BACKGROUND An earlier study states that the terms of desire, longing, and vanity carry with them ideas, emotions, and values that influence how individuals perceive themselves and their rehabilitation process. Our aim was (1) to use concept analysis to explore the meaning of the terms desire, longing, and vanity and (2) to investigate the potential role of these concepts in successful rehabilitation back to work. METHODS To achieve these two objectives, we used a model of concept analysis. The final step in the model is to define empirical references, for example, articles within the scientific literature, to determine the existence of a concept in a given situation. RESULTS The concept analysis resulted in 15 new searchable terms. All of these were accepted in the thesaurus system for the databases we used. We identified 59 scientific articles that were deemed relevant to the purposes of the study. Of these, only 20 was about emotions as driving forces in a rehabilitation process back to work. CONCLUSION The conclusion of the study is that the concepts of desire, longing, and vanity encompassed ideas, emotions, and values that influence how individuals perceived themselves and their situations. How individuals talk about and understand rehabilitation will undoubtedly play a role in how they respond to interventions, and thus, the success of the rehabilitation process back to work. Implications for rehabilitation Emotional energy often drives behavior and can provide significant motivation that potentially can mobilize vocational rehabilitation. The concepts of desire, longing and vanity encompass ideas, emotions, and values that influence individuals' self-perception and their view of their situation. To engage people in discussions on what they long for and desire could be a new way to connect with a person in a rehabilitation situation. It can be less provoking to talk about what a person desires or longs for than to ask them what they want or are motivated for. Feelings of meaningfulness are a basic driving force and a contributing factor in how health is experienced. By affirming the desire to do activities that are liked, this in turn generates motivation to be engaged in other activities. Individual confidence is generated through the experience of mastering a skill and this in turn can underpin a desire to return to work after long-term sick leave. Earlier experience of success can be an inspiration and create expectations for a forthcoming working-role. Emotions relating to work such as pride can generate motivation in a rehabilitation process. Vanity and the possibility of being "ashamed" in a certain situation can be an emotional driving force to re-establish one's self.