No more depressing thoughts about fractions of pennies. Replace that with a vision transmitted by Lucia Neare at our life-enriching C3 rehearsal with her earlier this evening: invite your future audience into the room.
Now: no time for questions when there’s work to be done.
“In her book The Happiness Myth, Jennifer Michael Hecht identifies three basic kinds of happiness: good day, good life, and peak, and I’ve found that thinking about work within her construct has helped me tease apart some of the “happiness formula” variables that influence well-being.
Good-day happiness at work might mean: I got to the office early, I was able to take care of backlogged paperwork that had been nagging me, I had a productive meeting, and I was able to leave in time to make it to my daughter’s school concert. Good-day happiness is about an awareness of the fortunate conditions of one’s life--where stopping to smell the roses can have measurable positive impact.
Good-life happiness as it relates to work would be more along the lines of being engaged in tasks that you find meaningful and challenging, and in which you are aware that you’re helping provide a decent material quality of life for your family. This kind of happiness is more connected to hard work--the sense that one is doing the best one can in any endeavor and, ideally, endeavors in which the work itself is its own reward. Good-life happiness does not relate to things like our gender or our age, over which we have no influence, but rather to conditions over which we do have some control, such as where we work or the kind of work we choose to do. But good-life happiness does not mean that we are “happy all the time,” to quote the (only somewhat ironic) title of Laurie Colwin’s great novel. Far from it. The positive psychology field puts this in perspective, acknowledging through empirical and replicable research that in spite of the advantages of thinking positively, there are times when “negative” thinking is appropriate, and that difficulty, pain, and sadness are inevitable. We need obstacles and challenges in our lives for achievements to have meaning, the cold and cloudy days that make us revel in the warm and sunny ones, the necessary and numbing work that lets us really enjoy the resulting moments of success. Outrage on behalf of the disadvantaged can lead people to make their corners of the world better places. Ferocity--a little anger, even--can fuel healthy competition.
And, finally, the third kind of happiness--peak happiness--is the more transcendent sort, by definition rare in everyday life, including (and maybe especially) on the job. I’ve also found that this sort of happiness becomes more elusive the older we get--the more cares and responsibilities we have, the less willing we may be to engage in the kinds of experiences where peak moments tend to happen. It takes effort to wake up in the middle of the night with our kids to watch the Pleiades’ meteor showers if our prospective sense of how exhausted we’ll be at work the next day outweighs our anticipation of awe. But, Hecht intimates, it is the peak experiences in our lives that endure, that offer us hope and glimmers of meaning, and that connect us to our families, communities, and a sense of the eternal. And this kind of happiness is closely connected to the “V” in the happiness formula--these are the things we choose to do.
While in our personal and private lives peak happiness may be, for instance, the kind of euphoria we experience at a great rock concert or after exceptional sex, at work it is more often connected with the creation of something original: designing a new kind of ergonomic desk chair, discovering a new way to isolate and destroy viruses, delivering a giant project early and under budget, or creating the next Simpsons. In short, moments of peak happiness at work often involve some aspect of the creative process.”