at the Montemorelos University (Mexico) and president of the association that coordinates the Transylvania International School.