Do You Want to Increase Engagement and Happiness?

Are you tired of feeling like you are just going through the motions in life? How would things be different for you if you felt excited or passionate about your life? Feeling engaged in what you are doing is one of the four types of happiness described in A Primer in Positive Psychology (2006) by Christopher Peterson. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi refers to it as flow.

Engagement is being involved in activities that attract and hold your attention. Athletes refer to it as “being in the zone”; others say it is being focused. Characteristics of being engaged are:

• Having high levels of concentration and focus
• Being unaware of feelings in the moment
• Feeling invigorated afterwards
• Losing track of time
• Using your strengths
• Living your values
• Being authentic

Being engaged in an activity creates positive emotions afterwards that build psychological resources. It can be thought of as psychological capital that will build your cognitive and behavioral repertoire for future actions. It helps you manage stressful areas in your life by creating positive emotions that can undo the physiological effects of negative emotions, such as anxiety. Cognitively, you experience enhanced verbal fluency and attention, increased openness to information, and greater working memory.

Engagement in the work place is critical for both the employer and employee. According to a recent Gallup study that looked at three types of U.S. employees, only 28% of the employees could be described as engaged. This meant that they worked with a passion, had a strong connection to their company, were innovative, and moved the organization forward. Of the 72% that were not engaged, 55% were basically sleepwalking through their day, putting in their time. No energy or passion went into their work. The final 17% were actively disengaged. They were unhappy at work and acted it out by under-mining what the engaged coworkers accomplished.

The key to being engaged is finding the optimal balance between skill level and challenge. The challenge must meet your skill level, and vice versa. If there is too much challenge or too low a skill level, it is difficult to feel engaged. As you learn more or become more skilled, the challenge must be increased.

For engagement to be present in the business world, there needs to be a balance between the challenge and skill level of the activity. The higher the challenge the more support is needed from leaders and managers.

Engagement can be experienced at any age level and in all kinds of activities. Whether at work or play, the activities are often perceived as voluntary. You do not have to be an expert.

Students rarely experience engagement during school activities or doing homework. Watching television, hanging out with friends, or playing video games does not create true engagement because the level of inspiration does not last. These activities fall more into what is called “false engagement”. On the other hand, discussions or deeper conversations with friends may be true engagement if the basic characteristics are met.

What activities can you choose to do daily that will allow you to experience this level of happiness? The rewards for engagement are tremendous. Whether it is short-lived or longer, you will benefit from activities that allow you to be engaged – to build the positive emotions that further inspire and motivate you.

Copyright (c) 2007 Maurine Patten