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Happiness @ Work: New research and practice with Mirna Smidt

Radek Czahajda & Valueships

Happiness @ Work: New research and practice with Mirna Smidt

Executive summary:

Authentic happiness consists of 3 elements:

💡 Pleasure

💡 Engagement

💡 Meaning

New research by Tandler, Krauss, Proyer and Corso has analysed how these parameters affect the workplace.

❗Spoiler alert: They appear to be essential for performance, work satisfaction and stress reduction.

How to implement them in everyday life and workplace? We will search for an answer together with Mirna Smidt: Happiness Academy Founder and Positive Psychology expert in today's episode of Science of Business Podcast.


Radek: Welcome to Science of Business Podcast by Valueships. My name is Radek. And together with experts from various industries, we discuss new research pieces and their application in business life. If you're a manager or you want to be up to date with science that can be applied in your work, this podcast is made for you. 

Okay. And we are live. Welcome everyone, good afternoon in science of business podcast. Hello Mirna, thank you for accepting my invitation. 

Mirna Smit: Hi, happy to be here. 

Radek: Yeah, so lovely. I’m just having a quick recap that it's always I need to learn how to properly welcome everyone and how to make this start very convenient. But we are having some first visitors. So, welcome again. And what we will be talking about is a concept called authentic happiness today. And there is one particular research piece from Tundler Kraus project and Corsa from last year where they were evaluating how authentic happiness appears in the workplace and how it works, spoiler alert, it works. But first let's maybe talk a little bit about what authentic happiness consists of. And according to those scientists it's life of pleasure, life of engagement and life of meaning. So, hedonism, flow related experiences and eudaimonia. And I would like to ask you Mirna as the happiness academy founder and positive psychology expert and trainer, how do you understand this? How do you work with authentic happiness in your practice? 

Mirna Smit: Sure. Thanks Radek. So, these three concepts we kind of tried to balance them out a little bit. Meaning we don't go oh, let's choose one and work on that one but we're looking a bit into overall picture how do they work together and in a balanced life how can we have a bit of each. So, if we think about them like that, you can say that a hedonic one, so kind of positive emotions, enjoying the moment, pleasure. Well also feeling relaxed sometimes and so on. We can say that these are one side of the equation. And then the meaning one, the eudemonia, it's kind of on the opposite side. So while in hedonic you focus a lot on the moment and maybe playfulness and not overthinking and being just very present and looking into how you feel in this moment and what to make you happy right now, on that side we stay in the moment. On the other hand, on the side of your eudemonia, we think a lot about this big picture thinking. So, we think a lot about what is important to me in life? What do I want to build and create on a really big picture? What is my life plan? What are my values? And this kind of questions, what am I standing for? And of course it's very hard to hold these two perspectives in the same time. So, it's very hard to think oh let me be just joyful and do what's fun and at the same time let me think what's really important. So, usually we balance them a bit within the timeline that we take moments when we think and work on important things and then we also try to sprinkle them with these positive emotions and moments of mindfulness and so on. And then the third concept flow kind of connects together and flow is that state where we are hopefully working on something meaningful, it's because it's very goal-oriented, it's related to what we are working on and trying to achieve, the challenges ahead of us. But at the same time we can also introduce into it a lot of enjoyment and a lot of positive emotion. So, somehow for me flow is often the entry point into the conversation because it connects the other two a little bit. 

Radek: So, after a week of surfing and canaries we need a week of voluntary work and animal shelter to balance. 

Mirna Smit: Not necessarily. I would say with the meaning you just want to reconnect often. And when you feel it's lacking then you want to create some space to reflect on it. And it doesn't have to be that to work on meaning you have to suffer in that time, not at all. Ideally we want to be building both. We just want to create these reconnection points. When I sit and think and new year’s is such a good opportunity for that to sit and reflect what happened in the last year and what they want out of the next one. And then for most of the year we actually want to go back to action and do stuff and work on stuff and try to make it enjoyable. But with this framework in the back of our mind what we are actually trying to build and achieve. 

Radek: Alright, and you mentioned earlier like there is also a fourth element from other research. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. There is one component that they related to meaning and meaningful life that was reintroduced a bit… not really re, introduced, a bit recently in the last couple of years. And in this aspect of called psychological richness and the idea of that is that for some people what feels most meaningful in life and for most of us what we draw a lot of meaning from is this idea of having life rich in variety of interesting experiences. You know perspective changing experiences. It's driven by novelty and sense of adventure and this diversity and variety. And that these experiences contribute to our sense of well-being and also our sense of identity and build into our meaning as well. Having that said well this component is important for everyone. It's also a little bit personal which component is most important for us individually. Some percentage of people, it's not very big, I think it's around 10 percent, really put this psychological richness on the first place as the most important thing for them. Something that really drives their sense of meaning, I think they have tough times in COVID here. And then on the other hand, for some people it's more important, these really big goals. However, all these four components are important for everyone. It's just that we prioritize them a little bit differently. 

Radek: When you say that it blew my mind. I didn't notice that earlier but actually this psychological richness, it feels like it relates to the competent of openness in personality. And then eudemonia probably relates to agreeableness from personality like depending on how much we are into that. So in that sense I think we can actually discover what is our goal, what is our secret formula for happiness. But I really like it also that we need to keep in mind that there is… there still needs to be some balance, we cannot just dive into one field and I think it will all work. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. In every work on well-being ideally we want to take into account what the research says, yet also be aware research is statistics, it's what works for majority, what majority finds important and we definitely want to carve our individual way there and make some choices on what matters to us and so on. Having that said it's also a good approach to test and experiment and try some tools and approaches, even if you think that's not so important to me but trying it in experience might make a difference in that opinion. And then in the end we can make some choices. Actually this is not really that interesting for me. Or choices like, yeah, this really works let me focus on that more. And that can be in these big picture things like hedonic, eudemonia, should I look for more fun and positive emotion, should I look for more meaning or for more flow. But it can also be in very specific small tools or we call them interventions usually, it sounds dramatic, small interventions that we can do for our own happiness. 

Radek: Great. Actually what I planned, I planned and I didn't plan, but in the end what we will have in this episode is sort of an inspiration for ideas for what could we do in each of those. And this is actually what we can do over upcoming holidays to spend some time to rethink? What are we doing? What could we do to improve each of those parts? But first the research, you said we need to always back in research. And the one that I’m sharing was a 180 degree of evaluation of happiness in 372 working adults. And the results indicated that engagement and meaning relate to work satisfaction while hedonism is related to less work stress. Well, this doesn't really matter. What matters is that basically it helps us working. So, we need to invest not only in happiness because we want to live better life and more fulfills like, but also it works for our business to grow. But what researchers mentioned is that there were only few of those interventions as you call them. So what actually can be done in workplace to increase happiness? And since holidays are coming and we will also care about ourselves, my idea is let's go one by one, hedonism, flow, eudemonia and psychological richness. And think about what could we do in our personal life and in our work life to increase them? This will help not only our viewers but also the scientists because they don't know yet, 2020, and they still didn't figure out; let's help them out, so hedonism, my favorite one. How do we work on that in our personal lives? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. I think that one is easiest. It's easiest because if we pay a bit of attention, we notice really fast what gives us positive emotion. And for that one of the simplest exercise is to think which positive emotion would I like to have more of like what would I want to have more, is it really enjoyment, is it serenity, is it love, is it feeling of belonging, is it feeling silly and light and fun or whichever it is. So, kind of choosing some of the positive emotions we want to have more of. And then literally sitting and building a small list of what makes me feel that way. And that could be based on past experiences or just asking ourselves what right now what gives me that feeling. And it's constructive. So not like cookies all over but also other things. So what are all this. And then listing down all these things, and putting that list somewhere where we can easily reach it and it can be a really good reminder for us to just create more space, more reminders for that. And it sounds kind of basic. But the thing is when we are in a good mood, when we are in positive emotion, when we have a spark of positivity and joy then we can think much more broadly and more creatively and we can think of many more options for this. And then when we actually feel tired, stressed, down on energy or any other shade of not such a positive emotion, then we're kind of stuck, we get in this survival mode, in more tunnel vision, it's hard to find the willpower, it's hard to find creativity to do something. So, ideally we want to create this list of little things that work such as massage, a bath, a good book, a good conversation with this list of people, this song to put on, movement, stretch, gardening, stepping out into the nature, just any long list of little things and the smaller things the better because that hedonic thing, it's not about having this spree of stuffing yourself with experiences in a day. No, it's about spreading them through the time and reconnecting with small things often. So, we want to create that list when we feel good, maybe boost ourselves a bit with good music or nice cup of tea or something else, hot chocolate. And then create that list and then have it as sort of an option when we feel like more positive emotion would be… 

Radek: Wow! So, I’m wondering a bold assumption and let's challenge that please. I just had a training on learning and we discussed like sometimes you come back from work, you're so tired, all you think of is just watching some serious or whatsoever. I wonder if we tackled hedonism is more, if we put more positive emotions throughout the day, is there a chance we wouldn't be so drained every day in the evenings or how does it work with energy? 

Mirna Smit: I would think that this that you're describing is maybe more related to self-checking and awareness how do I feel and then tackling it earlier like when energy starts dropping a bit, catching that drop versus allowing it to get totally depleted. Because when it starts dropping just a little bit, then a very small thing is enough to renew us and then when it goes down to spiral and we're like totally down, then it's really hard to pick up in terms of energy from there. So, emotions definitely have an impact on energy as well. And we kind of split them in two categories in that sense. One is the activating emotions. So, the ones that make you want to do stuff in positive emotions, that's something like joy, enthusiasm, feeling inspired, motivating, positively challenged, things like that. On the other hand we also have this low energy, recharging emotion, the ones that invite us to get calmer but also in that way to replenish our energy. And that's something like serenity, hope, gratitude, maybe moment of connection with someone, maybe pride; I think pride can go both ways right in terms of energy. But I think key is also to recognize are we maybe sometimes spending too much time in one of these two energy sites, too much inactivation or too much in quiet and slow and can we revive that cycle a little bit, can we look for more of positive emotions in a place that actually is a bit depleted for us. 

Radek: Just took notes. It sounds brilliant. And I think I will explore that even more how these things appear. Because what I tend to do is to put them in one place. Like you've said these moments of joy like playing piano or having a nice cup of coffee, it's like either in the morning or in the evening because it's easier this way than to break your day through but maybe worth considering to keep your energy to be a bit more steady in that sense, and how about workplace in terms of hedonism? How can we spark pleasure in our teams? That's a challenge. Or is it…? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. It could be. I think this really depends on the context of work and on relationship between people and their tasks and their environment. But I would say one of the maybe best places to look for this is our relationships and interactions we have. And because that's very often a spark, hopefully, that can very often lead to spark of a bit of fun and having relaxation, a bit of meaningful conversation, feeling connected, feeling belonging, that comes from our goals and tasks as well. But it comes very much from people as well. So, I would look into that from perspective how can we connect people a little bit more and how can we create small moments where they have chance to connect. And I’m not talking there so much this team building, very structured activity; log them for two days in adrenal impact type of activity, so they connect, because in that activity maybe they connect but they don't get to know each other really. I’m talking more while working on meaningful projects that hopefully most of us care about. Can we also build a bit of space to also complement each other, appreciate each other's strengths, and take a moment to celebrate, take a moment to recognize when somebody helped us with something, and take a moment to have fun with some bit of the project, so building in those little moments in everyday work within our tasks and just nudging people to use them a bit more. Like creating a bit of personal check-ins at the start of the meetings, creating celebration milestones maybe within the project and especially training people into more praise and recognition. And by recognition I don't mean public applause but more like to think in that way and complement each other. And then also into more gratitude and into more focus on strengths to be proud of their own strengths and things they've done well and to also recognize strength in others. This all leads us into this small spikes and moments of positivity. 

Radek: One idea that also came to my mind is the power of gamification here, like we have a challenge, we have a task and we can fun if high it, make it more fun and make sure that people not only do follow the process but compete a bit, maybe do it in a silly way, whatsoever, just making sure that we have some fun on the go. I think that's another way to spark, at least for me. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. And I think you're reminding me with that of also great point. Should we build that for them or should we empower them and teach them to build it themselves? I usually like the mix of these approaches, we bring in something into the environment but with a lot of ownership and freedom for people to actually choose how they engage with things, what they want to engage with and also to build their own experience. Some people enjoy much more being constantly in interactions; other people enjoy a bit more focused time and then reconnecting with the team as an example. So, I think it's very important to also account for that personal option. But then within that to also allow that they make choices and build their own experiences, not just that we set them for them. So giving options but also giving ownership of those options. 

Radek: Wow! Great! So the other side of the coin… Meaning how about this one, in our personal life first, I think that's also simpler. How does it work? 

Mirna Smit: I would argue that that one is less simple. 

Radek: I mean, simpler than in the workplace, not simpler than… 

Mirna Smit: Yeah, okay. Because I think of these three concepts, as you know the hedonistic one - the easiest to build, flow and engagement - kind of in the middle. Because hedonistic is just we all know what to do, we just need to create a bit more space. Then flow is kind of we have the recipe, we have the research but then there are subtle things that get broken and we need to just take them into account. But then meaning, oh, meaning is tricky, meaning is elusive, meaning is one to approach carefully. And that's both in working and private life. I would agree with you that maybe in private life it's a bit easier because we have more freedom. But maybe that's also tougher because of the same reason, because options are unlimited. So, in general, the tricky thing with meaning is, there is no one conclusive model, like we have with flow or unconclusive research we can look into and say these are the elements of meaning, this is what contributes to meaning. We have a lot of research that indicates very diverse components as something that's correlated with meaning. But we don't see how they all work together and we don't have this, list of things those check boxes to check. So, it's really a little bit like they say like chasing a butterfly. If you chase it too hard, goes away; if you sit and just do your stuff, often it comes back and sits on your shoulder. So, I think with meaning we want to approach it very lightly in terms of goal orientation. We don't want to take it as our goal let's make things more meaningful. No, we want to take it much more to focus on things that contribute to meaning. Example of such things are goals that are important to us, building relationships that are important to us, who are we serving and how in our life and who are we being supported by and how in our life, and who are we connected to in a meaningful way. Then reflection on our values, on things we are excited about building. So, all of these topics, they contribute to meaning without actually asking is this goal meaningful. But asking what goal would I like to do, what is my bucket list, what is my life goals, what are things I’m excited about creating, what do I want to learn, what are my values, what's important to me, what do I stand for, how am I authentic, what are my unique strengths, what am I bringing into this world, how can I show up for even in even better way. These are all questions that contribute. While at the same time if we ask is this meaningful or not we kind of start breaking do we do that, if you over analyze it, it's really tricky. So, ideally with meaning we want to approach it a bit indirectly, we want to play a bit with trying different things out. And then gently observing what feels meaningful. So, it's not like happiness boosters with hedonistic approach where you build the list - you do the list and you go back to the list often. It's much more elusive. It's much more about being taking it as experience of life to keep on uncovering this question and asking questions what matters, what do I want to build, what do I stand for, how am I authentic and then gently observing did this work, it does, do things feel meaningful if not what is missing, what would make it more meaningful. The question is never is this meaningful or not. Same as the question is never am I happy or not. That's a question to kill happiness. The question is what would make me a little bit happier right now, what would make things a little bit more meaningful, what would be the next little layer to explore and maybe build, that's the question that really helps. 

Radek: For me it sounds like comparing this to meaning and hedonism is that one is… hedonism is more oriented on yourself, one of what gives you the motivation, emotions and pleasure while meaning is about the external world. And before we talked, I imagined eudemonia more as focusing on other people but actually focusing on a goal or something bigger like… I don't know. I’m working as a trainer because I want to make people learn better globally as many as possible whatsoever, there is something bigger than just training to training, there is some why behind it from Simon Sinek also. Yeah, it's broader. And I think just, when I was thinking about eudemonia also like focusing more on voluntary work, on like helping some real meaningful… like globally objectively meaningful goals because we can argue if I don't know selling some anti-vox tools is meaningful or not but depending on what you believe in. But then fighting climate change or fighting poverty, global education, what not. Those are all meaningful but yet we cannot engage in all of them. And some of them will be more relevant to us and we still need to choose what is meaningful to us, what we feel meaningful, right? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah, that also calls out a bit for this part of, it's what you choose not what you miss out because I think we all have so many options and that's I think one of the things we are suffering of as a generation, as a place in the world right now. If I chase all the things I care about, chances are I won't make meaningful progress in many of them. I won't get far. So, in a way you could argue that it makes sense to actually make some choices and let go of some things I care about because of making commitment to some of the things I care about and to really make that selection and those choices. And the thing how we can still play around that is to stretch them in the timeline of my life, like maybe when I’m younger I’m very focused on learning and that gives me a lot of sense of meaning. And I don't really know what I want to contribute to but still I can choose that my goal is to learn a lot. So once I… and experience a lot of different things, so I would discover what I care about. And maybe through that then I’ll have the skills also to support it much better. And then maybe later in my life I realize what I care about. And then I’m like I’m not learning anymore now, I’m going and working on this, right? So, I think there is also a lot about this stretching it through the timeline, and in different areas of our life, not areas, but the timelines of our life to choose different things to focus on. I think the trap is to choose many causes and then touch on all of them because then what feels meaningful is the goal we care about. But it's also the feeling we can contribute to that goal in some way. If the goal is overwhelming like world hunger and I cannot change it, right? Then my life doesn't feel meaningful because I’m not contributing to that cause. So, it's really also about finding that connection, what is the thing I can do that will in some way make a difference for someone and somehow contributes to that cause, but it's also hopeful and optimistic and to certain level realistic that I can actually build that impact. 

Radek: And in here I already see a risk when we put that into organizations is that we all are called to something different. So how can you… as a team leader, as a CEO, how can you empower meaning in your team? And I would raise the bar in the challenge. Like what practically we can do to work on that to empower meaning? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. I think what you're talking about is alignment, right? Between the organization goals and the meaning and division or however you want to call it of what organization stands for and also at the same time my personal things that are meaningful to me. And the easiest shortcut to that would be if the employee actually works in a company whose mission and vision they considered meaningful and they see a clear link between their goals and the company goals, right? That would be the desired outcome. How can we work on that as a company? On one side we can focus on making our vision and mission, actually meaningful in the world and real, not like fake meaningful. And I think social entrepreneurship here is a wonderful trend that I believe is growing and I hope it will grow much more, so actually to stand for something in the world not just for the profit, right? But then also think about how are we telling that story? And like you're saying putting it in practice means to communicate it a lot, right? What are we standing for really bringing those values into all our internal and external communication and practice, of course in our actions? On the other hand individual goals, that's a bit more tricky because that's something that on one side needs to be aligned and that's hitting job of a manager to help the person align their goals with the company vision and so on. And on the other hand they have to have personal factor of what matters to you and how can we bring this together. I would say, this is not science-based though, but I would say that that individual goal would maybe be more important to drive meaning because if I can find an action I’m doing purposefully every day, even if it's a very small action like helping my colleagues or providing nice cup of coffee to people, if that's my job, right? And doing that in a pleasurable and positive way and making their day better. That can make me drive meaning regardless if I’m really connected to organizational goals. However, ideally I would want to also find the bridge in between how is my, you know, serving the coffee, also contributing to a company that is creating life with, I don't know, comfortable experiences where people have a moment to be mindful and reconnect with themselves, totally inventing now. So that alignment and communication of big goals often and also in practice and in behaviors not just in theory. And then at the same time having that level of ownership to give people some space what they focus on and how they shape their goal. And then third element building that connection, having that conversation, is it connected, communicating, how your specific actions contribute to the vision. That's also something that's not always obvious. 

Radek: Okay. And now let's imagine I’m a team leader in an i.t company, six people that I’m working with. And well, like I feel a bit hesitant to get into this inspiration and sharing the meaning from the company. Yet I would like to spark meaning inside my team, maybe in a more playful way, maybe in a way that will be less challenging for me in terms of getting into the stage. I’m a bit introvert, you probably know that. So are there any little things just like in hedonism…? Is there something small we can do in the team to spark this meaning? 

Mirna Smit: There are some interesting correlations there. And that is the goals, correlated of course with meaning but also having the chance to engage our strengths. So asking people what are you good, what are your strengths, how can you use it this week, how can you use it more in your work. And not like in this compliance, performance review way but really more… maybe inviting people to share with one person in the team, one strength they appreciate about them, that's something you can make into playful or even gamification who names more of strength, however, you always want to underline a lot that here we are going for authentic. We don't want to do these activities to tick off the boxes and to just to satisfy the manager or whatever. But you really want to invite, give a lot of why and invite for authenticity in that sharing and providing the explanation why that serves that person, why that serves you, why that serves the team, giving a lot of that kind of why. Even if it's a gamified and fun activity, I’m huge believer that for adults we need to have a bit of why behind as well. So a bit of like, you know, even through this game we are working on whatever, motivation, your focus, your thinking and so on. Call me… 

Radek: Yeah. It reminds me of an activity team building from very far away in time but in the past. And it was using metaphors. Basically everyone in the team was figuring out what kind of office object are they in the team and I was a clipper. And then why am I a paper clipper in this team? I’m connecting things together, I’m connecting people together, whatsoever. Like, by finding this why, what's your role in the team, what are you bringing from the perspective of gardening tools or office tools, whatsoever, you can name one, really fun activity too. That could maybe help in here. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. And maybe one more thing to connect with meaning is when you talk to people about what's meaningful to them. This is not again research; this is a lot of conversations. They will very often name one of the three things. And then they'll embed it into something bigger but it will always be these three trends. One; I’m learning, growing, becoming better person, so in some way orientation towards learning to overgrowth. Second one; I’m creating something. So, there is something that I see as my outcome. I build, maybe it's virtual, maybe it's real, but I see something in some way I can engage with the outcome of my work. And the third one is other people and relationships. I’m serving someone. I’m making someone happy. I’m helping someone. I’m teaching someone whatever it is. So that could be a really good tip also from the perspective of manager to have discussions on these trends, what are you learning, what are you hoping to create, how are you serving others and helping others. And not all of these are maybe motivating for everyone but by asking these three questions you will see what they're excited about, the learning list will be million things. And I’m like, yeah, I want to learn this and this and this… And then who are you serving? My clients! You will immediately see what drives them there, right? So from that then you can build more of orientation what questions to ask, what to put forward within their work as part of motivating them and giving them that sense of meaning. 

Radek: I was smiling when you shared the second because I could guess the third that other people could be also a strong motivator in here. Alright, so we covered meaning and then there is one more from this original authentic happiness which is flow. So how about flow in our personal lives? Christmas coming, how can we boost flow? 

Mirna Smit: Flow by far my favorite concept in positive psychology, so stop me here. I think with flow, we have, like I said we have kind of a clear recipe but it's also if you get in too much execution mode, that's not very good. I like to say flow is a bit like sleep. If you go to bed and you're like, now I’m going to sleep really well, really fast, yeah, not going to work probably. But if you play with things impacted like dark room, good temperature, good hours of sleep that you provide for yourself, silent space and so on. It's quite likely the sleep will happen and it will be good, right? So, you don't want to over control it but you want to be aware of the elements. Now I won't talk about elements very broad and long. I know that we would not want to go too deep into that. But I’ll just share a couple of main things that are very action and practical oriented. So, one thing we need for flow is clear goal and knowing how are we progressing to that goal. And what is important to recognize is that that goal needs to be kind of immediate. That's the goal of that activity in which I’m engaging right now for the next couple of hours or something like that, maybe a bit shorter. So, these immediate goals are obviously not the same as very meaningful goals. So, we want to also create alignment with meaningful goals if we want to work on meaning as well. But for flow itself, I just want to name exactly what am I trying to build, achieve, do, create right now in this next couple of hours. And I want to be very careful that this goal matches some criteria. First it should be challenging for me. So it shouldn't be easy. If it's easy, that's chill, that's relaxation, that's being in control, that's not flow though. It should also be not too challenging, which means I should think it's realistic that I get this done, if I focus, if I put in a bit of effort, then I’ll achieve it. If it's too stretched and too challenging then I’ll just get stressed and I’ll be very aroused and alert and then that's not flow again. So, if I’m too alert, I should see how to tune the challenge down or build more support or more skill to be better at this or maybe make a smaller goal, right? Choose a smaller goal. On the other hand if I feel a bit bored, routine, control, it means I should raise a bar. See how to do this better, more creatively, more crazy, and any factor I want to bring in. But something that will make it a bit more stretched. And then the third important criteria are that I should know how I am progressing towards this goal. If I’m just working on this and I don't know if I’m doing a good job or not, am I moving ahead or actually going backwards, that's not very flow conducive. So, I want to build some sort of feedback, maybe a metric, maybe my own check-ins, maybe feedback from someone else but in some way I want to know what's happening. And then the last bit that breaks flow very often is focus. If I cannot be really focused on that activity, then I can't cope with the challenging goal. Of course! I cannot be present, I cannot work on it to stretch of my abilities and that breaks it. And often that's the one which both in personal and in work life is very often the breaking point, the goal that's too vague and too big or maybe too challenging or too easy going, and then also the focus that we don't allow space and externally meaning distractions or internally meaning uncontrolled thinking and random jumping between topics. Disrupt that focus and with that disrupt the flow. 

Radek: I’m thinking. I started thinking of Christmas and what exactly could we do like for me cooking some specific dishes requires quite some challenge. So, in a way like when we set those conditions, it doesn't matter if it's work, if its hobby, if it's whatever, I think then you can get into flow. And actually the first research in flow was in sports activities if I’m not wrong. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah, it's very related… when we look into research it's very related to leisure activities, so sports but also music, arts and this kind of… also to some specific jobs like sturgeons and then sports like climbing, many sports actually. And that's because the activity is set up in such way, you have a clear goal, it's probably challenging for you. And in some way you see very well if you're doing well or not, right, if that painting is horrible or if you like it. And then one of the relevant questions that showed up within the research by Chicks and Mihai was why not at work, work tasks, don't they fit the same framework, don't they fit also, you have a goal, how you're doing, you're focused or not and what one of the answers he came up with why don't we have more flow at work is the attitude. And it's just basically saying work shouldn't be fun, you're there to work, not to enjoy. So, attitude is definitely, a mindset around things, it's definitely very important. And then clarity as well, because I think we get a bit lost, not many of us do sports eight hours per day. So, I think probably we also in work, we get lost in that abundance of time we spend on it. And that disrupts the structure a bit. And the clarity of the goal and of course focuses as well. So, work as such is amazing playground and for many of us one of the best potentials to work on more flow actually. Even if you would say how can I bring more flow in my personal life? I would say start by looking into work. For other things I wouldn't say that but for flow I would definitely say that. That's a really good playground for that. 

Radek: And I wonder, like this is clear for me on this side but I wonder on the other. So, flow contributes to happiness but how? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. So, flow, okay flow on one side it gives a sense of meaning because it gives a sense of growth, right? So, it's more, I would say ideally it's related to both eudemonia and hedonic part if you build meaningful goal, you're working on when you're in flow and you also allow some positive emotions because you're not stretching it that hard that you're stressed and so on. So, ideally you want to connect it with both. That's not always possible of course and not always, we don't do it always because we don't think so maybe intentionally about it. But it also contributes to our sense of identity a lot and to our sense of learning and growing. So, as I said that's one of the drivers that are very important for many people that I feel that through life somehow I’m actually progressing and advancing. And flow is very good platform for growth and learning and even for reaching mastery. Why? Because that balance, that goal always have to be challenging. Means we keep on raising the bar and as we are doing it our skill raises naturally because we have feedback and through that we are kind of getting better. And then we keep on raising the goal, raising the goal, so raising the skill as well. And with that is one of the best frameworks for learning. So, it's very common that people within the flow experience are not very self-aware, and they don't think a lot, how do I look while I’m doing this and is this cool enough and these things… So, there is not a lot of this identity present and self-focus, we are very immersed in the activity. And sometimes even positive emotions are not that strong because maybe I’m really focused, I don't have time to have joy about it and be, you know, having fun with it and so on. However, one thing that's typical of flow is that after the experience, we get the strong sense of meaning because we were engaged with something that was important to us and sense of growth and stronger sense of identity like now I’m a bit better at this. So very often this after effect of flow builds in into having more meaning overall in our life. Although I like to argue that we could also sprinkle it with much more positive emotions if we tune on more of savoring element, mindfulness not just in terms of sharp focus but also asking how good is to feel focused in this world. We don't do it often. How nice is it to be in one activity and to do something we chose to do an old. Yeah, a bit of saving... 

Radek: Now I get it how they contribute to each other, now it all makes sense to me how you cannot really live with one and skip the other because they are interlinked, they intervene and they should appear in different sets of situations. And I feel like we also covered how flow contributes to work. Like, it's actually where the research started and then we can think how it can contribute to our personal lives. So, we still have time for the last one, psychological richness if maybe you could also guide us a bit on how to work with that concept. 

Mirna Smit: I think that's the one where we're slimmest with the research. So, I can share some ideas and thoughts on it. But I think it's very related to this also following sparks of positive emotion but also following sense of adventure, wonder, novelty, maybe oh as an emotion, you know that one and you say wow that's interesting, curiosity. I think in the root of every passion there is a bit of curiosity, you don't fall into passion because you encountered something the first time. You noticed something, you're curious about it, you try it out, you play with it and then you become passionate about it. So, I think the road to psychological richness is the road to create more of curiosity, noticing little sparks of joy. Asking where does this take me? And well, when we talked about hedonistic I talked a lot about how we go back to what we know works and follow the positive emotion. But in what is proven for us in some way. But in psychological richness we talk more about let's follow the positive emotion but let's look for what's different, a new, an alternative, a variation. And that can be in actions. Let me do this in new crazy way or take a new activity I’ve never done or it can be thinking. 

Radek: A new path to work while commuting just taking another aside, right? 

Mirna Smit: That's one of the important. I would argue though that new path to work might be not challenging enough for some people. So, I think that's also about attuning the challenge to what fits you and where is your comfort zone and... If you're used to traveling 24/7 and going for a bit more extreme experiences in terms of adventures and so on. Then maybe new path to work, you have to be very mindful and appreciative to find something there… 

Radek: If you take motorcycle, you know. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah, definitely. And you could also work on savoring an appreciation and mindset because this is also not just the new behaviors and experiences but also new perspectives. How can I see this differently? How can I be curious? If I was an alien, just landed here, how would I see this path or this person? And playing with this… Or if I was my dog how would this forest look like today? You know? So, you could really play with that as well. One concept from psychology that's related to this, maybe you're familiar with it. It is also sensation seeking and that one tells how high is your threshold in chasing new experiences and how much do you needs them to feel good. So, I don't know any research that's looked into connection between the two, but to me they seem much related that if you would be high on sensation seeking, they probably would also look for more psychological richness. And also if you would be high on learning driven by learning, if one of your strengths would be curiosity and learning, I would think that this aspect would be very important to you. But on the other hand if that wouldn't be so important to you, if you would be more into building something up, consistency, and ambition maybe even and staying on the same path, then maybe that concept wouldn't be so important for you. So, I think it's also important to recognize on which level do I want to be playing, they want to be playing with small crazy things and silliness and everyday things? Do I want to create the bucket list of all the silly - small experiences I want to have in my life or do I want to play with big goals and say how is the experience of publishing a book? How is the experience of having a ted talk? How is experience of owning a horse; of having kids, these kinds of things? They're also psychological richness but with much bigger investment, right? So, I think there is definitely space for balancing the two, playing with little things, so how his experience to pet the horse versus how his experience of owner horse, right? It’s different level. 

Radek: You just parked crazy idea for me. So, imagine in a workplace we create a bucket list for our team, like every year what kind of random things we would like to achieve over there. The same thing happened with, I was reading in Tim ferries book, tools of titans, one of the top snowboarders of all time. Do you recall? I cannot recall the name at the moment but basically… 

Mirna Smit: I’m thinking of a sphere… 

Radek: Anyways, it doesn't matter but what he did every season, like he was winning it all, like he had 18 cars, he won in the competitions, he was winning all the prizes and he was challenging himself for every season. Like this season I will try to win but while winning I will do this kind of spin or after winning I will donate the car to whatever cause. Trying to figure out some new challenges every year to keep being passionate about, you know, being the best in the world. It can be probably devastating like how can you compete. 

Mirna Smit: And in the book about flow there was similar concept explore that with most of extreme sports, if you look how the freestyle sports shaped, freestyle in everything, in cycling and jumps and in skiing and in free rides and even in surfing that most of these were driven by that competition to do things faster and more efficient didn't inspire them anymore. And that the question was who can do it more creatively? Who can do it in a new way, in a different way? And if you look today also in which sports are most related to flow, it's usually this kind of sports. Like, climbing, not who climbed the fastest but who discovered the new route, who did something that wasn't done before and same with most of these sports. So, creativity is big aspect of flow. 

Radek: So, for the workplace and for the teamwork, I imagine, like what we can play with is different types of activities, different types of projects, different teams even depending on how much our team members need this psychological richness, for someone it might be a new project new year, for some other it might be just a new task new year and they would be fit. Something else that you would suggest we could play with in this field. 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. I’m huge advocate of ownership. I think it's not about me as a manager to set up exactly the right goal, that's on the right level and innovative in the right way, it's about empowering that person to understand the concept and to know the framework of their work and to come to me with the suggestion what they want to do, right? So, I think it's a lot about this communicating some of the concepts maybe in small bits, talking about goal ones, about focus and other time. And then inviting them to think what do you want to do with that concept, within your work, within your preferences, what level of discomfort is good for you. Some people don't like discomfort; they challenge themselves in very small steps. Others get bored if the steps are small, right? And I think that needs to be respected but to respect it we need to have ownership and we need to know each other. So, we can support each other in our ways, right? So, I think that's a lot about that back to that thing from the beginning about relationships and building opportunities maybe after a project to discuss for whom this was comfortable or for whom it wasn't, whose focus was disrupted and by what, who didn't have a chance to engage all of them strengths and how could we engage their strengths better in the future and having a bit of this, feedback session and the briefs, not just about how the project went but also about how was that for you, for you as a team and for you as individual. And kind of taking these two environments team versus individual as something that we can come that are complementary approaches. And we can work on both levels and we want to connect them. 

Radek: Well, yeah, that makes sense. So, we kind of covered all of them. And I have tons of notes, let me check, three A4 pages. I was taking as the practical things you shared. So, certainly something to listen through again to take even more practices to implement. One last question, how do you define happiness? 

Mirna Smit: How do you define happiness? Well, within happiness academy we usually talk about it as this balance between positive moments in our life and having an overall meaningful goal in some way. So, balance between big picture thinking that our life feels meaningful and good and we like the story of our life and at the same time we enjoy small steps on the way, we enjoy the these moments that are built in between. However, usually at most of happiness academy courses we make people figure out their own definition first and then we also share this as food for thought, so… 

Radek: Speaking of which, where can we find more information? I know you write a lot, you speak a lot about happiness. So could you tell us where can we find it? 

Mirna Smit: Yeah. Happiness academy is place which brings it all together. So, I would definitely invite you to check on the website, what you can find there, I think we can post the link, right? Or should I… 

Radek: You can spell it out. 

Mirna Smit: Cool! So, it's And what you can find there? I think the best thing to follow is the newsletter which now goes bi-weekly, we might move it to weekly next year, still considering. And in it we pack a lot of tools and things that you can download and things that are available and also some tips and tricks and different things. Another place is blog, where we also share a lot of content. Another place is webinars; we do like regular free webinars. I do regular free webinars usually on diverse topics such as flow and other topics we discussed. And then for a bit deeper dive, the core of our work are actually courses in which you take eight weeks or ten weeks, two hours per week to dive into more practical way and really play with the tools, try the tools out and really explore them. So, if all of this sounds interesting, definitely join the newsletter. If something sounds interesting, go figure out on the website between the topic of 12 pillars of happiness which is our framework for learning happiness and then webinars and then blog, what is it for you that's mostly… 

Radek: Thank you. And thank you very much for today. I think we not only discussed research but actually we have advanced it and that was a great. 

Mirna Smit: I love that thought. So, now we should invite everyone to go work on it, and your first stop can be right after this, listening to this, to think a little bit which of these four aspects would you want to focus on strengthening the bit? And by focus I don't mean over manage and overthink but just lightly play with. Is it the pleasure of positive emotions? Is it the meaning and the big goals? Is it flow and everyday goals? Or is it maybe psychological richness? Your bucket list!

Radek: I think I will go with a pleasure looking forward to the free time on the holidays and playing some games and just doing some stuff for fun. I think that's what was missing. Thank you. 

Mirna Smit: Cool! Have fun with it. I’ll spend some time in meaningful reflection. I had a lot of fun lately and too much work and too much flow but now it's time to refocus. So, I think that's also down to where we are in this moment in year or in life, something else works for each of us, right? Thank you for listening to this episode of Science of Business Podcast. Follow Valueships on LinkedIn and Facebook to be up to date with future episodes and live streams from the recording.