Searching for happiness and how to live a meaningful life is a question that philosophers, theorists, and psychologists, are trying to answer for decades. One of them is Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who saw how World War II affected people’s lives. He realized that many adults around him found it hard to live contentedly after they lost their material wealth, homes, jobs, and security due to the war. This led him to begin his research on what makes a life worth living.
He found that, although money can help, it can’t make people indefinitely happy; he then tried to find the answer by researching human motivations, contentment, and fulfillment. His research arrived at the conclusion that people are at their optimal happy and productive selves when they experience a state of flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow is when a person is so immersed in their activity that they ignore outside stimuli like time and their basic needs; the only thing that matters at the moment is what they are doing.
Though Csikszentmihalyi started his research with artists, painters, and musicians to understand their creative process and motivation to do something that will unlikely bring fame or fortune, he stated that everyone can experience the flow state. He further described that experience as the state of doing things just for the sake of doing it. People don’t need external motivation to do something; they are doing it because of the positive feeling that the activity can give.
So, how exactly does flow affect someone’s happiness? Csikszentmihalyi stated that activities that involve some play and work are the best opportunity to reach a flow state, and through that, reach happiness as well. He explains that happiness is a state of mind, one that is affected by consciousness regardless of what happens outside of themselves. One of the ways to change one’s consciousness is through getting into the flow state.
Csikszentmihalyi continued his research on finding the link between flow and happiness by doing research on teenagers. He found that teenagers with high flow spent more time doing activities like hobbies and sport. Participants of the research also reported greater success in school, social relationships, and long-term happiness. The result of the research showed that the strongest predictors of long-term happiness are as follows: one’s presence in the flow state, ability to be sociable, how active one is, and the positive feeling one has towards themselves.
Flow is something that cannot be forced or does not happen whenever one feels like it. However, some people with a high level of conscientiousness and openness to experience are more likely to experience the flow state. Here are some ways you can optimize your chance to enter the state of flow.
- Minimize distractions
Flow is a state of mind with internal motivation, so it’s very important to minimize and reduce external distractions. Research has shown that to enter the flow state, it’s necessary to have an undivided focus for around 10-15 minutes and eliminate all the external distractions. So, make sure that you put away your phone or disable all your notifications as this might be one of the biggest external distractions. This also includes clearing unnecessary items from your surroundings and having a quiet environment to help you be hyper-focused and immersed in your activity.
Internal distractions can also be a hindrance. If you have too much on your mind or you are anxious about something, it will be harder for you to enter the flow state even without external distractions. To avoid this, clear your mind by writing down your thoughts and feelings every day in a journal or doing some meditation. It will help you to understand your thoughts and feel better so you can control possible internal distractions.
- Have a specific goal
To reach a state of flow, you need to have a clear and specific goal on what you want to achieve. Without a goal in mind, you will most likely do things simultaneously or switch between tasks that shift your focus and get you distracted easily. This will prevent you from reaching the state of flow. Having a goal will keep your mind from wandering and minimize your internal distraction to reach the state of flow.
Though having a clear goal is one of the important aspects to reach the flow state, you also need to remember to enjoy the process and moment while doing the activity. It is important to remember that the activity you want to get into should be something that you like and enjoy doing. Being in a flow state can give you a positive experience by enjoying the present moment when you are completely immersed in your work.
- Balance skills and challenges
Csikszentmihalyi explains the state of flow as the right balance between a person’s perceived skills and the challenges that they face. If a person faces a challenge that is higher than their skills, they will become anxious and stressed. If a person’s skill level is higher than the challenge, they may get bored and become distracted. A flow state can only be achieved when the challenge is enough to make you interested while providing a challenge to your current skills without being too hard.
Aside from that, Csikszentmihalyi also described the opposite of the flow state called apathy. It is a state when you do an activity that presents no challenge and requires no skills to do it like watching TV, browsing through social media, and other mindless entertainment. When someone is continuously involved in this activity, it can become harder for them to reach the flow state.
To experience flow in everyday life will not only give you positive emotions but can also be intrinsically rewarding and helpful for an individual’s journey towards self-actualization. The more you experience flow, the more you want to replicate these feelings. This can help you to not only have positive experiences through it but also make you happier.
Flow is an innately positive experience. If you are having trouble reaching the state of flow, try to minimize distractions, and have a specific goal in mind, and keep challenging yourself. Being in a state of flow will help you have a more meaningful life.
Finding happiness and having a purpose in life is a goal of many people. However, the concept of happiness is so broad that people can’t even begin to understand where they should start to look for it. People start to define their version of happiness and what could make them happy. Having a family, a successful career, and a big house are among the things that most people often associate with happiness.
One of the most prominent aspects that are often associated with happiness is money or how much money people can make. One famous study from 2010 by Daniel Kahneman and Angus Deaton even tried to test this hypothesis by measuring people’s level of happiness with their income. They found that the more money people make, the more they tend to have an increase in emotional wellbeing. In other words, as someone’s income increases, their wellbeing also increases.
However, this effect stops at a certain point. Once people make about $75,000 a year, their wellbeing stops increasing altogether. This study answers some people’s earlier questions about how important money is to happiness and how they can achieve it by making $75,000 a year.
However, a newer study in 2021 by Matthew Killingsworth contradicted this research. They found that a higher income above $75,000 can still positively affect people’s happiness and wellbeing. In this study, they also measured wellbeing in greater detail by using real-time assessment in asking participants how they are feeling at the moment instead of how they felt in the previous week or month. The result was that they found higher earners felt great and happy.
So, does that mean that people with low income can’t ever be happy? Researchers argue that, although money does play an important role in people’s overall happiness and satisfaction of life, it is also only a modest determinant of happiness. There are many ways how money can contribute to people’s happiness.
Although money is not everything, it is a means to have a comfortable life. When you have enough money, you can have all your basic needs fulfilled. Living in a comfortable house, eating healthy food, having access to health care, and feeling secure and safe are things that everyone needs. You won’t be able to think about happiness or enjoyment when you are feeling hungry or cold and have no home to go to.
This is in line with the NCHS data statistic that found people living in poverty were three times more likely to have depression. Another thing to highlight from Kahneman and Deaton’s research is that their participants are all American, so the living standard and income that they found is limited to them. An income of $75,00 a year might not be the threshold for everyone; it could vary, depending on the cost of living in a specific area and one’s interest.
As long as you have enough money to fulfill your basic needs, then you are halfway there. Having more money to buy things that you like can increase your positive emotions and comfort. You can also use the money to hire help to do your household chores so you can have more time to spend with your friends and family which is also important for your wellbeing.
Control in life
From Killingsworth’s research, they found that control in life plays a significant impact on their respondent’s level of happiness. People who have a higher income are happier, partly because they have an increased sense of control over life. Moreover, a sense of control accounted for a 74% correlation between income and wellbeing.
People that have more money can have more choices and options on how they want to live their life. For instance, having extra income can allow them to eventually afford a better housing arrangement or eat better meals. The more money one has, the more options become available to them.
However, it is also worth noting that making more money could also mean dealing with more pressure from work, leading to less time for socializing, and even lesser time for leisure and rest. So, the autonomy that you have by having more money might come with sacrificing other areas of your life. Therefore, you need to understand how much money is “enough” to avoid constantly chasing for more in exchange for the things that are more important in your life.
Value of money
How much money can bring you happiness also depends on how much value and meaning one puts into the amount of money one has. People who put a great emphasis on how money contributes to their happiness will feel happier when they have more money than people who don’t value money as much. A study found that for those living in rural areas, spending time with family, and having contact with nature are things that contributed to their level of happiness as opposed to those who live in a metropolis.
However, with increasing income that is commonly found in industrialized countries, social and economic factors have a bigger impact on people’s level of happiness. This finding suggests that people’s perspectives on the importance of money will affect how much money they need to bring them joy and happiness. In contrast, people who put less value on money are happy in a comfortable, safe, and strong community; they feel free to enjoy life regardless of how much money they are making.
Instead of focusing more on how you can make more money, try to understand what you think money will bring to your life. Having more money may help you gain certain things that will bring you happiness and other positive emotions. It is important to note that money can’t buy all of the things that will make you happy; in fact, you might find another way to attain certain types of happiness even without money.
Experience vs material goods
How you spend your money is also crucial on how it can affect your happiness. Some people spend their money on material or tangible things like bags and jewelry, while others spend more on experiences like going on vacation or attending a concert. A 2014 research found that experiential purchases bring greater happiness than material goods because they can effectively improve social relationships, form an important part of one’s identity, and lead to fewer social comparisons than material purchases.
Aside from that, a poll in 2014 also supports this research where they found that millennials prefer to spend their money on experiences than on material goods. However, this can’t be applied to anyone. For some people, material goods can bring them a lot of happiness if they have a very strong affinity for them. The main point is that spending money on experiences or material goods could increase wellbeing because it can fill one’s higher psychological needs like connectedness and a feeling of being alive.
Be it experience or material things, you need to understand why you feel they can bring you happiness. One does not better than the other because, in the end, it is still spending vs. spending. So, before you spend your money, ask yourself why you need a certain thing and what you can get from purchasing it.
A lot of evidence suggests that having more money will bring more happiness. However, money will not inevitably increase your happiness. The way you perceive, spend, and how much you value money will shape how much happiness you can get from it. How much money a person needs to be happy varies depending on how much to cover their basic needs and what can bring them joy without sacrificing other important aspects in one’s life such as time or rest. Whether it is a concert ticket or a new pair of shoes, ultimately money can increase your happiness if you spend it on experiences or items that are aligned with your values.
Happiness is not usually associated with hard data, performance, efficiency and so forth, but a Kansas State University researcher, Thomas Wright, points out that this particular factor can contribute greatly to organizational performance.
While much research has been done on employee engagement, fewer studies have taken a closer look at employee happiness. That begs the question – what does #happinessatwork mean? How can it be measured?
These questions become much more important, in a world where professionals are becoming increasingly difficult to find and engage.
Because it has significant implications for people, businesses, and the world at large. It’s not only a universal desire, it’s also been found to have a direct correlation to productivity and creativity. When someone is unhappy, it not only affects their day-to-day life, it is also bad for business.
Mindspace, an international operator of boutique workspaces for companies of all sizes, conducted an interesting survey, together with OnePoll – an independent research company, regarding happiness at work in 2019.
Their assumption was that happiness is crucial for business, in more ways than we thought, and companies can influence employee happiness in several ways. They started to explore the topic, by asking the following 2 queries:
- Are people happy at work?
- What makes them happy?
They surveyed 5,000 people who work in office jobs, to find out how they feel about their current workplaces. It was a sample of individuals from 7 countries: the US, the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Israel, Poland, and Romania.
Participants came from a wide range of sectors, including finance, engineering, law, information technology, healthcare, media, public service, transport and logistics, creative arts & design, and more.
Are people happy at work?
Overall, the news is good. The results of the survey revealed that most people are happy or very happy at work. People were asked if they were very happy, happy most of the time, not very happy, or not at all happy.
Nearly 84% of respondents were happy or very happy. The average response was 3.2 (out of 4).
Is everyone the same kind of happy?
Not exactly. If we look closely at the data, some interesting differences appear. In general, men report being happier at work more than women do, across all countries.
The exception is in Poland, where women report being happier than men. Across age ranges, millennials are significantly happier than people in their 40-50s (3.23 vs. 2.98 out of 4).
Managers and business owners are happier than employees (45% of all managers vs. 27% of employees report being happy). It’s interesting to see, especially with the rise of freelancers, that 73% of people who are self-employed are happy with their current work.
By comparison, just 25% of people employed by a company have stated that they are happy with their place of employment.
People working in the creative and arts industries are the most satisfied (3.36 out of 4), while teachers are the least (2.96 out of 4).
What makes people happy at work?
To get a sense of the commonalities, as well as the differences, the people at Mindspace and OnePoll chose several factors, to see how and if they’re connected to #happinessatwork.
They chose these factors because it’s important to understand what’s really underscoring an employee’s happiness and engagement at work.
- Sense of purpose – Having a sense of purpose at work is crucial. It means you’re more likely to be dedicated to your job and the success of your work.
Over 75% of the very happy people reported having a strong sense of purpose at their jobs. Conversely, those who are not very happy report a low sense of purpose.
Across the world, people in the U.S. and the Netherlands reported feeling the highest level of purpose at their jobs (4.35 out of 5), while those in the UK reported the lowest (3.66 out of 5).
- Feeling valued – Feeling valued was found as a Key Indicator of job performance. Employees who feel valued are more likely to be engaged in their work, and feel satisfied & motivated.
Approximately 80% of people feel valued at work to some extent, and 90% of happy employees feel very valued. In contrast, 80% of people who are not happy at work say they do not feel valued.
That being said, there is a global difference, as people in the U.S. feel much more valued at work than people in Europe.
- Wellness – As employee wellness programs become increasingly more common, it’s interesting to look at whether they have an impact on people’s happiness.
Approximately 40% of employees participate in wellness activities, with younger employees (ages 18-24) twice as likely to participate than older employees (ages 45- 55), sitting at 33% vs. 16%.
Interestingly enough, people in research and marketing also report higher satisfaction at their jobs, than those in admin and logistics.
Across countries, most people think that wellness at the workplace is important – whether they participate in such activities or not. However, on average, wellness is more important to younger employees than older ones.
- Employee engagement – Overall, 88% of people feel generally engaged in their work. Around the world, employee engagement is highest in the U.S. and Poland (3.5 out of 4 for each), and lowest in the UK (2.7 out of 4).
Out of the very happy people, 99% feel somewhat or very engaged in their job. Therefore, it’s fair to say that happy people are engaged, and engaged people are happy.
- Collaborative environment – 75% of people feel that working in a more collaborative environment would make them happier.
This varies across countries and ages, with people in the U.S. and Israel much more likely to feel this way, than those in the UK and Germany.
- Flexibility – 70% of happy employees enjoy flexibility. Across countries, 50% of respondents indicate that flexible work hours are one of the most valued office perks.
30% of respondents indicate that having the ability to work remotely, on occasion, is one of the job benefits they cherish the most.
- Workplace culture – Less than 5% of employees find their workplace fun & exciting, and 15% find their workplace boring.
In Romania, the difference is even starker: 2% of employees say their workplace is fun & exciting, and 30% describe it as boring.
# Happiness at work is not a KPI between companies just yet, however given this study, one can be certain that companies will learn to appreciate the fact that #happinessatwork has major impact on individual performance, which might just make them more inclined to start measuring this factor as a Key Performance Indicator.
In 2017, the Performance Magazine editorial team interviewed Mohamed Zairi, CEO at Excellence Tetralogy and Executive Chairman at The European Centre for Best Practice Management and Zairi Institute, United Kingdom. His thoughts and views on Performance Management are detailed below.
One big challenge is to provide a mindset that comprehends the fact that measurement is not about tracking numbers or having intelligent dashboards, but that it is a mindset, a philosophy that has to be driven top-down.