Are we happier at home or at work? The answer might surprise you!

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So are people happier at work?



When I suggest that people are happier at work than at home, the usual response is utter denial. After all: Don’t we look forward to our well-earned personal time?

Well yes we do – but there’s a catch. While at work we’re more often engaged in activities, solving problems and enjoying achievements that result in increased overall fulfilment – and this isn’t necessarily true at home.

What makes a life worth living?

Leading psychologist and professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi conducted a seminal study on happiness. He monitored the mood of thousands of subjects, from a variety of roles and backgrounds, on an hourly basis over the course of a year. His findings were overwhelming: People were happier at work than when they were not at work.

Csikszentmihalyi asks, “What makes a life worth living?” He suggests that money is not the key to happiness, he finds instead that pleasure and satisfaction are achieved from activities that increase our state of “flow”. In this state we are fully immersed in what we are doing and experiencing feelings of absorption, engagement, skill and fulfillment.

Work typically induces such feelings as we strive to excel and achieve

It is the transition from work to home where we can often take a dive and lose our sense of achievement. Generally speaking, at home we tend to slip into routines that don’t offer a sense of achievement or a state of “flow”. Instead we are sucked into mundane chores of fixing dinner, putting the kids to bed or watching TV.

Why does this happen?

Firstly, most of us don’t have the same formal process at home as we do at work. We’re more like Alice in Wonderland, drifting aimlessly – as the Cheshire cat aptly stated: “If you don’t know where you want to get to, then it doesn’t matter which way you go”. In other words we amble along – rather than trying to achieve specific satisfying outcomes. But there’s more to it….

Flex your brain muscle


The brain is extremely energy hungry. Despite accounting for just 2% of our bodyweight it consumes a massive 20% of our entire energy consumption.

Homo sapiens evolved at a time when food was a scarce resource, so our brain is designed to conserve energy by switching to autopilot, or ‘standby’ mode whenever it can (for example at the weekend).

At work, a good manager will be skilled at keeping the brain awake by ensuring employees are in the ‘flow zone’ – sufficiently stretching them to stay challenged. However, there is a delicate balance – too much stretch causes stress or anxiety and can severely reduce the brain’s operating potential. Not enough stretch and we quickly become bored and disengaged. See below illustration…

Equal measures of stretch and support keeps our brain in peak condition for optimal performance – in essence, achieving this balance is what good leadership is all about!

The minute we clock off work our brain tends to automatically shut down to conserve energy, and we don’t have an “achievement” mindset or focus.

Much ado about nothing!!


We justify this by saying to ourselves “I just need some chill-out time”. This is all well and good, however there’s a fine line between chilling out and boredom. All too often, well-deserved chill-out time turns into passivity, for example slumping down in front of the TV for hours at a time. This can breed feelings of dissatisfaction, despondency and even self-condemnation.

A goal a day helps you work, rest and play!

As we’ve seen, without a specific challenge, our default setting is “minimize effort” (note the universal attraction of electric car windows rather than those tiresome winding handles!)

Some people overcome this by engaging a coach. Left to our own devices we don’t stretch ourselves, our brain switches to autopilot and ultimately, we don’t achieve fulfilment and happiness. A good coach will provide stretch and support in equal measure – striking the balance between work and life contentment.

If you start now, you’ll start seeing results one day earlier than tomorrow!

Need help setting goals? Find out how coaching can help you >>>

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