Flow & Happiness at Work

Happiness WHERE? Most people would balk at the idea that happiness at work is possible.

When people think of their job, words like stressed out, busy, tiring, and unappreciated are likely to pop into their minds. And out their mouths.

Working hours often start early and end late. Many people are not paid a living wage, and must work insane hours to provide for themselves and their family.

Interconnectedness means all of a sudden we are (or are expected to be) available 24/7. It has also “collapsed” time zones so that regular evening conference calls is not uncommon and even part of the job description. Thankfully countries like France are recognizing that this is not productive, healthy or sustainable in the long-run. Human capital is such an important resource that we must safeguard the well-being of people. This is foundational to better working conditions for everyone and as well as long-term profits for the company.


Stress is no laughing matter, even if we compare them like badges of honour. We humans are simply not built for stress, at least not for a constant stress, even if they are low levels of “threats”. Having the body chronically on fight-or-flight mode degrades our resilience and our ability to rejuvenate and heal. It certainly makes us crabby and irritable which makes us unpleasant employees and bosses.

And that’s the state of living for most people, reactive rather than conscious response. We also become habituated to the stress level, without realizing the distress we are putting ourselves in.

Seeing that people spend so much of their day at work, isn’t it time we looked at happiness at work?

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.

Albert Schweitzer



Have you ever been so engrossed in a task that time stops? You look up and see that hours have flown by? Or when you so in the moment, your game is on, and you are “in the zone”?

This is called is flow, a concept researched and coined by Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high” according to Positive Psychologist and author of Authentic Happiness Martin Seligman).

Flow can happen anytime anywhere, for anyone.  That is when we are fully immersed and involved with what’s at hand. We become one with what’s going on that the story of the ego is dissolved in these moments.

It’s the “optimal experience” because according to Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi, “the happiness that follows flow is of our own making, and it leads to increasing complexity and growth in consciousness”. It is deeper and more sustained.

Researchers found that for some people, flow is frequently experienced and these are happier peeps. Words like “strong”, “active”, “creative”, and “motivated” were reported.

It’s theorized that we are investing in and building our “psychological capital that can be drawn on in the years to come”. So the more we can tap into flow, the healthier we are.

And what does this have to do with work?

In the studies, the unexpected result seen was that 54% of people at work reported flow versus 18% of people in leisure. This pattern was true for supervisors and assembly line workers alike.

This actually isn’t so surprising. Given how stressed they are at work, most people just want to relax after hours. Oftentimes, this is escapism in some way, even mindless “vegging out”. People want to be distracted, not a state primed for flow which requires focus.

For many people, unhappiness is usually related to work.

So then, if we can increase satisfaction and fulfillment in the workplace, it is a win-win situation. Individuals are happier – a win. Companies are more profitable from more productive staff – a win.

The 9 Factors of Being in Flow

① Complete-able Task

The challenge must be something we can complete.

② Clear Goals

What needs to be accomplished must be clear and understood. We must know the rules of engagement.

③ Skills Match Challenge

The challenge and skills do not have to be physical but they do have to match. Either increase the difficulty of the challenge or gain new skills to meet it. In the article Why Change Happens When You Get Out of the Comfort Zone? we see that we want to be stretched, just to be challenged, but not to the point of overwhelm.

Keeping the interest to optimize enjoyment comes from tweaking the skill:challenge ratio.

④ Focus + Concentration

The activity with the appropriate skill:challenge ratio keeps your mind focused only on what’s at hand. Your concentration is directed at completing the task. Nothing else. We are not drifting off in daydream. Not wondering who’s saying what on twitter. Or making lists in our head.

⑤ Deep Effortless Involvement

While your concentration may be intense, there is no tightness or stress. It’s the opposite – you are energized and relaxed. That’s because you are one with the action. You are internally and intrinsically motivated. You are literally poetry in motion.

⑥ Immediate Feedback

Feedback can be anything that helps us see where we are in relation to the goal. Its nature depends not only on the task, but also on the person. Feedback comes in the form of information that we find useful, based on our own disposition and sensitivities.

⑦ Control

More than having control is not worrying about losing control. In flow, we have the ability to minimize risk – through our knowledge and skills.

⑧ Loss of Self-Consciousness

We are focused on the task and the worries and stresses of the day disappear. We are not caught in the 60,000 plus thoughts that go through our mind. We are not lost in a loop of doubting beliefs. What floats away is our sense of self-scrutiny.

We are in the moment, not in the past or the future. And we become one, paradoxically through greater awareness and allowing of self.

⑨ Altered Time Duration

Time stops. Within the activity, it seems time is suspended. It’s distorted at any rate because once the task is completed, the phrase “time flies when you are having fun” applies.

How to Find Flow @ Work?

Given that work is more task-oriented, it is actually easier to find flow in the workplace. We are all good at something. It’s a matter of matching that skill to the appropriate challenge.

A good thing for both the worker and the company. And sometimes you have to get creative.

Is it easier for the self-employed, specifically skilled, and business owners to find flow? Maybe.

What if it doesn’t matter what we do?

What if whatever career we have chosen, we have the intrinsic motivation to find joy and flow in the everyday tasks at the office?

For most people, work is one of the life’s “have-tos”.

Even though people in the study reported more flow at work than in their leisure time, they wish they were doing something else. This is despite that people like being in flow.

So the conflict lies not in the mental or physical exertion of being continually challenged. What is the issue is their perspective about work. What if there is a way for people to find happiness at work?

People in general live to work, not work to live and tie their identity and sense of success with their job. And they begrudge it. For many reasons.

Happiness at Work

Happiness at work is critical for both employees and companies. For companies, it directly relates to productivity, the bottom line so important to them. For the individual, it impacts their sense of self-worth and meaning. The happiness and well-being of people at work also has societal value. It is positive growth and the fulfillment of human potential.

Common workplace complaints such as problematic interpersonal relationships, heavy workloads, a lack of recognition, and not enough training reflect deeper challenges.  These are symptomatic of imbalances in the world at large.

And the crux of it is – we don’t know how to be happy because we don’t know who we are. We have placed our power, our identity, and sense of self into money and into the pursuit of things we somehow have decided will bring us happiness.

We abdicate our authority to people we feel know better. We legislate so other people do the “dirty jobs” so we don’t have to. We consume to satisfy our ego rather than question the impact of the supply chain on our fellow beings and the environment.  We make choices that our tribal-based rather than global-based. We separate ourselves so we can continue down this path of convenience and illusion. Where do we start?

Happiness at work is one place we can start with. We spend a lot of time at work. We are more likely to interact with people different from our familial, tribal, gender, and cultural backgrounds. We form relationships that call up a variety of skills. And let’s be honest, despite wanting to leave work at work, many people bring home work, along with all the stresses.

Work however can be somewhat compartmentalized. In this microcosm, people can start to break down the barriers that stand in the way of greater collaboration. Mutual respect and understanding. Recognition of everyone’s contribution. Open communication. This is how we can go from flow to happiness at work to a more global state of happiness.