How to Achieve Happiness as a Grants Professional: Go with the Flow

From the ancient Greeks to the present, we have debated the meaning of happiness.  Today, there is a renewed interest in this subject from economists, political scientists, and psychologists.  What makes people happy, and how might grants professionals achieve a feeling of well-being inside and outside the workplace?

If social capital and not income or commodities is the most important source of happiness and life satisfaction for proposal professionals, then I think we need to re-examine the way we work and live.

The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmih­alyi has argued that the most enjoyable and affirmative activities are often those that most engage and absorb us. He called them flow experiences, which are a “state in which  people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at a great cost, for the sheer sake of do­ing it.” At their best, flow experiences provide in­dividuals with a sense of discovery, creativity, and mastery over some field or topic.

Flow experiences are so enjoyable to us that we are willing to expend great time and energy on them. According to Csikszentmihalyi, flow experiences have eight characteristics in common. They: (1) can be completed by us; (2) demand our focus; (3) have specific goals; (4) furnish immediate feedback; (5) require deep involvement and concentration; (6) give us a sense of control over what we are doing; (7) energize us; and (8) are so absorbing that we lose track of time.

By their very nature, flow experiences cannot occur too frequently. If they did, we would be too exhausted and absorbed most of the time. But when they appear, we should embrace them.

In many ways, proposal development lends itself to flow experiences with its fo­cused and intense work.

Who among us has not been intensely gratified by working on an outstanding grant application or bringing a year-long proposal de­velopment effort to a successful conclusion? By its very nature, proposal development is so demanding that often it requires work that absorbs time and en­ergy and that requires our deepest involve­ment and effort. In our work environments, we need to engage in tasks that develop our sense of competence and partici­pation.

In grants develop­ment, personal well-be­ing will be enhanced when individuals are able to pursue their own goals in ways that are valued by their peers and organizations. What makes work stimulating is working to­ward a satisfying goal, not simply attaining it.

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