Finding happiness at work may feel like a tall order.
We’ve all been in jobs that weren’t satisfying—where it was hard to find happiness at work, and each day felt like drudgery. Heck, we’ve probably all faced work that was downright tedious!
But the real truth is, you can find happiness in absolutely any job, no matter what you’re doing. I’ve known trash collectors who were satisfied with their work every single day. I’ve known teachers, law enforcement, and social workers who faced difficult, even dangerous situations with a smile on their faces. There are many ways to find joy in work.
Even if you’re not in your dream job, you can find happiness at work right now. If you’re hoping for more satisfaction in the 9-5, here are six tips for finding happiness at work.
1. Let Go of the Idea of “One”
I didn’t think of a career when I was growing up. I lived in a town where everyone had jobs; they might work at the bank, as a firefighter, or in a factory. I was working my first job when someone asked me, “what do you want to do for your career?” I remember it was the first time I’d really thought about the difference between a 9-5 job and a satisfying career path I could choose. It opened up a whole new world.
Not everyone has a predetermined career path. Some people don’t know what they want to do for a job until much later in life—well past their college years. Others waffle back and forth, never feeling fulfilled because they don’t feel settled on their career path or because they think they’ve missed their chance to take on their perfect career.
In many ways, the idea there’s one perfect career out there for us is akin to believing there’s only one ideal soulmate out there for us. It’s a fairytale myth, setting us up for disappointment and unfulfilled expectations. We can’t find happiness at work when we’re constantly looking for something else.
In reality, there are many jobs and careers we could feel satisfied in, but like a relationship, it’s up to us to put in the work. It’s not about the perfect job or the ideal career path, but about the quality of the work we do. We can engage in any task and find satisfaction, meaning, and fulfillment.
For those of us lamenting the idea that we didn’t “follow our passion” or fulfill our dream career, take a pause and think about it. Maybe we would have found creative or intellectual fulfillment in our dream profession, or perhaps we wouldn’t. Maybe the same people and situations that get under our skin at our current job would exist in any setting. Perhaps we would still feel stuck, or eventually, we would get bored because we’re expecting a job to be “perfect.”
It’s not the work but our approach to the work that makes all the difference. We can find happiness at work, no matter what we’re doing—it’s about dedicating ourselves to the idea that we’re in control of our happiness (not waiting for our job to hand it over).
2. Lead from Where You Are
Many of us covet the corner office. We think if we got the promotion, we’d really show our boss our mettle. We’re waiting for a leadership position to appear so we can finally be in charge. We start to think we need to get ahead constantly if we want to feel happiness at work.
I’ve seen many entrepreneurs who quit their “day jobs” and took on their dream career, only to quickly discover they were in over their heads. This idea that we can’t answer to anyone, so we want to become our own boss, is a falsehood. Even entrepreneurs have a boss—their clients, customers, and stakeholders. If they’re forgotten, no business will be successful. We all answer to someone if we want to earn a paycheck.
Instead of looking at authority as control to buck against, what if we shift to view it as something to model? Instead of feeling bossed around in meetings and shutting down defiantly, what if you spoke up and shared your thoughts? What if we found our inner leader and lead from wherever we were in the company (even the last rung on the ladder).
I’ve seen many of the best ideas come from people in the lowest positions in the company. Often, these people have boots on the ground. They’re in the trenches, and they see what happens in the day-to-day action. They might be interfacing with customers or gaining a perspective that management doesn’t have. No matter what we do in a job, our voice could still turn the company around and head off major issues otherwise overlooked. If we see a problem—speak up!
It helps to look at our boss as a mentor. Cultivate a strong relationship with them and listen to their feedback, even if it’s tough. Dress for the next position. We should always take the time to put ourselves together, so we draw positive attention. Walk into meetings ready to speak up, engage, and lead. When we start to lead confidently from any position, we’ll begin to move up the ranks.
3. Find Your Purpose
The vital key to happiness at work (and in life) is purpose. Purpose and meaning should drive every interaction.
I’ve worked with plenty of professionals who earn high incomes. They may hold an MBA from an Ivy League school. They may own a big house, luxury cars, and designer clothing, but they’re scratching their heads, wondering why they still can’t find happiness at work.
To feel fulfilled and satisfied in any scenario, we must extract our sense of meaning and purpose. Whether it’s finding the purpose in our relationships, friendships, parenting, or leisure time, purpose is a vital component of happiness.
If we want to find happiness at work, we need to focus on how we’re working to be net givers to the world. How are we providing the world with more than we’re gaining? How are we giving to those around us and bringing out the best in our peers?
Purpose is like a switch. Once we discover it, we’re turned on and engaged. Suddenly our burdens become lighter. Work no longer feels like work because it’s meaningful. We know we’re working FOR something rather than going through the motions.
The truth is happy people are happy in most aspects of their life because they choose to be that way. If we want a great career, we should focus on being a great person. Be a trustworthy person. Be someone other people count on. As we become the person we want to be, our job and career path will align to our values.
4. Challenge Yourself for More Happiness at Work
We can develop ourselves in any environment. People have transformed themselves in dire circumstances. They’ve learned and grown in prison, in concentration camps, and in other unthinkable situations. Development comes from rising to the challenges.
So there are going to be days when we don’t feel happy at work. If the days add up to weeks and months, we may want to consider why our job isn’t sparking happiness. We may want to ask ourselves if our job is too easy.
It sounds strange, right? We all want an easy button. We all think that going through the same motions every day will let us stop thinking about work so much. An easy, stress-free job may sound fantastic, but if we want satisfaction, we need a challenge.
When we enter a new workplace, we feel challenged right away. We’re learning and adapting to a new environment; we’re discovering new ways to complete tasks. Each situation gives us the chance to learn and grow. We’re meeting new coworkers and adapting to the situation.
After a few years, we may find we’re not as excited about our job anymore. It feels routine. Instead of going on autopilot and zoning out, this is a sure sign we need to zone in. We need to level up and find new ways to seek that sense of novelty and adventure in our careers.
I was working with a lawyer who was going through these feelings of drudgery. He was even considering a career change because he wasn’t finding his career fulfilling anymore. He wasn’t finding happiness at work.
During our conversation, I challenged him to prepare for his next case like it was his very first. I told him to go all-in—cram in as much information and study as possible. He followed my advice and came back the next week on a high. He said it was the most significant week of work he’d had in a long time. From there, his career began to completely turn around.
Humans want challenges and stimulation. We orient to novelty. We want to be engaged and turned on to new ideas and activities. If we feel unfulfilled by a job, the solution is to take on a big challenge. If we can’t think of a challenging project to undertake, ask! Go to the boss and request a new challenge. I guarantee they will offer an idea. If we find this idea frightening or daunting, we may need to ask ourselves why we’re avoiding the challenge.
5. Give to Your Network
We often think of networking as a crucial part of growing our role at work. Our network is how we engage with new clients, new leads, and new customers. But networking over happy hour isn’t really building our essential connections, and it’s probably not bringing us more happiness at work.
Our connections with others become stronger when we become net givers instead of net takers. Do we give to our network? Do we provide leadership, mentorship, and advice? Do we invite new connections to share, not because we’re waiting to close a deal or warm up a lead, but because we’re genuinely interested in engaging with them as human beings?
It’s amazing how the dynamic shifts when we stop thinking of what people can do for us, and instead, we think of what we can do for them.
Instead of thinking of our customers and clients as people there to give us money, what if we thought of them as people who need to receive our service? How will we tell them about a product or service that will change their lives for the better? How would we view what we were doing if we knew it provided someone with a necessary service?
We don’t always need to think of giving in tangible ways, either. Offering appreciation, warmth, and encouragement is also part of giving to others. When we engage with others, we’re helping fulfill their yearning to be respected, listened to, to see, and be seen. Fulfilling a yearning is powerful stuff that fortifies our connections.
6. Learn from Mistakes
We all make mistakes. Many of us make big, huge, epic mistakes. Some errors feel like the end of the world, and we wonder how we will ever recover. This is especially true when our mistakes affect our work (and even worse when our boss, team, or customers rely on us).
Mistakes are learning opportunities. As researcher Angela Duckworth writes in her book, Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success:
“…Grit grows as we figure out our life philosophy, learn to dust ourselves off after rejection and disappointment, and learn to tell the difference between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that demand more tenacity. The maturation story is that we develop the capacity for long-term passion and perseverance as we get older.”
In other words, making mistakes and getting rejected helps us determine our path and strengthen our resolve. As we test what approaches work and what approaches don’t work, we narrow our aim. We get better at our job.
It’s tough when we’ve made a blunder. We may have a hard time righting the ship and correcting our path, but we’re much more aware of the proper direction when we do. In each mistake is an opportunity to refine and hone in on our approach. When we make mistakes, we grow, and when we grow, we find more happiness at work.
If we watch kids when they learn, and even when they play, they make mistakes all the time. When a baby falls after taking a few steps, they don’t throw in the towel and give up. They get back up and keep going. Kids are resilient. As adults, we start to question our abilities to bounce back after mistakes.
Instead, keep moving forward and learning. If you want to find happiness at work, embrace mistakes as learning opportunities. Celebrate your mistakes and keep going!
For more on discovering a life of purpose and satisfaction, please visit our courses on WrightNow. We have an array of learning options to help you discover more satisfaction in your career, relationships, and personal life. Start moving toward a life of MORE today.
The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Living performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.