Think About It:
A colleague asked that question in a recent meeting of about 18 business coaches. I wasn’t satisfied with the usual answers I would give to this question. So I started down the rabbit hole of “what is joy”? That was, of course, followed by rethinking a whole new category of personal experiences.
What is Joy?
Merriam-Webster defines joy this way: “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires: DELIGHT.”
Most of my friends and colleagues share the same sources of joy. Family, friends, hobbies, and pets are all commonly listed sources of delight. I, too, list those things when asked. Yet, for me, a connection to learning and a sense of curiosity is common to all those items.
The Physics of Time
What caused me to think differently about this simple question was that I am in the middle of reading Richard Muller’s 2016 book Now: The Physics of Time. Muller does much more than try to explain how time works. Instead, he explores many human experiences, such as “flow” and how we experience history or think about the future.
As I contemplated the topics Muller raised, I also started delving deeper into my everyday experiences. For example, when was I most focused? When did I lose track of time? Finally, to bring this back to the topic at hand, when and where did I find joy and delight?
Despite being strongly introverted, I do miss the connection with other humans. But I most enjoy that interaction in one-on-one or small group situations. I realize now that I enjoyed the last several family visits more because I was aware of missing them during two years of lockdown. Absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I also enjoy learning from my adult children, which brings me to the next point of discussion, continuous learning.
Continuous learning has always been part of my personality. However, I do not focus learning only on the things I am currently involved in. Instead, I expand my curiosity to include new issues or to challenge what I believe to be true about existing topics. Technology has made this easier because we can access the vast knowledge base on the internet from almost anywhere at any time.
Thinking back on the times I’m most absorbed, happy, and feeling in the flow, is when I am working on learning something new or implementing something new. For example, learning a new photography technique or a software program function gives me a little dopamine “hit.”
The underlying experience that brings me joy is that of deep human connection and learning new things. I am confident that others may find that to be true and that many will find other things that bring them delight. So the question for me, as a leader, is, what brings joy to my employees? Have we created an environment that allows individuals to pursue pleasure in their work—at least for part of their workday? What will you do to make or maintain such an environment?