“I’m good at my job, Rebecca, really good. And I want to stay here. I just want to be happier in it.” A coaching client recently defined what so many of us experience. We work really hard to get ahead in our careers and yet so often, even when we get to the “dream job” we can catch ourselves being busy but not really enjoying our day, every day. So who are these people who seem to be genuinely happy in their work? Here are five behaviors that can make you happier in your daily work.
1. Know what makes you happy — personally. It’s easy to evaluate and reflect on to what degree we are happy (although that’s not to say we do). It’s harder to define what it is that makes us personally happy. You are unique so what makes you happy will be unique. Going broader than just your work context, write a list of the daily things in life that bring you happiness. Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE, offers a powerful way of thinking about happiness, the “pleasure-purpose principle.” He says happiness includes both pleasure and purpose, not just positive emotion. So don’t just note down what things bring you pleasure; also consider the activities that give you the greatest feeling of engaging in something purposeful. *I personally think that once a day writing down 3 good things, might seem overwhelming for some people, but if you think about 3-5 good things about your job every week, that might make this task a little bit more manageable. Try to keep these good things as something that is a core focus of your job to recap the most benefits of this exercise.
2. Proactively build happiness into your daily working life. Happiness doesn’t just happen. We need to not only be self-aware about what makes us personally happy but also to intentionally build those things into our day. It’s easy not to, particularly when we’re busy and rushing around. But small changes can make a big difference. Consider things as simple as particular music you love, food you enjoy that brings you a sense of well-being, reading or spending time one-to-one with a friend over your lunch break, creating a workspace that makes you happy or finding alternative spaces to work that you enjoy. These seemingly small changes when proactively and purposefully built into our day can have a significant impact on how we feel about our day and our sense of happiness through it. Decide on three things you could regularly build into your working day and what action you will take to introduce them or make them a more consistent part of your work. *Having something like pictures of your loved ones, plants, motivational quotes or calendars, just having something at your desk that makes you smile is going to benefit you and your happiness while you’re at work. What are you going to look at that makes you smile throughout the day? Try it and see how it effects your happiness while you’re at your desk for 8+ hours a day.
3. Seek opportunities that for you have a strong sense of purpose. We may not be able to choose all the projects we work on, but do be clear to your leaders about what it is that you would like to be involved in. And if those opportunities don’t come up naturally, think of what you could do at work that would still add value to the wider organizational goals but which would give you personally a greater sense of purpose in your work. It might not be 100% of your day, but any engagement in projects and activities that you feel have a meaningful purpose are likely to increase your overall happiness at work. *If you realize that through chatting with your supervisor that there is nothing or very rarely there is something that you can do to make yourself feel like you have a purpose, it might be time for you to find a new position and move on from that company. Usually, there is something you can find to give you that sense of purpose during your workday, it just might not be as obvious to you.
4. Know what energizes you — and what doesn’t. We are also unique in what energizes us. For some of us collaboration and working with others to solve challenges creates a buzz. For others of us it’s being able to get stuck into the details and critically thinking through a new proposal where we get our sense of flow. Others still are energized by spending time one-to-one with people listening to their challenges and helping them work through them. Consider what energizes you personally. And what doesn’t. Every job has aspects that we don’t love. Even the most seemingly glamorous or exciting careers have parts that are tedious or tiresome to the people doing them. These are again unique to each individual’s experience. Know what activities personally energize you and which don’t and as much as possible structure your day so that the energizing activities are spread throughout your day and your week. Without thinking about this it’s easy to end up with clusters of energizing work, also leaving clusters of draining work! *It’s a fact of life that sometimes at work, we have to do tasks that we don’t actually like to do or that’s really draining for us. Spacing it out can be easy some days but challenging on others. This may take some reflection and self-awareness as you’re completing a task at work to understand which ones energize you and which ones drain you but once you figure it out, your days will get much better.
5. Address what makes you unhappy. If you’re not enjoying your day, consider what the specific reasons are. If one or two things changed, would work be substantially different? It could be anything, such as working with a particularly challenging person, feeling unappreciated, not having enough resources to do your job well or being bored. With some well-timed, constructive and potentially challenging conversations with influential people, we might be able to remove or at least reduce these factors. If the factors are structural, you’ve tried and they really can’t change, it might be time to plan for another role internally or externally. When thinking about the next season ahead, consider both pleasure and purpose. *Ask those questions during an interview and really try to understand the main functions of the job. If giving presentations drains you, you probably wouldn’t be happy in a position where 50% of your main job function was giving presentations.
Happiness research suggests there are not only psychological and physical benefits for us personally, but significant team and organizational benefits as well. So being proactive about being happy isn’t selfish – it’s not just good for you at work, it’s good for your workplace as well.