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The Secret to Happiness3 min read

Judy Shen, Langone MBA Class of 2013

You just arrived at a Stern Networking event, picked up a glass of ice-cold beer at the bar, and overheard two students having a conversation that goes something like this – “Hi, What’s your name?”, “Where are you from?”,  What types of jobs/industry are you interested in?”. Okay, another Business school small chat going on. Well, if you think about it, most of us came to Business school motivated by the last question. Many people may have already found their answer, but most people spend countless hours researching about different industries, attending networking events, and sitting in corporate presentations to plant the trail that will lead them to their answer. This question is so powerful it motivates us to join certain student clubs to join, take on leadership roles, and take classes to obtain a certain specialization.

Throughout my time here at Stern, I did just that. However, as someone who is naturally curious about the world and likes to challenge myself with new experiences, I made an effort to take courses that were not just practical for career objectives but that were genuinely interesting to me. I also enjoyed taking courses from professors whose personal experiences taught me just as much, if not more, than taking a subject matter to fulfill a specialization. My involvement in the Oppy was also simply motivated by my love for writing.

Whether you are in the beginning, middle, or final stages of finding a job, career, or calling; whether there are other factors (financial, family, etc) affecting your decision; let me share with you a secret… to finding happiness. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, one of the world’s leading researchers on positive psychology who devoted his life’s work to the study of what makes people truly happy, satisfied, and fulfilled, architected the notion of Flow.

Judy - MassiminiCarliFlow is a state in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. One is not fully conscious of happiness during flow, but the effect of the experience is that of euphoria, such as what we typically consider “being in the zone”.

The figure illustrates he quality of experience is a function of the relationship between challenges and skills. Therefore, flow is achieved when you possess the highest skills to perform the task and feel strongly challenged by the work.

Csikszentmihalyi once said: “Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason.” And if you can identify with any of the feelings above on the Flow chart (besides Flow), such as anxiety, apathy, or boredom with what you are doing, know that you have control to make choices that will bring you to a state of Flow. After all, we are all born with unique skill sets, so the more important question is, how do you find the appropriate challenges that will elevate you to that state of flow and happiness.

Someone once said to me, “the days go by slow, but the years go by fast.” It is true, isn’t it? I still remember reading Mitch Albom’s “Tuesday’s with Morrie” and going through a box of Kleenex (plus other life events) reminding my busy self that life is short and I should do what I love more often. What are some things that are important to you that you wish you had more time to do? At this pivotal point in our lives in which we are finding what our next calling is, I hope you all find your flow and happiness in life.

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