Book Review: Who Am I?: The Sixteen Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions And Define Our Personalities

Who Am I?:  The Sixteen Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions And Define Our Personalities, by Steven Reiss, Ph.D

Being someone who reads books on a massive scale, it should come as little surprise that I get a lot of book recommendations from other people.  I would likely not have read this book had I not received a recommendation on it from an old college flame of mine who happens to be the first girl I remember kissing–I was almost 19 at the time–and who happens to have remained a friend and is now married with four boys.  The reason for the recommendation likely springs from the fact that we both have a strong interest in personality theory and in understanding ourselves and others, and as that interest has led to some fascinating and entertaining reading in the past [1], I was willing to read this book once I saw it was available in my local county library system.  This book proved to be a thoughtful and interesting read, where the author shows himself desirous of being seen as a scientific and data-driven humanistic psychologist while at the same time leaving room in the study of motivation for matters of spirit that he claims to be genetically hard-wired within people.  As I have long been fascinated and troubled by my own motivations and that of others around me, I found the journey in this book to be a worthwhile one to take.  If you are interested in these matters as well, this book will likely be of some interest for you also.

This book seeks to wrestle with the thorny question of identity by positing a sixteen factor set of desires that reputedly lie at the base of human behavior in a wide variety of areas.  Sixteen is a popular number within personality theory–there are 16 different personalities within the Myers-Briggs Type Index (for the record, I am an ENTJ according to that particular scale), and it makes sense even if the grouping together of various desires is somewhat vague and unspecific.  In this moderate length book of around 260 pages including its core material and appendix, the author begins with a discussion of the health crisis that led him to think more seriously about matters of motivation.  The first part of the book on the basic desires comes after this with a discussion of what a basic desire is and how the author and his research team narrowed the many potential factors down to sixteen core desires:  power, independence, curiosity, acceptance, order, saving, honor, idealism, social contact, family, status, vengeance, romance, eating, physical activity, and tranquility.  Each of these desires has three levels:  strong, average/mixed, and weak, and these sixteen desires are discussed in detail in chapters two through four of the book.  The fifth chapter of the book reminds reader that one size does not fit all and that there are many variations–some two trillion of them–that make people unique in what exactly drives them.  This leads the author to remind us that we often “don’t get” what drives and motivates other people, leading us to misunderstand them, self-hug by demanding others follow our own set of drives and motivations, and leads us to engage in domestic tyranny that drives people away by our incessant demands for people to behave as we do rather than be true to their own natures.  In the second part of book the author discusses such topics as value-based (as opposed to pleasure-based) happiness, how relationships grow through similarity on principles and motives, how work can be turned into play by tapping into what drives us most deeply, the distinctions between family members and the sources of conflict in different drives and motivations, and in-depth examinations of drives and motives on areas of sport and religion, followed by an afterword and an appendix that invites readers to understand their own mix of desires.

Although I found the author to be somewhat too wedded to the faddish and imaginary explanation of evolutionary psychology and far too syncretistic when it comes to religious matters for my own tastes, the author deserves a great deal of credit for defending the value of religious belief and practice from its frequent assault by those who fancy themselves rational and scientific but end up being neither.  Of most personal interest, though, I found my own mix of desires to be highly striking.  According to the author, those with a larger amount of particularly strong or weak desires have a more difficult time working well within larger society but are often more complicated and fascinating people as a result.  In looking at the questions I found no desires to be weak but rather found most of the desires to be mixed/average.  I did, however, find six of the desires to be strong:  power, curiosity, honor, vengeance, romance, and idealism.  In my mind, this makes for a particularly intriguing result, suggesting some of the more difficult issues I have faced in my own personal life given the sort of experiences I have had.  Upon further questioning as to which of my desires was weak enough to have caused problems with others, the only one that came to mind was order, where my combined dislike for rigid hierarchy and my relaxed attitude towards fastidious cleanliness had caused some difficulties with others.  There is a great deal of perversity in being so singularly ill-equipped to achieve my desires and motivations in life, at least thus far, but the hope of studying ourselves and others is that we may be better equipped to fulfill the purposes for which God has put us on this planet.  We may as well get on with that task as best as we are able.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Who Am I?: The Sixteen Basic Desires That Motivate Our Actions And Define Our Personalities

  1. Pingback: Book Review: The Road Back To You | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  3. Pingback: Book Review: Do What You Are | Edge Induced Cohesion

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