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How to be Happy at Work

It all comes down to one word: flow

By Giselle Galper

Over the last ten years, I’ve asked a lot of people about what they do for a living. I’ve heard many different answers, but whenever I ask people about how they feel at work—and whether they ever feel like time is standing still—I only ever get two reactions: their eyes either twinkle or go dull.

People in the latter camp have often tried several strategies for making the time pass faster—but drinking more coffee and taking small breaks doesn’t work. Not really. The real answer lies in a 2004 TED Talk that most people have never heard of, much less listened to.

In that TED Talk, a psychologist named Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Muh hay lee Chik sent mee hai ee) asks audience members one question: “What makes a life worth living?” The answer is not money, he explains. Not even a six- or seven-figure salary is guaranteed to make a person happy. It’s about a feeling—the kind of feeling whose presence makes someone’s eyes twinkle and whose absence quickly causes those same eyes to glaze over.

Today, Dr. Csikszentmihalyi is known as the father of “flow,” the mental state we reach when we feel most focused, challenged, and fulfilled by what we’re doing. In a word, we feel satisfied.

If someone’s eyes twinkle when you ask them how they feel about their work, there’s a good chance that—even if their job isn’t perfect—they experience significant feelings of flow while on the job.

If someone’s eyes grow dull, on the other hand, it’s likely that they rarely if ever experience flow. They probably feel fed up with their job. Stuck. They want a change but don’t know how to take the next step.

I myself felt stuck earlier in my own career. Caught between work and my responsibilities as a parent, I felt more and more like I was lacking a sense of purpose. So I started reading. I read about workplace operations, organizational behavior, and the meaning of life. Then, based on a recommendation in Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom and David Kelley, I started tracking my feelings about my work and reflecting on whether I was experiencing flow.

By sticking with that method, I was able to figure out which work tasks and responsibilities made me feel most fulfilled. I shifted key aspects of my job accordingly, and almost immediately, I started enjoying my job more. Not only that, I started enjoying my life more.

Most of us spend a lot of time at work. The average American over the age of twenty-five spends approximately 40.5 hours per week on work. Of course, some professionals spend much more than that—doctors spend upwards of sixty hours per week at work. That is a lot of time. The good news is, when just 10 percent of our time is spent in a flow state, the rest of the time goes by much faster. We’re more productive, more efficient, and just happier overall.

At chea seed, we want everyone to benefit from flow as much as possible. We know that even before the pandemic, one of the top reasons women were leaving their jobs was a lack of satisfaction. Now, more than ever, we want you to love what you do. Yes, we also want to empower you to earn more and advance faster in your career. But at the end of the day, what matters most is that you’re satisfied with what you do—and that whenever anyone asks about your work, they’re sure to see that twinkle in your eye.


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