Understand that there are three different ways to look at work. There's work for hire, otherwise known as a job—if they didn't have to pay you to show up, you'd quit. There's a career—that's when you're on a track and you feel a personal drive to move from point A to point B to accomplish some of your goals. And there's a passion—that's something you'd do even if you weren't getting paid. Getting paid for their passion is, for many people, the ultimate goal. For others, who have come to terms with the fact that no one is going to pay them to fly-fish (or whatever), the goal is finding a job that pays a livable wage but leaves enough free time to pursue their passion. The career—in the middle—is where most of us end up.
Aristotle called the ultimate satisfaction "eudaemonia: a state characterized by engagement flow and immersion in life activities." Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, former chairman of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, simplified it and called it "flow."
Flow is when you're so caught up in what you're doing that you stop watching the clock. You're not overwhelmed. You're absorbed. Time sails by. You look up only when something finally distracts you and you realize that it's three-and-a-half hours later. You skipped your midmorning cup of coffee. You haven't bothered to check your e-mail. You even forgot to go to the bathroom. In other words, you're involved. And being involved in something you enjoy doing—where you can use your skills to accomplish a task you feel is meaningful and important—makes for a satisfying work experience.
Chances are you find yourself in flow only occasionally. Csikszentmihalyi's research has shown that 15 percent of people say they've never experienced flow and 15 to 20 percent of people experience it every day (some several times). And the rest are in between. The more often you can get to this place while you're working, the happier you'll be. Why? Again, workplace happiness is a big contributor to lifetime happiness.
Unfortunately, I can't describe the scenario—the new business, career or passion—that's best for you. Rob, a creative director at an advertising agency, knows his passion is throwing pots, and he's trying to come up with a business idea sound enough to allow him to transition. My brother Dave, who works in accounting for a mutual fund family—a job he likes—would eventually like to support himself with his music. But I can tell you a little bit about the characteristics that next phase of your life should have.
What makes people feel the happiest about what they do every day?