Joy at Work

Bill Abbate

Are you the kind of person who enjoys working for the pleasure it brings? Have you ever been so focused time slows and everything outside of what you are doing disappears? If so, you are in good company. If not, let’s look at a different way of working and living.

Finding pleasure in your work

Some of us enjoy work for the pure pleasure it brings. What is behind this pleasure? Are we accomplishing or creating something? Is it because we become so absorbed all else seems irrelevant? Or is there something else? Something more?

As a writer who knows many other writers, it is not uncommon for us to write for the pleasure of penning our latest creation. Many of us write even when there is no reward. Athletes, sports, and business professionals often experience their work similarly. They enjoy what they do so much the reward is in doing the work.

Those who find reward in what they do are typically not in it for selfish gain. They are in it for the satisfaction it brings. They enjoy the journey more than the end goal. They gain and benefit from what they do, and the final result does not motivate them. Their drive is internal.

While you may think it would be nice to work for an internally driven person instead of those driven by external results, not so fast. An internally driven person can create just as much chaos as an externally driven person. Being too internally or too externally focused is not necessarily a good thing.

“The happiest people spend much time in a state of flow — the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter…” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934–2021)

Do you have an autotelic personality?

Let’s look at a word you may or may not be familiar with but is highly relevant to enjoying your work. That word is autotelic.

Its definition is:

autotelic (adjective) — (of an activity or a creative work) having an end or purpose in itself. Oxford Languages

Autotelic comes from two Greek words. In Greek, autos means “self,” and telos means “end,” “outcome,” or “goal.” Therefore, autotelic simply means the goal, objective, or purpose is within itself. You do something for the reward or enjoyment of the doing. Your drive is internal, so outside motivating forces such as money, fame, comfort, or power do not influence you. Autotelic people are usually curious and often have a sense of purpose in their actions.

“An autotelic person needs few material possessions and little entertainment, comfort, power, or fame because so much of what he or she does is already rewarding.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934–2021)

How autotelism shows up

Are you one of those driven, get it done for the sake of getting it done, personalities? These are the type of people who easily become so absorbed in their work time becomes irrelevant. The only thing that matters to them is the work at hand. The satisfaction of doing the work for its own sake drives them, not some larger goal. You find it easy to enter a state of flow. You are the curious type who can be very persistent, living to do what interests you.

What we have just described is a person with an autotelic personality. Much of what they do is an autotelic experience. If you have ever been in a state of flow, you have had this kind of experience.

As a writer, I often experience this state, where I become so absorbed in writing it flows. The words pour out effortlessly from my mind to my fingers through my keyboard onto the screen. When this happens, I create a new draft in what feels like no time and am happy with the result. Before I retired, I recall being in this state often in my work. It was always a pleasurable experience.

If I could only enjoy this autotelic experience in my editing process, that would be amazing. While I enjoy editing, it is not as much fun as writing. Maybe it’s not meant to be. For now, perhaps, but hopefully not always!

Those with autotelic personalities find it easier than most to enter a flow state. In this state, they become so involved, focused, and energized in what they are doing it becomes almost effortless. It is a wonderful thing that can make a person highly productive and effective in their work.

“[An autotelic person is] less dependent on the external rewards… They are more autonomous and independent because they cannot be as easily manipulated with threats or rewards from the outside.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934–2021)

Becoming a more autotelic person

To become more autotelic in your life, try the following:

  • Find things you love from which you derive great satisfaction. Do more of whatever it is when you can. Find ways to inject what you love to do for even a few minutes each day. By making this a regular practice, you will receive enjoyment that eclipses everything else. This often happens with a hobby. My photography hobby is one in which I can easily get lost for hours.
  • Practice mindfulness, especially being fully present. Forget all but the present moment, putting aside all distractions. Mindfulness can transform your life and help you find meaning and purpose. What’s the opposite of mindfulness? Yes, you guessed it, mindlessness — doing and being without thought. Would you prefer being mindful or mindless? Becoming more mindful facilitates entering the flow state more easily.

When you find and practice these two things, doing what you love and being fully present helps you enter the autotelic flow state more easily.

Practice these steps to enter the autotelic state of flow whenever possible, creating more rewarding experiences and a more rewarding life!

For a great article on mindfulness, check out this short piece: Gain More in Life by Slowing Down

Final thoughts

You likely have autotelic tendencies if you are more internally than externally driven. You are the type of person described as:

“[An autotelic person is] more involved with everything around them because they are fully immersed in the current of life.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934–2021)

You can learn to improve your autotelic abilities and enter the amazing state of flow more often. All that is needed is to practice being fully present while doing what you love. Can it be that simple? Yes, but that doesn’t make it easy. If you want it bad enough, you can do it! You will find the effort more than worth it!

I better find a way to enter the state of flow while editing. Maybe I can begin thinking of it as a hobby. Wish me luck!

If you would like to learn more and further develop your autolytic abilities, check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book, The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

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Semi-Retired-Leadership/Executive Coach -Personal & Career Growth Expert -Editor and Leadership Writer at Illumination -Author

Richmond, VA

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