The Findings column in the NY Times May 17th 2011 by John Tierney starts off with the question, “Is happiness overrated?” NYTimes.com The story follows the intellectual explorations of noted psychologist Martin Seligman. In a nutshell he caused a stir in the psychology world when he questioned whether colleagues were spending too much time on mental illness and not enough on life’s joys. He authored a best seller in 2002 “Authentic Happiness”. Now almost ten years later he is questioning or perhaps identifying further distinctions in his most recent book “Flourish” which was published a few weeks ago. You might be wondering …what if anything might this have to do with organization engagement. I think there is much to ponder here. Apparently his own study and the plethora of books on happiness got Seligman thinking about whether focusing on happiness is too limiting. Have you thought about the relationship between happiness and accomplishment? Just think about colleagues and friends who have accomplished a lot. Are they happy? When introducing Requisite Organization principles to managers we emphasize the importance of an individual valuing the work s/he is engaged in. We introduce the concept of an individual’s maturation of capability needing to be aligned with the complexity of the tasks assigned them. Appropriate task assignments are like manna for the brain. They nourish us and help the maturation process. When individual capability is aligned with the tasks assigned the phenomena of internalized flow takes place.
In “Flourish” which I’ve not yet read, Seligman focuses on “well-being” considering it to be more a robust, comprehensive and descriptive concept to capture the evolution of his thinking than happiness. Engagement, one of five components of wellbeing is defined as “the feeling of being lost in a task”. For the last year I’ve been blogging about organization engagement… creating conditions wherein employees at every level of an organization can feel engaged. I love this definition of engagement as being “lost in a task”. I must admit I’m not sure if it’s Seligman’s or Tierney’s but its great. What is so powerful is when engaged we are totally focused, in the present although we might be weaving in thoughts from past experience and/or future anticipation. This is a powerful state to be in. Athletes refer to it as the zone, psychologists as being in flow. Employee engagement is essential to organization effectiveness and greater profitability. Only when people are engaged with their work individually as well as when in teams can we hope to have the release of human imagination, creativity and innovation, which will be the engine that drives our economy.