Five behaviors of people who are happy at work
“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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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