increasing happiness and fulfillment at work

10 tips to feel happier at work

As an Executive Coach, I work with business professionals climbing the corporate mountain but have realized they are on the wrong mountain. I work with them to reduce stress and increase fulfillment, happiness, and well-being.

I’m often asked: “How can I be happier at work?” This question is not surprising. In a workplace happiness survey it was found that over 50% of the US workforce is currently unhappy at work. That’s ~65 Million people if you only consider the full-time workforce. The answer is specific to the individual I’m coaching. However, I’ll do my best to provide tips that anyone can use to increase happiness at work.

1) Identify what kind of work you are doing

A study by Amy Wrzesniewski, Yale School of Management, revealed that we can divide work into three categories: A Job, a Career, or a Calling. So, if you are pursuing happiness at work, the first thing you need to do is identify and categorize what kind of work you are doing.

Job: Your primary motivation is money. The work is a means to an end, getting paid. It helps you to pay for household bills, debts, and hopefully entertainment or activities.

Career: You appreciate or enjoy your work. Your primary motivation is advancement. Your goal is to gain promotions and climb the ladder (mountain). Each “role” is an opportunity to prove yourself and earn a promotion to the next role.

Calling: Your work is in direct alignment with your values. You are contributing to society or a worldly cause beyond yourself.

Once you’ve identified the type of work you are doing, you can reframe how you view the everyday grind.

Job: If you’re in a job, you could view it as “temporary.” It’s a way to make money while you work on other things. Once you pay off those debts, you’ll move onto something you love.

Career: If you’re in a career, but don’t like the work assignments in your current role, you can reframe it as a learning experience. You may dislike the work, but the skills you are gaining will lead to your next promotion. 

Calling: If you’ve found your calling, you’re in alignment with your values. Lucky you and high five! But, maybe your some happiness is negatively impacted because you aren’t making enough money. Reframe how you view it, you’re one of the luckiest people on the planet! Consider finding an enjoyable part-time job or side project to supplement your income.

Now that you’ve picked a category and reframed how you view your work, let’s move onto a few other tips.

2) Develop meaningful friendships

The fact that friendships can lead to happiness is a simple concept, but backed up by research. If you have a few good relationships at work, you look forward to going to work. If you have friends outside of work, you can look forward to social activities at the end of your day.

Officevibe conducted a study on work friendships. In this study, they found that 70% of employees said having friendships at work is the most crucial element to a happy work life. A Harvard Medical School study found that “having a friend who’s happy improves your likelihood of being happy by 15%.”

Get off your coach or from behind your desk and build those friendships.

3) Practice gratitude for YOUR work

There are numerous research studies correlating gratitude with increased optimism and an overall feeling of satisfaction. In one study, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami found that after ten weeks, participants who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than other groups in the study.

When you start feeling down or unhappy, take 10-15 minutes to write down why you are grateful for your work.

4) Practice gratitude by praising others

Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a positive psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, tested the impact of several positive psychology interventions on 411 people. The group that wrote and personally delivered a letter of gratitude to someone who had never been adequately thanked exhibited a drastic increase in happiness scores. The impact was more significant than any other intervention and lasted a month.

Compliments amplify positivity. They not only deliver positive effects to others, but also the person providing the praise. Find opportunities to personally appreciate and praise others at work. Please, don’t just send an email!

5) Find your happiness at home, more specifically your sex life

Has anyone every told you to separate our personal and professional life? Ha! They are interrelated; one impacts the other. If you’re happy at home, there’s an increased likelihood you are happy at work.

Keith Leavitt, a professor at Oregon State University, found that “those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives.” Who doesn’t want that advantage at work? The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home “negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives.” Nope. Don’t do it.

 I’ll leave the summary tip to you. Just know that happiness at work can start at home.

6) Stop believing that the only way to be happy at work is to “find something you’re passionate about and go do that!”

We are humans. Our passions are hard to prioritize. They also change over time. Your passions might not be your strengths or what the market demands. There are indicators, other than passion, that have a higher positive correlation to happiness: work-life balance, autonomy, and income.

Consider finding work that allows you to pursue an outside passion. If your passion is nature photography, you could work as a freelance graphic designer during the day, and pursue your passion on the weekends or vacations. 

7) Make your workspace a mood-boosting sanctuary

What boosts your mood? Inspirational quotes? Pictures of your family? How about plants or flowers? Think about what you can add to your workspace that will inspire you. Find items that make you smile.

It’s your workspace. Take a step back and find that creative designer deep inside you soul. Now, try making it your happy space. 

8) Connect your work to a higher purpose also called “Job Crafting.”

Author David Zax describes job crafting as carefully crafting how you think about your work. Amy Wrzesniewski (again) studied janitors at hospitals. She wanted to see “what strategies they might employ to find satisfaction in their admittedly low-skilled, low-paid jobs.” The results were fascinating. Some of the staff:

Felt their labor was highly skilled, they described the work in “rich relational terms,” says Wrzesniewski, talking about their interactions with patients and visitors. Many of them reported going out of their way to learn as much as possible about the patients whose rooms they cleaned, down to which cleaning chemicals were likely to irritate them less. “It was not just that they were taking the same job and feeling better about it, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and whistling. It was that they were doing a different job.”

This second, happier group didn’t see themselves as custodial workers at all. One described forming such a bond with patients that she continued to write letters to some of them after they were discharged. Another paid attention to which patients seemed to have few visitors or none at all, and would make sure to double back to spend some time with them... What these workers were doing, Wrzesniewski came to realize, was quietly creating the work that they wanted to do out of the work that they had been assigned -- work they found meaningful and worthwhile. Wrzesniewski and her colleagues call this practice “job crafting,” and they think it could be the key to happiness in all sorts of jobs.

A-Mazing! You can craft how you feel about your job. Even if it’s only certain parts of your work, you can connect those parts, or the whole, to a higher purpose that increases your happiness, fulfillment, and satisfaction.

9) Find another line of work

You can only do so much by putting lipstick on a pig. It’s still a pig. If you are thoroughly drained and unhappy, it might be time to make a move. Remember, the best time to find a job is when you have a job. I’d recommend putting in the effort to find happiness in your current work. However, don’t settle for life-long unhappiness.

Find a job that aligns to your values and provides the income you desire. As an Executive Coach that works in the space all the time, believe me when I say this, find work that makes you as happy as possible. Who doesn’t want to go to work happy?! If you’re having trouble, consider creating your dream job through entrepreneurship. Take the time to understand what you value the most. Develop a plan of action. Then go get what you desire. Finding work that brings you happiness for the rest of your life is worth the time it might take. Who wouldn’t exchange 30+ years of pure happiness for 3 months to 1 year of minimal discomfort?

Be the cause of your happiness

10) Become the cause of your happiness

You are either at the effect of something else or the cause of your life. If you are unhappy at work, your happiness is at the “effect of your work.” Become the cause of your happiness, instead of surrendering your life to the effect of your circumstances. I’ve provided tips above that can help. However, you have absolute control over YOU. Work on “the who,” your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Work on “the what,” your plans, actions, steps, strategy, and tactics. Only you control how you react to, feel about, or view your job. Only you control the actions you can take to increase happiness.

Stop waiting for someone or something else to bring you happiness. Go forth my friend. Connect your head and heart. Take control of your life. If you need help, consider hiring a coach to guide you along the way.

Take care and be happy!

- Stewart Swayze


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