Yesterday, I asked my husband this simple question: “Who is the happiest person you know?”
Immediately, he said our three-year old is the happiest person. Then I asked a different question: “Who is the happiest adult you know?”
This time, my husband paused before answering. Eventually he replied, “You are the happiest adult I know.”
Now, I don’t know if he truly meant this or if he said it because he thought it’s what I wanted to hear. Either way, his response stopped me in my tracks.
Because being happy at work and life is one of my greatest drivers. It’s what I want for myself and for my readers.
And when I thought about it, I realized that I’m happier now than at any other time in my life. So, I must be getting something right!
As a kid, I was often bored or restless. As a young adult, I chased after material things… until I discovered that money really doesn’t make you happy.
Then I became a parent. And I finally slowed down and considered what matters most in my life.
I studied happiness, success, money, simplicity, and a thousand other subjects. I love learning. And in the process, I’ve figured a few things out.
In this post, I share my greatest finding about how to be happy at work and in life.
How To Be Happy At Work
The formula for happiness is simple – do work you love.
Now, I realize we can’t all drop our day jobs and follow our passions. And that’s okay. Because it’s not the precise nature of your work that’s most important. It’s your experience when you are doing it. Let me explain.
When you let go of the result and focus on the now, you can enter a state of flow. The world slips away, time passes without you noticing, and you experience joy.
With practice, you can find flow even when doing mundane tasks. Here’s how Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, legendary psychologist, describes flow in his bestselling book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience:
“the state in which people are so involved in the activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it”
Sounds magical, right? And I’m sure you’ve experienced flow at some point in your life. Whether it’s when you’re participating in a sport, creating art, playing a game, reading a book, or writing.
When you focus on the present, you reach your goals faster and enjoy the process of getting there. Compare this to when you fixate on the end result.
When you achieve a goal, your exhilaration lasts a short time. And then you find yourself wanting more. We are engineered to constantly strive for bigger and better. Most of us are on a treadmill – always looking upwards. Rarely satisfied with what we’ve already achieved.
Wouldn’t it be better to step off the treadmill and enjoy what you have right now?
And don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to give up on your dreams. Because finding flow is the key to being happier and more successful.
Goals Still Matter
Before I get to the practical steps, I want to clarify an important point.
I’m not saying you should let go of your goals. In fact, setting the right goals is an important part of finding flow and optimizing your experience.
The joy comes from making progress towards your goals. And to do that, you need to pick a direction to go in.
What do I mean by the right goals? Well, the best goals are meaningful to you. They are linked to your purpose in life. I talk about how to set meaningful goals in this post.
As well as being meaningful, your goals need to be challenging… but not too difficult.
In his book, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes the conditions for finding flow. And an important part of the process is selecting a task you can complete. An activity that’s challenging (else you will become bored) but not so difficult that you experience anxiety.
The below diagram demonstrates this point.
How To Find Flow (And Maximize Your Happiness And Success)
Okay, let’s look at how you can experience more flow in your life. Below are the steps to finding flow and experiencing greater happiness and success at work.
- Seek out activities that require skill. This builds on the above point. You want to find tasks that are challenging to you but not so difficult you experience anxiety. When starting out, try looking for activities you love doing and that use your natural talents. As you get better at losing yourself in a task, you can try finding flow in more mundane activities.
- Set clear goals that provide immediate feedback. I talked about goal setting above. There’s one more reason why goals matter. They provide feedback so that you are aware of your progress. For example, my goal for this article is to write at least 1000 words. I draft my posts in Microsoft Word and the word count in the status bar is telling me I’m at 900 words. I’m almost there!
- Lose yourself in the task. This is the essence of flow but can be hard to achieve. However, if you select activities that require skill (see step one) then you’re already creating the best conditions for flow. It also helps to eliminate distractions before you start working. And practice, practice, practice.
Concentrating for any length of time is a skill like any other. It takes practice, but the effort will lead to greater success.
“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” – Bertrand Russell
I’ll leave you with one final thought – be gentle with yourself. If you struggle to find the right tasks or are frustrated by wanting more, then be patient. These feelings are normal.
Next time you feel these things, recognize them for what they are. A natural part of the human condition. We are all in this together. You absolutely can be happy at work and enjoy greater success in your life.
Now, go do it!
Part of finding flow is recognizing the activities that light you up. What can you do for hours even if you don’t get paid for it? If you’d like more help doing work you love, check out my Passion Challenge workbook below. It will show you the 5 steps to unleash your potential and earn your first $1000 doing what you love.