the secret to happiness

Flow – The Secret to Happiness

What is the secret to happiness? The author looks at how to be happy in a practical way. They suggest that anyone can be happy by using their psychological skills and abilities to make the most of life and work towards their goals, which is called a “life project” based on ideas from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and existentialist theories.

By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – 2006 – 377 pages

Summary of the book “Flow – The Secret to Happiness”

What else do we need to become happy? Throughout history, we all believe, whether consciously or not, that we act in our own best interests. However, it’s highly likely that 95% of people, including those who try to improve themselves, won’t find the happiness they want. There are several common reasons for this:

  • Not understanding what happiness truly means.
  • Social conditioning that stops us from using essential tools for happiness.
  • Mixing up happiness with pleasure.

Before we go on, let’s acknowledge these mistakes we make in our pursuit of happiness.

the secret to happiness

The Secret to Happiness: A misconception of happiness

If we asked ten people on the street what happiness means, they might say things like:

  • Happiness is being young, attractive, and wealthy.
  • Happiness is having no problems.
  • Happiness is being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want.

Our collective imagination is powerful, but it often contains misconceptions. These three definitions of happiness are entirely wrong. The reason is simple: we tend to believe that happiness is a state of complete fulfillment and inner contentment, which the author calls in The Secret to Happiness “perfect happiness.” However, this idea of perfection is something humans can never achieve.

The path to happiness isn’t about waiting for a magical genie to grant us wealth, charm, and a good life because even with all these, unhappiness can return. Instead, what’s hidden beneath the term “perfect happiness” is a simpler concept, which we can call “static happiness.” In reality, unconditional happiness doesn’t exist unless it’s in the present moment.

So, where did this mistaken definition of happiness come from?

A social conditioning that holds us back from the use of the basic essentials in order to achieve happiness

From a young age, we’re taught to think of life as a fairy tale where the goal is to reach “perfect happiness.” This idea leads us to believe that we must endure challenges and suffering before we can be truly happy. You might recognize this theme in stories like Walt Disney’s movies, Lord of the Rings, and Star Wars, where characters often face hardships before finding happiness.

For instance, in Disney’s Lion King, there’s a hidden message that suggests those who lose something valuable will eventually regain it due to destiny. This idea, that suffering is a necessary path to future happiness, has its roots in religion. The author isn’t criticizing religion but pointing out that this belief served a purpose in certain historical contexts.

Let’s travel back 1,500 years in time and picture a society where wealth was distributed very unevenly, slavery was common, and poverty meant a life of struggle and lack

Religion had a strong influence on people’s behavior, and certain beliefs like “the last ones will be the first” and “those who suffer on earth will be rewarded in the kingdom of God” provided comfort and a sense of purpose for the most disadvantaged individuals. Additionally, the wealthy, driven by fear, began to share their wealth.

These beliefs brought about real social progress, reducing unrest in an unexpected way. Without rules or plans for achieving future prosperity, any society would quickly descend into chaos and disorder. Each society has its own way of life and definition of success. To belong to a society means adapting to its lifestyle and customs. The more people who conform to these norms, the more likely the society can endure over time.

Let’s consider a society from 1,500 years ago as an example. 

Back then, the belief that their suffering had meaning and a long-term goal (reaching Paradise) gave hope, resilience, and even some joy to the poor, despite their hardships. Simply put, their life felt better (please note that “better life” refers to a sense of personal experience, not material wealth). This belief system allowed this ancient way of life to endure for a long time.

The more a society has a way of life and success that improves the personal experiences of its people (which reduces disruption and unrest), the more likely it is to thrive and survive. The idea of the “American dream” has attracted many immigrants to the United States. Even though the reality often disappointed some immigrants, the concept of the “American dream,” considering the number of those who succeeded, remains a compelling argument for those dissatisfied with their home country’s society.

What is dynamic happiness?

Happiness on a personal level is a lot like how a society views success. To make their lives better, people need to bring order to their own thoughts and daily routines. The more their everyday life improves their own well-being, the closer they come to being happy.

If we understand that happiness isn’t just about money, looks, or intelligence, it’s a good starting point. Humans can’t be happy all the time, but they can have “moments of happiness” under certain conditions (we’ll talk about those later). The goal for each person is to increase these happy moments day by day. To do that, it’s simply about developing a way of living that increases the chances of finding happiness.

In summary, here’s the basic equation for dynamic happiness:

Dynamic happiness = to reach one’s full potential + to achieve one’s own goals

In any situation, when you reach a point where you’ve fully realized your potential and achieved the goal you set for yourself, you’ll feel dynamic happiness. It’s worth noting that some people find it easier to attain this type of happiness than others.

Let’s use a professional athlete as an example. They work hard through daily practice to reach their full potential, with the goal of becoming a champion. So, it’s more obvious to them when they’ve achieved dynamic happiness compared to someone in a job they find dull. However, will the athlete experience dynamic happiness in their relationships with others or in their personal life? Most likely. But as an example, Picasso, who had moments of happiness while painting, became irritable and discontent once he finished his work, according to his family and friends.

Many people confuse happiness with pleasure, but they’re not the same. Pleasure is usually fleeting and doesn’t require you to be aware of it. For instance, when you watch a TV series you like, you simply enjoy it. On the other hand, happiness is a distinct feeling that completely engulfs you. However, what separates a moment of pleasure from a moment of happiness isn’t necessarily what’s happening but how you perceive it. For a young student, baking a chocolate cake could be a chance to have some fun.

For a chef, making a chocolate cake can be a chance to showcase their unique style. 

This might mean creating a delicious and perfectly balanced blend of ingredients for amazing flavor and texture. It could also be about the time and care they put into preparation, or even their skill in teaching others to make the cake.

Everyone has their own way of reaching their full potential, and this varies across different fields of work. What’s important is how you achieve your full potential. Now, let’s look at the two parts of the happiness equation.

I/ Achieve your personal goal

The idea behind “fulfilling your dreams” is essentially about “fulfilling yourself.” But what does it mean to be “fulfilled”?

If you’re familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you’ll recognize that self-fulfillment is the highest human need, positioned at the top of the pyramid. It’s often described as a form of collective thinking, where you truly know and satisfy yourself.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts; you’ve clearly learned a lot. Now, considering your situation, what does it take to achieve self-fulfillment?

Well, self-fulfillment goes beyond just existing, surviving, and reproducing. It’s about adding meaning to our lives, and it’s a highly personal journey. In general, we find fulfillment in an activity when two criteria are met:

  1. Recognition within a select group of experts: You’re acknowledged as someone who knows their stuff within a specific group of specialists.
  2. Standing out as an individual in that group: You’re seen as a unique and valuable member of that expert community.

It’s important to note that being seen as an expert by the general public isn’t as crucial as being recognized as an authority by fellow experts.

Imagine a sound and light engineer responsible for the Oscars’ technical aspects. Most of the audience won’t notice the engineer’s talent since they’re focused on the Oscars show. However, fellow experts in sound and light engineering will appreciate the engineer’s work. If, later on, the engineer receives praise from other experts in the field, it will be highly rewarding and motivating.

This example teaches us an important lesson: It’s not necessary to impress everyone with your knowledge and skills to achieve your goals. Instead, focus on gaining recognition and respect within your specific expert community.

In general, most people can only see a small part of something, which makes sense.

Think about it, can a 14-year-old who loves video games truly appreciate the skill and time it takes to create a globally popular video game? Or can someone who reads Harlequin romance novels fully grasp the complexity of writing such a book?

This is where we distinguish between the need for recognition and the need for self-fulfillment. Someone seeking recognition wants to be acknowledged in a way that’s more about quantity than quality. To achieve self-fulfillment, a person must strive to be recognized by other experts in their field, caring less about widespread public acclaim.

Now, let me ask you a question: What’s your vision?

The audience is completely silent…

Well, discovering your own vision can be challenging, especially in a society where we’re often told that self-fulfillment depends on material possessions, like the kind of car you drive (yes, it’s considered self-fulfillment). In theory, anyone can find fulfillment in any field. However, there’s a catch – our time on this planet is limited. If you’re ambitious, you can become an expert in your chosen field in just a few years.

For example, a tennis player with no great ambition can quickly fulfill their dream if it’s just about hitting the ball back. But if their dream is to compete with the world’s top professionals, it will take years of hard work and practice to achieve that goal.

You must realize that fulfilling a dream demands a lot of time and effort. The more ambitious your dream, the higher the level of skill required in your chosen area. It would be a shame to spend a year or more pursuing a dream that you ultimately can’t achieve.

Consider this: Would it have been helpful for Albert Einstein to spend time learning to dance when he had no talent for it, instead of studying physics? Or would you suggest that a 45-year-old man, lacking humor and creativity, should pursue a career as a comedian?

To agree would be to:

If you agree with this, it might mean you’re not thinking very smartly, you’re not looking at the bigger picture of your life, and you’re neglecting the skills you already possess.

Let me take a little detour here. In The Secret to Happiness, the author doesn’t provide more information on “how to fulfill our dreams.” Consider the following paragraph as an extra bonus to enrich this book review.


Fulfill your dream

Step 1: What are your strengths?

Have you ever read Tom Rath’s book “StrengthsFinder 2.0”? It suggests a unique idea: achieving your dreams by using your strengths and abilities. That’s exactly what this book aims to do – help you identify your strengths so you can turn your dreams into reality. In my opinion, it’s the best book for discovering your strengths. Unlike other tests, it doesn’t let you pretend to be something you’re not, which is a common issue with many assessments.

But here’s the good news: You don’t need to buy the book to discover your strengths. There’s a free approach you can use. Simply choose five people who know you well and ask them these questions: “What do you think I’m really good at?” and “What do you think I need to work on?” You might be surprised by their answers, and it will help you understand how you contribute to society.

Now that you have a clear understanding of how you contribute to society, try this exercise (suggested by NLP Coach Jean Luc Monsenpès):

  1. Draw three circles.
  2. In the first circle, list all the skills you see in yourself or that others recognize in you.
  3. In the second circle, write down the things that really motivate and drive you.
  4. In the third circle, jot down how your skills and motivations can benefit your life and your surroundings.

By doing this, you’ll have the basic ingredients for a life purpose or calling, which can be applicable in various aspects of your life, whether it’s in your career, personal life, social interactions, humanitarian efforts, or even within a religious context. Take some time to reflect on this exercise and explore your inner self.

Step 2: Choose which part of life to improve.

People often link the pursuit of happiness with success in their careers. However, this is a misconception. This idea can lead some individuals to focus solely on their professional lives, only to later discover that their personal lives suffer. It’s not just men; women can fall into this work-centric mindset too.

The primary goal of happiness is to enhance your overall quality of life. While excelling in your career can make you feel valuable, it’s just one part of your life. Don’t expect a happy life solely because you’re successful at work.

To truly improve your quality of life, you need to enhance every aspect of your daily existence. The author – in his book: The Secret to Happiness – mentions four aspects: work relationships, self-relationship (independence), relationships with others, and social relationships. Let’s do a simple exercise: rate each of these aspects personally on a scale from 1 to 10, with 0 being the worst and 10 being perfect.

  1. Your relationships at work:
  2. Your relationship with yourself:
  3. Your relationships with others:
  4. Your recreational relationships:

Take your time…

All done? Great. Before I share the results, let me ask you a question: Did your scores fall between 6 and 8?

Steve Pavlina, the author of his own blog, talks about what he calls the “theory of 7.” When people rate their satisfaction in various aspects of their lives, most tend to give themselves a 7. A 7 is good, but it often becomes a point where things plateau and don’t change much over time. When someone rates themselves as a 7 out of 10, their thinking might be like this: “It’s not perfect happiness, but my career provides enough to get by. Plus, there’s a chance of a promotion now and then. Can’t complain, 7/10 is pretty decent!”

The 7/10 rating tends to be where people get stuck, preventing them from reaching a perfect 10/10. Unless, of course, you make some changes in how you approach life. We’ll explore that further later.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you identify an area where you can make the most significant improvement in your quality of life. Once you succeed in this area, your overall quality of life will greatly improve. Afterward, you can focus on the next most important aspect to you, and so on.

Inner peace

Step 3: What is your dream?

IIn our society, the spread of information worldwide has both advantages and drawbacks. We often see people on social media gaining fame without any specific talent. This can lead others to believe they can achieve any unrealistic dream and imagine scenarios they think are unique, even though these dreams are quite common:

  1. Becoming a celebrity.
  2. Traveling.
  3. Engaging in humanitarian work.

Now that you know your strengths and where you can improve your quality of life, the next step is to define your dream scenario. However, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Many people may list goals like “succeed in my career,” “have an active social life,” or “build a good circle of friends,” but these vague objectives won’t take you far.

No one can do this for you; you must find your own unique approach that sets you apart from the other 6.8 billion people on Earth. It’s a challenging task that requires a determined change in your outlook on life. If you’re interested in exploring life dynamics further, I recommend reading my free e-book titled “The Adventurer’s Metaphor.”

II/Unleash your full potential

Now that you have a goal and you’re aware of your strengths, the next step is to unlock your full potential.

You might be wondering, “How do I do that?” Here’s the answer: Unleashing your full potential gives you the opportunity to experience dynamic happiness in that specific area of your life. But what does “full potential” mean? It means being completely focused on the activity at hand with the sole purpose of immersing yourself in it.

So, if you want to experience dynamic happiness in an activity, you must allow yourself to be entirely absorbed in what you’re doing to reach your goal. During this process, you momentarily set aside your long-term objective, as it would distract you from fully concentrating on the task at hand.

To unlock your full potential, you need to make changes in how you approach things, and there are two ways to do this:

  1. Adjust Your Environment: You can modify the things around you to align them with your goals.
  2. Change Your Inner Perspective: You can alter the way you interpret and perceive what’s happening around you.

For instance, let’s consider the concept of feeling secure. Feeling safe can significantly improve your quality of life. Now, imagine Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones, both wanting to feel more secure:

  • Smith: He takes external measures like installing an alarm, adding extra locks to his door, and getting a gun for protection.
  • Jones: He also desires more security but understands that absolute security is impossible. Instead, he focuses on changing his perspective about risks and how they affect him.

In the context of personal development, the second approach is generally preferred. However, in some situations, it’s more practical to address external conditions directly. For example, if your bedroom window is broken in the middle of winter, it’s wiser to replace the window rather than trying to ignore the cold.

To truly grasp dynamic happiness, you need to be willing to make the necessary changes both internally and externally, depending on the circumstances.

Scenario n°1

Imagine a mountain climber who can endure fatigue, pain, and even injuries during their expedition. They time their climbs and breaks perfectly, knowing how their body functions. When faced with unpredictable weather conditions (external factors), they adapt or risk failure.

Scenario n°2

Consider those who survived in concentration camps despite the horrific treatment they endured. Some found solace in seemingly insignificant things like a crack in a wall or a small insect. Others remembered moments of happiness when they shared a piece of bread. While they could have behaved like wild animals given their circumstances, they maintained control over their consciousness and brought order to the chaos.

To attain dynamic happiness, you need to maintain mental order in different situations. This requires a deep understanding of yourself and the necessary actions to take. Thankfully, The Secret to Happiness doesn’t limit us to just this concept. Instead, he provides descriptions of the characteristics of people who have experienced such situations. It’s up to us to figure out how to apply these traits in our everyday lives. These traits aren’t tied to specific situations; they were identified through surveys of people from various backgrounds worldwide, including cooking, chess, sports, literature, relationships, and more.

Here are the requirements needed to fulfill our full potential:

1. Challenge and Skill:

It’s essential to understand that any activity involves a set of options or a challenge with specific skills required. Without rules governing our actions, we can’t really call something an “activity.” Even a seemingly simple activity like “walking” has a rule: “The rule of walking.” If we lack the skills needed for an activity, it doesn’t pose a challenge for us (imagine two people trying to play chess without knowing the rules). To achieve the best experience in any activity, you must put in some effort and acquire knowledge about it. Moreover, once you have a basic understanding, your transition to action should be driven by a desire to accomplish your goals within that activity.

Phrases like “to win,” “to triumph in battle,” or “to be superior” are often driven by a desire to satisfy our pride rather than a quest for self-fulfillment. For those who seek the ultimate experience, defeat isn’t as important as it may seem. In fact, it can be a valuable teacher. As Irish philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves and sharpens our skill. Our antagonist is our helper.” Adopting this mindset allows you to appreciate an activity for its own sake rather than solely focusing on the end result.

However, keep in mind that merely understanding an activity and desiring success doesn’t automatically mean you can assess it properly. The challenge presented by the activity must align with your level of expertise. If it doesn’t, you may need to adjust your approach to make the activity more suitable for your skill level.

Let’s illustrate this with a quick comparison involving chess. Imagine you have a passion for chess and play it skillfully.

Situation n°1: you play against a complete beginner

The challenge won’t truly test your abilities unless you consciously adjust it. For instance, you can decide not to use your queen and both castles in a game of chess. This forces you to focus on other pieces and strategies, altering the external conditions to create a fair challenge.

Now, picture a scenario where the beginner is your child. In this case, you can change the level of difficulty within the activity. Instead of showcasing your skills to win, you demonstrate your ability to teach them the game and have a good time together. In the first example, you’re dealing with the external conditions set by the activity, while in the second, you’re adjusting your internal approach to how you engage in the activity.

Situation n°2: you play someone at the same level (or slightly higher)

If you’re playing against someone of your level or higher, this is the moment when you can truly enjoy the ultimate satisfaction. To achieve this, just fully engage and immerse yourself in the activity.

Situation n°3: you play an opponent who is a much higher level than you.

Now, let’s imagine that someone of Kasparov’s caliber, the chess champion, challenges you to a game. Undoubtedly, the challenge here far exceeds your abilities. However, you can still modify the challenge within the activity. Instead of going for an aggressive strategy (which would be too difficult and stressful), you can focus on defense to prolong your resistance against him.

In our daily lives, we can enhance the enjoyment of any activity by adjusting the level of challenge it presents. This concept isn’t limited to recreational or sports activities; it applies to our creativity, an often underutilized skill in everyday life. Sadly, many people find their daily routines depressing because they don’t tap into this creativity.

Now, let’s consider the activity that bores us the most: waiting.

mastery of time

Few things are more irritating than waiting nervously in a room or in a line, right?

As someone who enjoys mental exercises, I pass the time by reciting the alphabet forwards and then backwards in my head. Then, I add a twist by skipping every other letter, and I gradually increase the number of letters I skip. Alternatively, if logic isn’t your thing, you can try to recall a song you like, focusing on remembering it as accurately as possible. With a bit of concentration and by letting go of other thoughts, you’ll soon find the song playing in the back of your mind. Is it challenging? Perhaps, but if the challenge matches your skill level, why not give it a try?

Matching the challenge level to your abilities is the first step in unlocking your full potential. Now, let’s explore the next criterion.

2. Concentration:

Everyone who has experienced this incredible feeling says they were completely devoted to the task. There’s no room for irrelevant thoughts or emotions. When a task demands a high level of skill, your attention can’t be diverted. For instance, reading a science fiction novel might seem simple, but to fully enjoy it, you need to use many mental resources: reading the words, turning them into mental images, feeling the emotions described, and more.

To truly experience this ultimate sensation, you must be entirely absorbed in the task. One mother, for example, recalled feeling the ultimate joy when she listened to her daughter read her first books.

She said that she was fully taken in by the moment:

“I then focused on how she pronounced the words, took note of the punctuation and her initial effort to use intonation… By the end of the exercise, I was aware of the incremental daily progress that she had made: a moment of real joy.”

3. A clear objective and feedback.

To assess a task properly, you need two important factors: a well-defined goal and immediate feedback. It’s not just about “winning” or “succeeding”; the activity should be self-contained. For instance, think of a fan of Shoot’em up games (those small 2D games where you shoot enemies as they appear on the screen). Their goal is to survive until the end of the level. Every time they dodge an enemy’s attack, they get instant feedback – they know they’ve made progress. This is an example of immediate feedback.

But for some tasks, it’s not so easy to establish a clear goal and receive immediate feedback. In those cases, we need to define these aspects ourselves.

Let’s take the example of raising a child. The goal of raising a well-rounded child may seem like a long-term endeavor with no instant feedback.

However, if you decide to take your young family to an amusement park, your goal for the day might include getting through it without too much stress and creating unforgettable moments with your children. This goal becomes a sub-goal of your larger goal (raising your children well). Throughout the day, you pay attention to your children’s reactions. If you notice one of them getting bored, you can take them on an exciting ride.

This example illustrates that breaking down long-term goals into short-term goals with feedback can enhance the quality of real-life experiences. For any long-term goal, it’s essential to establish a medium-term sub-goal and short-term micro-goals. For these short-term goals, determine what kind of immediate feedback is needed to ensure you meet the necessary targets to reach your full potential.

In my view, these are the three main criteria for achieving your full potential and experiencing dynamic happiness in any task. If you can accomplish these initial three criteria, you’ll unlock your full potential. The author’s final four criteria stem from these initial ones.

first things first book

4. To fully experience something, don’t let distractions get in the way

As we learned from the example of concentration camps, it’s crucial to be fully present in the moment when it happens. Don’t even think about the future (unless the task demands it, like in a game of chess). Picture a soccer player who, instead of focusing on controlling the ball, keeps thinking about scoring a goal. In doing so, they won’t be able to fully savor the ultimate moment because, by definition, that moment happens in the present.

5. Not being self-aware

People who have felt the ultimate sensation are said to have forgotten about themselves. When you completely concentrate on something, you stop thinking about your own problems and ego.

Real-life experiences

I once met a man in his forties during an internship, and he seemed quite peculiar. I attended one of his seminars on IT tools, and his way of speaking was truly remarkable. He spoke with such infectious passion about a topic that typically bored me. During a break, I approached him for a conversation and was surprised to hear him stutter. It turned out that when he conducted a seminar, he somehow overcame his shyness and self-awareness, allowing his passion to connect with the audience.

Experiencing dynamic happiness can unlock hidden abilities within us, such as leadership, courage, and self-confidence. When you embark on a task and put your ego aside, remarkable things can happen. Forget about your past achievements and problems, and fully commit to the task at hand.

6. The altered perception of time.

The observation here is that when people experience the ultimate sensation, time can feel like it passes quickly once the task is completed, even though during the task itself, some individuals feel like time slows down. This difference in perception may be due to the numerous small actions, decisions, and moments that make up the task.

For instance, when a tennis player hits a ball, they don’t just swing aimlessly; they consciously break down their stroke to ensure maximum speed and accuracy. It’s hard to determine whether this altered perception of time is a cause or an outcome of the ultimate sensation. In my opinion, it seems unusual to intentionally manipulate one’s perception of time when starting a task. So, I believe this time perception change is a result of the ultimate sensation rather than a necessary requirement. What do you think?

  1. Control of the operation.

Now that we’ve covered the 7 criteria for experiencing the ultimate sensation, the journey doesn’t stop here. In the remainder of The Secret to Happiness, the author delves into each of the 4 life areas: work relationships, social relationships, relationships with others, and the relationship with oneself. His goal is to provide insights into how we can approach these areas to make our daily lives a series of enjoyable experiences.

III/ Happiness and the work environment

In The Secret to Happiness, the author presents the results of some of his research:

They’ve chosen people from three different age groups: the elderly, young people, and adults. Interestingly, the older folks tend to enjoy their work more, while they don’t find as much enjoyment in their free time activities.

What does this mean?

Firstly, as we look back in time, we see that there were fewer leisure activities available in the past. Work was more demanding and people had to find excitement and joy in their jobs. That’s how they could experience the ultimate sensation in their work.

As people get older, they tend to understand themselves better, including their bodies and habits. Remember that happiness is about conquering the chaos in our minds, and increased self-awareness is essential to turn our daily activities into ultimate experiences. However, older individuals may face challenges that can disrupt their self-awareness, such as health problems and family responsibilities.

Today’s teenagers face disadvantages compared to previous generations. They have access to passive leisure activities like television, and they can’t earn good wages without proper education. Additionally, the way they are taught in school doesn’t always prepare them for a positive transition to the adult working world. For example, parents often tell teenagers how lucky they are to be in school, which may make them less enthusiastic about entering the adult workforce.

In today’s world, it’s challenging to measure how happy people are at work because work is often seen as a necessary but not necessarily fulfilling activity that provides for our material needs.

The more importance people place on material possessions, the stronger their desire becomes to acquire them. This heightened ambition can make it more challenging to find happiness at work, especially if work is primarily seen as a means to fulfill material needs. To achieve true happiness at work, the focus should shift away from self-benefit and toward the enjoyment of the work itself.

The first step to finding happiness at work is recognizing the illusion of material happiness. Once we understand this, we can see our professional lives as opportunities for self-fulfillment, which can alleviate many of our worries.

Interestingly, some individuals claim to be happy in their jobs, even when their professions are commonly considered dull, repetitive, and physically demanding.

How is that possible?

Some people naturally apply the prerequisites for happiness in their tasks, even in jobs that seem repetitive and dull. For instance, consider Joe, a welder with 30 years of experience at the same company. Joe’s colleagues are amazed at his enthusiasm for repairing machinery, despite the nature of the work.

Joe’s secret is his genuine interest in understanding how things function. When faced with a broken toaster, he would ponder, “If I were that toaster, what would I want to be fixed?” and then proceed to disassemble and repair it.

Joe’s approach is clear: he leverages his knowledge and curiosity to excel as a technician. He has chosen a job that aligns with his natural skills and allows him to showcase his abilities. The key takeaway here is that you can turn any situation into a motivating challenge, as long as it aligns with your abilities and you have some knowledge in the relevant area.

If you find certain tasks at work boring or stressful, it’s crucial to understand how those tasks function.

To overcome these challenges, gain a clear understanding of your role within the company structure. Sometimes, putting in a bit more effort can help you appreciate the task better.

Take control and aim to become an expert in planned projects. Initiative allows you to enhance your skills and knowledge. For example, I struggled with writing three years ago, but I found my interest in personal development. Writing articles about my life experiences helped me improve my writing skills significantly.

Developing a stronger sense of self is a natural outcome of the first two steps. It’s essential to set clear work-related goals and identify the best approach to achieve them.

Understanding the three criteria for happiness at work can indeed enhance your work-life quality.

However, to truly make progress at work, you must address three common hindrances:

  1. Monotony in tasks: To combat this, consider changing your job or altering your attitude towards tasks by introducing new rules or approaches.
  2. Interpersonal conflicts: Improve your communication skills to resolve conflicts with colleagues, as some have used these skills to unlock their potential.
  3. Task-related exhaustion: Understand your body and establish rules to prevent burnout during tasks, ensuring you can sustain your productivity over longer periods.

the tipping point gladwell

IV/ Happiness and the connection to leisure

Many believe that happiness can only be found outside of work, yet they often squander their free time on activities like watching TV or drinking alcohol. Surprisingly, psychoanalysts observed that many of their patients felt depressed, especially on Sundays, which was later confirmed by a study. Strangely, statistics show that people are more prone to illness on weekends. Have you ever noticed that you tend to get sick during your vacations?


When we have plenty of free time and no pressing commitments, we often lack clear objectives. Our minds, which are accustomed to organizing things, struggle with this void. Complete emptiness can harm our self-esteem, leading our minds to invent problems that didn’t exist when we were occupied. Have you ever noticed that when you feel low, you tend to dwell on recent painful experiences?

With excessive free time, minor conflicts can become our main focus, and sometimes even turn into obsessions. Voltaire once said, “Work keeps us away from three great evils: vice, boredom, and need.” If you find yourself in this situation, it might be a sign that you need to manage your free time more effectively.

The author identifies two different leisure activities:

  • Active leisure involves activities that require significant time and effort to enjoy fully, offering a sense of fulfillment. Sport is a prime example of active leisure.
  • On the other hand, passive leisure requires little physical or mental effort, often involving activities like watching TV or sunbathing.

Interestingly, most of our free time is often spent on passive leisure activities like watching TV or having a drink. However, these passive activities are less enjoyable after a long day at work or an active leisure pursuit.

The convenience factor: the desire to only participate in active leisure pursuits

Active leisure involves activities that bring fulfillment and require dedicated time and effort. However, the author emphasizes the importance of balancing active and passive leisure pursuits. Some people might have a tendency to prioritize productivity all the time, but this can lead to negative consequences like depression or decreased productivity.

In essence, it’s valuable to engage in passive and unproductive activities at times, as they provide a break and a way to relax after a busy day.

The desire to only take part in passive leisure activities

Spending all your free time on passive activities is detrimental to your mental well-being. It can lead to feelings of guilt and worthlessness, especially in teenagers who are more aware of the benefits of active pursuits but find them less attractive due to the time and effort required.

For example, engaging in a sport like fighting demands mobility, warm-ups, and concentration, which might seem like too much after a tiring day. However, those who overcome this mental challenge can experience great satisfaction from achieving a personal goal through active leisure pursuits.

It’s important to note that while video games are also considered active leisure, many players do not reach their full potential unless they participate in competitions or are recognized in the gaming world.

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V/ Happiness and relationship with others

Our interactions with others can either be positive or negative, depending on how we handle them. Having friends and family around tends to make us happier, although some people may prefer solitude, which we’ll explore in the next chapter.

Among various social situations, three tend to boost our mood even during challenging times:

  1. Being in the company of joyful individuals.
  2. Engaging with people who are genuinely interested in your conversations.
  3. Meeting someone who is attracted to you romantically or sexually.


These three situations fulfill our need for security, stemming from our ancient tribal instincts dating back to the Cro-Magnon era. Being surrounded by people who value us gives us a sense of not being alone, especially in times of potential trouble. This is why people enjoy socializing with friends who share their interests and ideas. This feeling of support and companionship significantly reduces daily stress.

There’s nothing more comforting than hearing a friend say, “I’m here for you,” even during our toughest moments. Some prisoners claim that letters of love and support from their girlfriends were the only way they could endure several years in prison.

If you have a solid social group or network it satisfies two key human needs :

Feeling secure in various social circles, such as at work or in school, can contribute to our overall happiness. People tend to be happier when they are appreciated in all the social groups they belong to.

Another aspect is our need for knowledge. Within any group, there is a wealth of knowledge to be shared, including culture, interests, and diverse perspectives on life.

However, it’s important to note that happiness isn’t solely in the hands of others. While some people can make us happy, others might contribute to our unhappiness. For instance, a demanding boss, an impatient spouse, or a fallen-out friend can negatively affect our well-being. This highlights the significance of effective communication. In The Secret to Happiness, the author emphasizes that adopting a positive approach to all situations, even when dealing with negativity or opposing viewpoints, is crucial for improving communication.

Our upbringing and social environment can leave us yearning for approval and affection. We have a strong desire to be accepted and loved by others. Learning to reduce this need for external validation is vital if we want to avoid perceiving others as adversaries. Furthermore, meaningful relationships cannot be established if we don’t respect each other’s values.

The family and the path to happiness

The genetic connection among mammals, such as humans, has played a crucial role in their survival. Genetic similarities create a sense of loyalty to one’s family. Building relationships is often easier among siblings than among cousins, although it can also depend on the family’s cultural norms.

Modern-day perceptions of starting a family, which includes living with a spouse and having children, may sometimes feel restrictive. People might mistakenly believe that traditional family values have disappeared. However, this is not entirely accurate. In the past, families typically stayed together out of necessity:

  1. Women relied on the man’s income.
  2. Husbands needed their wives to manage the household.
  3. Children required a stable home environment.

These practical considerations were influenced by societal morals, giving rise to the concept of “family values.” Today, women have the opportunity to work and earn money, men can take on household responsibilities, and children often gain independence at an earlier age.

In the past our lives were shaped by two very different sets of rules:

The way people were raised and the moral pressure to start a family have played significant roles in shaping family dynamics.

Society underwent a transformation after the cultural changes of 1968.

Can we hold our parents responsible for their divorces during a period when society was transitioning towards accepting sexual freedom? This is a question for individual interpretation.

Nevertheless, the desire to create a happy home has persisted, but it should now be a mutual choice rather than an obligatory tradition. It should align with our present-day circumstances and be something both partners genuinely want to pursue.

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What’s needed to create a happy family life?

For a happy home, both partners must share a common goal. As the saying goes, “Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” Without a shared vision for the future, creating a happy home becomes nearly impossible. Unless there’s some compromise that satisfies both partners, it’s unwise to sacrifice your long-term goals for the sake of love, as this can lead to the end of the relationship.

Starting a family just because it’s expected or because you have the means to do so isn’t reason enough. You need a long-term objective that includes shaping and adapting your family’s structure and values to provide the best environment for your children. Another long-term goal might involve developing a unique family lifestyle. Whether you prefer a “comfortable” or a “disciplined and active” lifestyle, it should be a choice made and agreed upon by both partners.

In addition to a long-term goal, it’s important to have short-term objectives that align with your overarching vision. These short-term goals could involve:

  1. Planning trips that everyone in the family agrees on.
  2. Organizing enjoyable vacations.
  3. Preparing for rainy-day activities.

It’s essential to recognize and embrace the fact that your own children may have different interests and preferences than you. Instead of merely expecting them to conform, it’s important to encourage their individuality. While the family may share common values, it’s also healthy to accept and engage in discussions about certain aspects of those values.

Let’s take another look at one of the 3 components that create a sense of happiness:

Feedback and having a clear objective are crucial aspects of family life. Communication plays a vital role here. Family conflicts can arise, whether between spouses, parents and children, or among siblings. When someone in the family is upset, open and honest communication is the best way to resolve the situation. After a family activity, it’s important to gather feedback from each family member. If something isn’t clear, don’t hesitate to ask for more information. Statistics show that one of the most challenging times is when children become teenagers. Some parents might insist on their teenagers participating in activities they don’t enjoy, while others may allow them to spend time with friends. The best, albeit challenging, approach is to find activities that everyone in the family can enjoy. It may be difficult, but remember that overcoming challenges can lead to greater happiness in the activity.

In a romantic relationship:

When we enter a relationship, we often believe that our love will last forever, and nothing could ever break that bond. Unfortunately, many things can lead to a breakup over time: routines form, there’s nothing new to learn about each other, and behavioral patterns become predictable.

The good news is that everyone is complex and has enough depth to remain intriguing for a lifetime to most people. However, maintaining a long-lasting connection requires effort and energy – it’s about finding a balance and being willing to give and take in the relationship.

The most important thing to give is time.

It’s important not only to appreciate your partner when you’re together but also to consider their feelings and needs when you’re apart. As time goes on, maintaining love requires more effort, and it’s an opportunity to get to know your partner even better, considering their complexity.

Creating a lifestyle that constantly unveils new and surprising aspects of your partner is the second key. This involves exploring new social circles and changing routines regularly, even though it might take some effort. Falling into routines should be avoided because it can lead to family members feeling like strangers or loved ones seeking unhealthy coping mechanisms.

The third vital aspect is never taking your partner for granted. It can be tempting to think you can get away with anything or that your partner can’t live without you. However, this mindset can lead to a shallow, repetitive, and dull relationship, similar to the monotony of a work routine. Eventually, this could lead to divorce.

Parent-child relationship

Initially, parenting may seem straightforward, with children gradually learning about life. However, as they progress through school, preventing kids from getting involved in illegal activities, drugs, and sexual promiscuity becomes more challenging. Shared family interests like sports or music can help manage these challenges. Teenagers often seek elsewhere for things they might not find at home, like trust, acceptance, and the opportunity to be themselves.

Friends and the path to happiness

Most evidence suggests that people feel their best when they’re with friends, and there are several reasons for this:

  • In family settings, there are household chores and responsibilities, which can limit how we behave.
  • In the workplace, we must meet certain expectations.
  • With genuine friends, we have the freedom to be ourselves, even if it means being a bit eccentric or moody. This freedom to express ourselves and act authentically is what makes real social friendships so enjoyable. Sometimes, even a short time spent with friends can bring us happiness.

However, there’s one important requirement: In society, we all have a social demeanor that we use when interacting with strangers or new acquaintances. It’s often called the “Social Chameleon” mode. To truly enjoy a friendship, it’s important to let go of this behavior and be authentic.

If you’ve acted this way with some of your friends, here are some suggestions to consider:

  • Share your dreams, fantasies, and creative ideas with your friends. This openness can lead to moments of ultimate joy in their company.
  • Friendships can last a lifetime if you keep discovering new ideas and experiences together. You can approach friendships in a similar way to personal relationships (minus the intimate aspects).
  • Don’t let conflicts or arguments linger. Sometimes friends may have disagreements, and it’s commonly believed that time will heal these wounds. While taking a break can be helpful, it’s crucial for one or both of you to make an effort to mend the friendship and get it back on track.

We’re almost there. The final piece of the puzzle is addressing solitude, and then you’ll have the chance to experience happiness every day for the rest of your life.

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VI/ Be on your own and be happy

We all have a need for solitude, but as seen in work relationships, it’s when we’re alone that depression is most likely to occur. So, it’s important to manage our self-awareness when we’re by ourselves.

When we’re alone, we tend to create internal chaos, leading to stress and depression. Despite the challenges nature throws at us, humans have achieved many successes by transforming natural elements like fire into heat and light and converting lightning into a source of energy.

Likewise, when we face inner chaos, it’s in our nature to turn it into an opportunity for progress. To do this, we need to control feelings of loneliness, and then every aspect of our lives can bring happiness.

Just like in our approach to leisure, we can use our spare time in two different ways:

  1. Passive leisure pursuits like using drugs, watching TV, or gambling.
  2. Self-fulfillment activities akin to active leisure pursuits, which lead to personal growth and satisfaction.

Here’s the step-by-step process to follow:

  1. Let go of the need to be constantly loved or validated by others. This will help you become more independent and build self-respect.
  2. Take the time to understand yourself better and create a lifestyle that brings you joy, regardless of others’ opinions or actions.
  3. When you’re feeling down or facing internal turmoil, create positive scenarios that can lift your spirits and help you regain your inner peace.

For instance, many people experience depression when they continuously postpone their lifelong dreams and ambitions. This delay can lead to feelings of confusion. The key to making sense of this confusion lies within yourself. By making progress toward your ambitions, you can reward yourself. This means you should manage the time you spend on leisure and outdoor activities.


This book offers valuable insights on how to find happiness in life. While it may not be the easiest read, it’s definitely worth your time and reflection. I highly recommend it, as it can open the door to a world of dynamic happiness. Don’t miss out on this opportunity!

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