Who am I? The 16 basic desires that motivate our actions and define our personalities. by Steven Reiss


16 Basic Desires

According to Reiss, each of us are characterized by 16 basic desires:

1. Power
2. Independence
3. Curiosity
4. Acceptance
5. Order
6. Saving
7. Honour
8. Idealism
9. Social Contact
10. Family
11. Status
12. Vengeance
13. Romance
14. Eating
15. Physical Activity
16. Tranquility


Ross talks about how miscommunication between people occurs because we have different desire profiles.

There are two types of miscommunication, ineffective communication, and not getting it.

Ineffective communication is caused by incomplete information. For example, someone gets angry at work when he’s had a bad day. We might be puzzled at his behavior, which can only make sense after he explains that he’s had a bad day. More information is needed for us to make sense of the situation.

Not getting it occurs when people have opposite values. More information does not resolve the miscommunication, and might make things worse. For example, someone who has greater than average curiosity does not understand why someone less curious does not appreciate the joy of learning. The less curious person does not appreciate the condescension and thinks the other person is a nerd.

Not getting it has three parts:

1. Misunderstanding

People experience the same thing differently because of their values. A workaholic might enjoy his work because he has a higher than average desire for power and he uses work to satisfy this desire. Someone with a low desire for power will not understand how the accumulation of power can motivate someone to work so much.

2. Self-hugging

Self-hugging occurs when people think that their goals and values are best for other people as well. I love to read books, but I make a mistake when I think other people should read books as well. Other people have their own desire profiles, and consequently, will pursue other goals to satisfy their own desires. They are not pursuing inferior goals. They are pursuing what they think is best for themselves, in accordance with their desire profiles.

3. Everyday tyranny

Everyday tyranny occurs when we try to get someone else to change their goals and values. Changing someone’s values is extremely hard. If we disagree because of our values, how do we resolve our differences then?


Reiss posits that there are two kinds of happiness, feel-good and value-based happiness.

Feel-good happiness comes from pleasant sensations like eating and having a good time.

Value-based happiness occurs when our lives have meaning. Meaning comes from our basic desires and values. Value-based happiness is more enduring and is more accessible. Everyone has an equal chance to attain value-based happiness. This isn’t so with feel-good happiness.


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