It’s no secret that stress and dissatisfaction at the office can carry over into our personal lives, where friends and family unluckily absorb the brunt of our negative energy. Sound familiar?
I believe that establishing a “flow” at work -- what the sociologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi referred to as being so engaged and motivated that you practically get lost in the joy of whatever you’re doing -- is the key to unlocking happiness.
Colleagues that frequently remark, “Where did the time go?” have probably channeled this "flow" -- being so engaged in their work that time feels like it’s flying by.
Here are some tips on how to uncover this mindset throughout the workday:
1. Record happy moments. Keep a journal of the moments when you feel really happy at work. Use Post-Its, a notebook, an app -- whatever’s easiest -- to record what you were working on, who you were working with and when.
For extra credit: You can get an even better triangulation of your "flow" moments if you also separately record the moments when you were frustrated, annoyed or disappointed.
2. Challenge yourself. The "flow" state often arises when you are doing something challenging -- but when you are skilled enough to meet the challenge. For example, if analyzing the weekly sales report is fun for you because you find it challenging, this is a good indicator of a "flow" moment.
3. Ask peers to observe you. Contact the people you work with and ask them -- colleagues and managers alike -- if they can recall moments when you seemed most engaged. If they can’t recall anything immediately (which is likely), ask if they wouldn’t mind keeping track for the next week or so, and then gather feedback.
When checking in with my employees every quarter, I ask what they were most proud of accomplishing as a jumping off point to maximizing “flow” moments.
4. Find your happiness trends. After two weeks, you should have a fairly complete record of your happy moments at work. Sit down with a cup of coffee and see what trends emerge. Are you happiest in the morning? In the afternoon? When you are working alongside other people or by yourself? In front of a computer or in front of a whiteboard? Virtually or face-to-face? Are you happiest making things or evaluating them?
As your happiness trends emerge, you can more aptly put yourself in a position to enjoy work, discuss a change of role at the office, or even decide to do something else completely.