Maybe you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur. Maybe you work in a cubicle. Maybe you run an agency.
Or maybe you’re a billionaire CEO.
Whoever you are, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you have the same desire as the rest of us:
You want to be happy at work.
Are you happy when you’re working?
So, are you happy at work? I mean, not the kind of happy where you’re “just glad to have a job in this economy.”
That’s not true happiness.
I’m talking about the kind of happiness at work that makes it hard to sleep Sunday night because you can’t wait to get started Monday morning. The kind of happiness at work where you can’t imagine doing anything else professionally that would make you happier in this moment.
True happiness at work.
Here’s a two-part recipe to being happy at your job
Recently, I’ve been reading the book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, and it has really opened my mind to a lot of amazing things. Despite mocking from fellow faculty and administration, Professor Ben-Shahar started teaching a class on happiness at Harvard University. The first semester, he had only a handful of people sign up for the class. By the third semester, word had spread so quickly about the effectiveness of this class, that he had hundreds of students enroll. Today, the class is the most popular at Harvard, with 1/5 of enrolled students taking the course. Amazing!
Professor Ben-Shahar teaches that, at the base of all happiness, there are two fundamental needs that must be fulfilled. As human beings, to reach the highest level of happiness, we must achieve both pleasure and meaning. To break it down a little more, he explains we must do work that we enjoy today PLUS that offers future meaning to us in some way.
That’s the two-part recipe: equal parts pleasure and meaning in your work.
That’s why most of the world is unhappy at work
If you think about it, the Professor’s statement seems to pan out truthfully in the work place. Why are many people unhappy at work? Because they’re “putting up” with something they dislike in order to climb the corporate ladder, save for retirement, or wait out some other future event.
All they are focused on is the future. There’s no present pleasure in their work.
On the other hand, there’s the employee who gets burned out because their day-to-day work is exciting, energetic, and challenging. But they’re working for someone else. They’re building something for someone else. They’ve got no investment in the future.
For a while, their work is fun, but after a while, they also need to know how they’re contributing to the bigger picture.
Which are you?
If you’ve found yourself less happy than you’d like to be lately at work, maybe you’re deficient in either pleasure or meaning. Are you working on projects that provide you with the excitement and energy you need to get up every morning? And are you pairing that with meaningful work that will mean something to you in the future? Which of the two ingredients of this key recipe are you deficient in? And how are you going to bring balance back to your universe?
Here are a few ideas:
For pleasure-deficient jobs
- Volunteer to take on more of the kinds of projects you enjoy and thrive with.
- Delegate or farm out the work you don’t enjoy or are not very good at.
- Find work that keeps you up at night (in a good way) or makes you pop out of bed in the morning and find a way to incorporate that into your daily routine.
For meaning-deficient jobs
- Ask yourself, “Where will this project be in 10 years? Is this something I will be proud of then?”
- Take on jobs that mean something to you. Do they add value to the world? Do they make your world and that of others a better place?
- Make sure your “meaning” is more than just “future success,” a bigger paycheck in the future, or some other superficial sign of “success.” True meaning comes from adding value to the universe.
Most important of all, remember: having a highly pleasurable job or a job packed with meaning will only last so long. It’s not sustainable. To have a perfect happiness balance, you must discover what it means to you to find both pleasure and meaning in your work.