Like happiness in life, happiness at work is a basic human aspiration. Most of us think that if we engage in the incessant striving, competition and heavy lifting to land a better job, make a higher salary or become more liked, then we'll be happier. But research shows that these things typically fail to move the happiness needle in any significant way for those whose basic needs are already being met. "More" of the same isn't necessarily the answer. You have to find your "more" by figuring out what's truly important and stop striving for the things that won't make you any happier.
"What we think we need actually jumps up every time we get more." Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University
I realize that with unemployment in the United States climbing into the double digits this year, you might be in the unfortunate position of just needing a job - any job. These days, I feel a bit guilty even writing about workplace happiness. But, then there are readers who are dissatisfied with their current career and struggling to find work that will make them happy. The frustration is real. In response, some hyper-focus on the outward signs of success to compensate for the lack of fulfillment and strive and compete for promotion in companies they don't even like for more work they don't even like doing. Whatever your status, work has the power to create happiness or deplete it.
How to Become Happier at Work
I know what has been instrumental to increasing my happiness at work, and it hasn't been scratching my way through large, institutional-feeling office environments where I'm a small cog in a wheel. I've come to learn that there are different work environments and leadership styles, and then personal strengths that fit differently within each. No one will excel in every environment and at every job. So, what should you want in a job? What will truly make you happier at work? Where should you work? Through this new Work Freedom Guide, I'll share what I've come to understand about personal fulfillment and happiness at work.
What is Your Signature Character Strength?
What is the first step to finding happiness at work? Look for a job that lets you use your "signature character strengths." According to psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D. (author of Authentic Happiness), there are 24 notable character strengths. We all have specific ones that are more essential to the way we view ourselves. When we identify our strength and use them, we'll perform better in our roles and experience greater meaning. Seligman suggests that we use one of our signature strengths every day, in a different way, for one week. Try it as a sort of test of this theory. You can identify your signature strengths by taking the free test here: https://www.viacharacter.org/character-strengths-via. Take your time when you answer the questions. Do you signature strengths tell you anything about your fit (or misfit) with your current position or company?
What Makes a Job a Calling?
We all have to work. Who wouldn't love feeling like her job is a calling?" As the number of (signature) strengths you use goes up, so too does all your reports of positive affect." Laurie Santos Professor of Psychology at Yale University (The Science of Happiness course, reporting on research by Harzer & Ruch on character strengths - tip: the sweet spot is using four of your seven signature strengths in a job) Using your strengths, combined with the positive experiences you derive from them, increases the likelihood that you'll feel like your job, is not just a job, but a calling.
I can't promise you instant happiness, but I can say that you'll get more happiness from a position where your character strengths are both needed and appreciated. My career as a lawyer was unfulfilling and unrewarding until I joined a company with a small legal department. The General Counsel gave me a variety of responsibilities that allowed me to learn new areas and deliver in big ways for the company. I felt good about what I was able to contribute. My diverse skills and creativity were finally being fully deployed. Long term however, the corporate culture was a misfit for my touchy-feely signature strengths of love (valuing close relationships with others and having them reciprocated), fairness (giving everyone a fair chance) and humor (liking to laugh and bring smiles to people). While the company culture wasn't a good fit for all of my strengths, it was a magical fit for my strength of appreciation for beauty and excellence (bringing skilled performance). It allowed plenty of opportunities to deliver. There's certainly more to it, but identifying your strengths is a simple, achievable first step that will lead you to the right path for you.
Subscribe to the blog for my upcoming posts on getting into the "flow" of work and tips on choosing the right work environment. There truly is a job and a place for everyone. The trick is to find the right ones for you.