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Tiffany Chang conductor 


Here are some of my favorite posts:

What's your mission? - I examined mission statements from 71 U.S. orchestras

Empathy in relationships - we know empathy is hard, and we should also know what it is not

Why don't we talk about it? - how organizations may encourage performers to be advocates

Note: New and existing posts will be hosted at

Below you'll only find archived posts from before June 24, 2021.


We're in the business of... happiness

Posted by Tiffany Chang on 20 May, 2021 at 8:30

In the last post, I shared the evolution of Zappos' vision. Their focus shifted naturally from the largest selection of shoes to delivering happiness. "Selection" indicates a concern with short-term gain, external results, and achieving metrics, while "happiness" puts the spotlight on the intangible feelings of people and their experiences that are impossible to measure.


Today I want to talk about this idea of happiness, and to share with you Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh's discussion of the 3 types of happiness, and how they might provide insight for musicians.


Here are the three types of happiness: 

      1. Happiness of pleasure (Hsieh calls "rock star") - this is a temporary high, where you're always seeking the source of stimuli, it's difficult to sustain

      2. Happiness of engagement ("flow") - losing a sense of time, being in the zone, feeling passion of being engaged in the activity

      3. Happiness of meaning/purpose - being a part of something bigger than yourself


 Zappos' vision transformation seems to map perfectly onto these three types of happiness: it began with the "largest selection of shoes," where it's seeking to be in the position of number one--chasing the metric. And when they are, they get a pleasure high, when they're not, the happiness goes away quickly. Compare that with the final vision of "delivering happiness," where serving the calling and purpose bigger than any single employee provides a self-sustaining reserve of happiness that lasts a long time. 


While we all primarily focus on chasing the first type, the research Hsieh explored shows that we should emphasize chasing the third, more sustainable long-lasting type.

This is true in music: we are often stuck in seeking the first type of happiness all the time. We think that achieving metrics or recognition will make us happy, but it ends up being short-lived or we feel empty inside because it doesn't have much meaning beyond yourself. 


An organization may rank as number one in ___;  but then what? Will the people be happy about it beyond this year, this moment? You win the job; but then what? Will you be happy in it or will you be looking immediately for the next job? If we as individuals or as organizations seek this type of happiness, we sacrifice taking care of bettering ourselves as people for chasing the metrics.


The second type of happiness ("flow") lasts longer. We may play a great concert and we feel fantastic; but then what? The feeling wears off after a few hours or days, and we yearn for the next time we get to feel that way again. You'd be lucky if you feel that way on a daily basis as a musician. Even if you perform everyday, you may not achieve a "flow-state" performance everyday. 


What does the third type of happiness mean for musicians? What is a purpose that is both larger than ourselves and that is specific enough to be actionable and serve as a compass?

I think this is a very hard question, simply because as artists we are fortunate to have an intrinsic love for our work. We often don't think (or perhaps feel like we don't need to think) about why we love it or why we do it. Without the purpose driving our actions and decisions, however, we fall into the trap of chasing external metrics as a purpose and therefore end up feeling unfulfilled or unhappy in doing so. 


We are also victims of an education system and workplace run traditionally by extrinsic motivation. For work that is intrinsically motivating (like playing music), there is actually a negative effect to the enjoyment of that work when there is an added focus on extrinsic rewards that turn "play into work." Daniel Pink calls these "if-then" rewards in his book Drive (if you do ___, then you get ___.). He explains that social science tells us that if-then rewards work well for simple, algorithmic, short-term tasks, but are not as effective for more complex, creative tasks - such as music performance. He further says that this is due to the fact that if-then rewards require people to forfeit some of their autonomy. We all can see how lack of autonomy (even in this accidental kind) can prevent fulfillment in our creative work. (There is so much to explore within the work of Daniel Pink that future posts will be dedicated to his work.)


So, happiness in our intrinsically-driven field can be threatened by our focus on both 1) striving toward the short-lived happiness of pleasure via achieving metrics, and 2) if-then rewards that unknowingly decrease intrinsic motivation and stifle creativity. Simply our willingness to see these as factors in play can help us to begin changing things around for a more fulfilling and happy workplace for musicians. Like Zappos, we can evolve our visions as individuals and as organizations to aim for happiness through purpose and meaning that will last a lifetime.

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