What is joy? It is not just an emotion as are pleasure, jealousy, and envy; nor is it a judgment against expectation as is satisfaction. Joy, like peace, is a state of being.
Joy in work emerges when the activity resonates within our very being; it emerges when the individual and the activity become one—when being and doing become one. This oneness is felt when the egoic-self is negated, when a sense of self as an object fades from the activity.
Getting lost in the activity is like what a child often experiences in play, or like when we become so engaged in a conversation that we lose the sense of time. I recall having an engaging dialogue with the person in the seat next to me while on a long flight that seemed to last but a few moments though it was hours. I remember thinking it seems as though we had just begun and now the plane is landing, where did the time go? Likely you have had similar experiences as well.
All that is present in awareness is the here-and-now moment; not the thought of ‘what’s in it for me’ or ‘this is not for me’ or ‘where is this going’ or ‘what will my boss (or others) think’. The end is not the focus, but rather the activity itself is. When this happens time seems to fly by—no past, no future, everything is now.
Do you think that the artist obsesses about the profit she will earn from the sale of what she is creating at the very time she is creating? If she does, it surely won’t be very creative or worthy of being called a work of art—whatever is moving her would be coming from the outside, not motivation from within. By definition a work of art is not something intended to serve mere utilitarian purposes. Joy comes from the act of creation—the intimacy we have with the work itself—not from the economic transaction of our work.
Why don’t we experience joy while at work? It is likely at work we aren’t allowed to negate or disable the ego. Most workplaces in fact foster its growth! Any structure, policy or management practice that inhibits the negation of ego—that actually promotes the role and strength of ego—will diminish joy in work.
Far too many organizations have a competitive environment wherein each person is expected to strive to be recognized as a winner. It is rare for people to not fear the prospect of losing while at work—how can this be joyful!
Likely people in the organization are so focused on purposes of outer value that all meaning is expunged from the work of the organization. Working within such a context, people become quite self-interested, very shortsighted and ultimately destructive. All that is important, all that could possibly be experienced, is the pleasure of material gain.
The very word compensation is telling in and of itself. We compensate people as a way to off-set, counterbalance or atone for what we require them to do. Hence many believe they must be compensated not for engaging in the work but more for what the work requires them to give up—I won’t do that for anything less than $$$! Joy does not come from the pay or any other material reward we receive; nor does it come from the associated title or status attached to our job.
That is, our work should resonate deep within us, connecting us to our humanness. Work must not re-cast us as objects or as instruments for another’s purpose. We should not feel dispirited because of our work but rather we should feel inspirited. Our work should be our artwork; it should be the means for us to bring to life our unique potential, to give expression to our (human) spirit.
If people felt joy through their work, then fewer would abhor going to work!
Are you being cheated in the workplace? Are you just being compensated? Do you realize joy from your work or do you work only for money and the weekend?
What role should leadership play in making the workplace a joyful place?