In the West, we have tended to focus a lot more on the outside (external) rather than the internal. This has brought amazing outcomes in the material dimension of things: revolutionary technology, high living standards, etc. At the same time, this overly focus on the external has left an untapped potential for developing the internal. This area of inquiry has been left to religions and spirituality to take care of, and it has been seen as separate (or tried to be separated) from economy and politics. But, as we will see, the internal and external are deeply connected.
There are huge untapped potentials for focus and investment in the internal development of individuals because of the huge benefits it can bring to individual wellbeing, societal wellbeing, and the productivity and capabilities of individuals (human capital) in the long term, which is pretty much all we care about.
Of all the areas of internal development/growth, one that receives close to no attentions is that of motivations. We assume that people’s motivations are self-arising and unchanging. For example, in the field of political economy, motivations are taken as extrinsic (given). When creating a model using methodolocial individualism you take preferences, believes, environemnt to model individuals’ and groups’ decisions, but it is never considered that it might be possible to manage/change preferences (motivations). But they can be affected.
For example, in the Buddhist tradition there are practices to influence our motivations. The simple explanation is the following. We are motivated by our emotions and thoughts, so if we are able to feel more of a certain emotion, we will be more motivated by it. Certain Buddhist practices, like one from the Tibetan tradition called “Tonglen”, work to make certain wholesome emotions (love and compassion) more accessible and for individuals to feel them more often. It has been found that feeling works like a muscle, the more you feel it, the more accessible is this experience (as with gratitude, for example). So, the Tonglen practice works by simply triggering these emotions time and again so that they become more accessible to us.
These practices not only can make us better human being overall (think relationships and teamwork), and improve our wellbeing, but, as we are strengthening our motivations, these practices can make individuals more productive and therefore bring about better economic outcomes. Bettering our motivations can definitely better society as they bring huge positive externalities to all of society. So maybe, just maybe, government should incentivize it, and, for example, subsidize organizations sharing these practices and make it part of the school curriculum.
Bottom Line: There is huge untapped potential in the area of internal development. Practices for generating more altruistic motivations have the potential to create a better society for all. These practices improve personal wellbeing and society as a whole.
* Please help my Economic Growth & Development students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).