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Chapter 7: Work as Flow

The more that work has elements such as variety, a challenge for the worker, a clear goal, and immediate feedback, the more enjoyable it will be, regardless of the worker’s level of development.

Before the agrarian revolution, when people were hunter-gatherers, they deeply enjoyed their work. This work contained all the elements to be in the flow. They also did not work very long, probably an average of about three hours per day. Later, in the pre-industrial era, there is strong evidence that people enjoyed their work as well. But everything changed during the Industrial Revolution. All of a sudden, people were forced to work very hard and very long hours. This killed the pleasure of working.

Now, in the post-industrial era, most of the jobs are enjoyable again. However, they are often not as enjoyable as they used to be. We do not produce goods with our hands; we operate machines that produce them for us. Usually, this does not give the same level of satisfaction.

There are many autotelic jobs—jobs that give deep satisfaction because they have all the elements to get us into the flow. Some of the best are surgeons or artists.

There was a study of 4,800 people, in which the participants were asked to write down how they feel during random times of the day. The results are very interesting. During work hours, 52% of people were in the flow, while only 18% were during leisure time.

When asked if they would prefer to be doing something else, more people at work preferred to be somewhere else in comparison to people engaging in leisure activities. This means that even though work gives us more experience, we prefer to spend our time resting. The best explanation is that people think, due to cultural pressure, that work is necessary but not very enjoyable.

Principles to follow