July 21, 2009

The next intentional activity from The How of Happiness is increasing flow experiences.  Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness.  The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude, the second was deliberate optimism, the third was to stop overthinking and comparing ourselves to others, the fourth was practicing acts of kindness, the fifth was social support, the sixth was coping with stress, and the seventh was learning to forgive.

Flow is the term Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi uses to describe being fully immersed or absorbed in what you are doing.  I’ve used this concept in my own published research to elaborate how I think engagement is one indicator of eustress – the positive response to stress.

One thing you can do at work to increase flow is to adopt new values.  Be open to new and different experiences, and constantly seek to learn new things (p. 184).  There is always something new we can learn at work, and always something about our jobs that can be improved if we will assume responsibility for initiating that behavior in ourselves. 

I also think clearly understanding the larger purpose of the work we do is absolutely critical.  Do you view work as your opportunity to do something, or is work just something that you do?  I know some of you may find this hard to swallow, but I personally believe that purpose can be present in any and all types of work.

For example, interviews with twenty-eight members of a hospital cleaning crew revealed that some of them disliked cleaning, felt that it entailed low-level skills, and did the minimum amount of work required; others, in contrast, transformed the job into something grander and more significant.  This second group of hospital cleaners described their work as bettering the daily lives of patients, visitors, and nurses….They set forth challenges for themselves – for example, how to get the job accomplished in a maximally efficient way or how to help patients heal faster by making them more comfortable.  They added tasks outside their formal duties, such as rearranging the paintings on the walls or fetching wildflowers. They saw themselves as part of a larger, integrated whole, not just mopping floors and emptying trash cans but serving as part of a system that improved people’s lives. (pp. 188-189).

Look around you – are the people you have been given the privilege to lead behaving purposefully and experiencing some degree of flow at work?  Are your employees kicking ass at work, or getting their asses kicked everyday they drag themselves to work?

Partner with your employees to fix your crappy systems and help them see the bigger picture in the work that they do.

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  1. Leadership Development Carnival « Bret L. Simmons | August 2, 2009
  2. Savoring the Positive « Bret L. Simmons | August 5, 2009
  1. Bret, on a personal level this really hit home. Reconnecting with what matters to me has been an ongoing practice. This is the big-picture stuff that keeps me going through the hard times, and sends me along the path to creativity that puts me in the flow. Time literally stands still.

    I’m guessing that when we are in the state of “flow” that endorphins are released, thus reinforcing our desire to be back there again?

  2. Cindy Euckett says:


    Some of the largest entrepreneurial businesses in the world have begun here in Wichita. To name a few: Koch Industries, Pizza Hut, Coleman camping equipment, Beech Aircraft, Cessna Aircraft, Learjet, etc. Wichita State University has the Center for Entrepreneurship as a result of those folks coming together to promote what worked for them. Check it out at http://webs.wichita.edu/?u=cfeweb&p=/index.

  3. Brenda Somich says:

    “They saw themselves as part of a larger, integrated whole” <— I think this part is essential to breaking out of the monotony of daily routine. I've certainly done my share of trivial tasks in the workplace but the challenge has been to see how those actions affect the bigger picture and how each role integrates with one another. I think that understanding the "flow" and value of your current position (however small or seemingly insignificant) will help you take ownership of it, which in turn can motivate you to turn it into something bigger.

  4. Mary Jo: your question about endorphines is a good one. We don’t know nearly as much about how the body responds eustress. I am not aware of any study that has measured endorphines in workers.

    Brenda: Great thoughts and I concur. A big part of every job are things that are necessary but not necessarily engaging. As you point out, that’s where ownership and personal responsibility are so vital. Humor also helps.

    Cindy: I checked out the site at WSU you suggested. Looks like they are doing some exciting things there!

    Thanks to all of you for taking the time to share your thoughts!

  5. Thanks for writing, I really enjoyed that post, wish you would post more often