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Called to Happiness

When you're at work, do you ever find yourself so consummately engrossed in what you're doing that you lose all sense of time and your surroundings? This happens to me on a regular basis, particularly when I'm editing a lengthy feature article that needs help. I'll struggle, first, to find the right organizational structure; once that emerges (often after several false starts), I'll start massaging the text to fit the structure: move this section to the top, drop those paragraphs, add a transition here, then there, pull this material out for a sidebar. I'm "in the zone." My colleague next door could run by my office wearing nothing but his boxers and I doubt I'd even notice.

According to a new book out by Penn psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman, Authentic Happiness, this state of complete absorption is known as "flow." And it defines those who approach their work as a "calling," rather than as a job (done solely to collect a paycheck at week's end) or as a career (where achievement is marked by money and prestige, and you move on when the promotions stop). Anyone can approach his or her work as a calling, according to Seligman -- hairdressers, engineers, secretaries, custodians. And those who do experience the greatest degree of personal contentment. They come to work happy.

Given what I've seen at Johns Hopkins during my 14 years here, I'd wager that, as a workplace, Hopkins is a haven for those who are "called" -- from the mathematicians who toil for years to solve a vexing problem (p. 24), to the occupational health physician who's made it his mission to curb workplace injury and illness (p. 44), to the football coach striving to lead his team to its best season ever (p. 24). Observing such Hopkins folks in action, reporting on their callings issue after issue, is an exercise that never ceases to inspire.

Some happy news: Soon after completing this issue's cover story, senior writer Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson gave birth to Chloe Paris Simpson, by all accounts a beautiful little five-pounder. Joanne and husband Brian Simpson, editor of the Bloomberg School's Public Health Magazine, report being completely smitten with their daughter. We wish the first-time parents all the best. Hurry back, Joanne. We miss you!

-Sue De Pasquale

Return to November 2002 Table of Contents

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