How To Be Much Happier At Work

Siimon ReynoldsSiimon Reynolds
Founder & CEO, Fortune Institute

The new science of positive psychology has made enormous progress in the last few years identifying what makes people happy at work. In today’s column I’d like to look at one of the most powerful discoveries in this field to improve how good you feel when you’re at the office.

Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the most famous well being researchers, discovered an amazing thing. Many people are more happy at work than on vacation.

In his view, one of the primary reasons is that at work you are more likely to experience a state of mind called Flow. Mihaly has shown that when we are in Flow, we tend to feel good. Indeed the more often we are in Flow the better we usually feel.

So what are the characteristics of the Flow state? Here are the most important ones:

  1. The task takes your full concentration – you really need to concentrate to do it well. If you were to do it in a half hearted manner you would probably fail.
  2. The rules are clear. Even though you may be very challenged by the job at hand, you know exactly what you are attempting to do.
  3.  You forget yourself. Because you are so immersed in the activity you are not at all self conscious.
  4. You have a sense of control. Even though the task is tough, you feel that you are in charge, that you are making it happen.
  5.  You lose track of time. Have you ever been so involved in a job at work that time really flew by? This is a classic Flow experience.
  6. You enjoy doing the task, not just completing it. Doing the work is intrinsically satisfying, you enjoy the process and working through it.

According to Flow theory, the more activities with these components that you perform at work, the happier you will tend to be.

So how do you get more Flow in your work life? There are several important ways.


The first is to try hard at everything you do. Paradoxically, Csikszentmihalyi showed that taking it easy at the office is not in fact more enjoyable than challenging yourself. The human mind loves to be pushed and challenged, not given easy work.

The second way is to try and beat the clock. Working to a tight schedule creates many of the conditions of Flow mentioned above and thus increases most people’s well being. Almost any task becomes more engaging when we have a time to beat.

The third way to increase your sense of Flow at work is to aim high. If you are not enjoying your work currently it may be that you need to lift your general standard of excellence. By simply raising your standards in everything you do, you are likely to feel more engaged and motivated.


The discovery of Flow is extremely important to our well being, yet it is counter intuitive. Enjoyment comes from effort, not relaxation. It increases with challenging work, not easy work. If we are serious about being happy at the office we need to make the effort to create more Flow moments in the workplace.

Work will then become a little harder, but much more enjoyable.