Psychologist who studies motivation: This will make you more excited about your job

Dan Ariely, behavioral economist and psychologist.
Photo: Mary R.

Focusing exclusively on money as a means to building a fulfilling career is one of the biggest mistakes a professional can make, according to a behavioral economist who studies motivation.

"Our understanding of what causes us to be happy is flawed," says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University and TED speaker.

"The rational perspective is that we're motivated by money and nothing else matters," he tells CNBC. "The irrational perspective is that we're motivated by all kinds of things."

While money certainly contributes to our well-being, studies show that it's not simply making or spending lots of it that makes professionals happy.

Instead, says Ariely, "we're motivated by a sense of meaning."

How is the work I'm doing helping someone down road? What meaning can I find here?
Dan Ariely
behavioral economist and author of "Payoff"

According to the research he explores in his book "Payoff," employees who remind themselves of the greater meaning of their work are often happier and more productive.

To apply this to your own life, Ariely suggests asking yourself one specific question.

"If we are feeling bored and unmotivated," he writes, "we can ask ourselves, 'How is the work I'm doing helping someone down road? What meaning can I find here?' With this type of mindset, chances are that we will be able to find a positive answer."

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