Three Keys To Happiness At Work

A new book suggests that our jobs can be improved if we focus on seeking purpose, hope, and positive relationships at work.


Published:

We all spend a large part of our lives at our jobs. Yet how many of us are bored or frustrated at work, whether unhappy with our company’s goals, stressed from overwork, or dealing with toxic coworkers? Don’t we deserve better than that?

The new book How to Be Happy at Work makes the case that, yes, we do, and happiness at work should be our ultimate goal. Written by Annie McKee—an international business advisor and senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education—the book provides ideas for how to turn your job into a source of happiness no matter where you find yourself working.

According to McKee, part of our collective problem is that too many of us fall in the trap of believing that “work is work” and isn’t supposed to be a source of happiness, or that work goals will suffer if we focus on what makes us happy. But research suggests the opposite: Happier employees are more productive, benefitting their companies as much as themselves.

The trick to being a happier worker, though, doesn’t necessarily lie in earning more money or getting more “goodies” at work, says McKee, but in making sure that three basic human needs are met on the job:

  • Meaning or purpose: The feeling that our work matters and is aligned with our personal values.
  • Hope or optimism: The sense that our future can improve if we just understand our needs better and create a plan for ourselves.
  • Friendships or positive relationships: Connection to others, which matters as much to our happiness as other aspects of our job.

As purpose, optimism, and positive relationships have all been tied to happiness (and often health, as well), it makes sense to look for these in our work lives. Of course, McKee recognizes that these aren’t substitutes for good pay—money still matters. Rather, she argues that the pursuit of happiness does not have to stop at the office door and can be easily incorporated into most (if not all) work situations.

Overcoming Barriers To Happiness At Work

McKee believes there are many barriers to finding happiness at work. For example, many of us fall into the trap of overwork, thinking that we will gain prestige and success if we work long hours. But it turns out that overworking burns us out and makes us less productive, while concurrently turning into a habit that others expect of us. Another common trap is deciding to take a promotion—because it’s good for our career or because we need more money—without taking into account how the new position will fulfill our basic needs or make us truly happy, leaving us feeling stuck.

Not being in touch with our intrinsic values—our purpose and relationships, for example, rather than the extrinsic values of prestige or money—is a mistake, writes McKee. It can lead us to do “soul-destroying” work—the antithesis of happy work.

“When we are unable to see the impact of our work or find meaning in what we do, we often become dissatisfied and resentful,” she writes. But “seeing our work as an expression of cherished values and as a way to make a contribution is the foundation of well-being, happiness, and our ongoing success.”

McKee provides exercises to help people start thinking about their personal happiness and jobs differently. For example, to cultivate more meaning at work and figure out what’s important to you, she suggests reflecting on times in the past you were happy with whatever you were doing. With that in mind, you could “keep your eyes open for opportunities to join a group that is exploring a new idea or trying to solve a problem” that matters to you, she writes.

To cultivate optimism, you might envision potential work goals for yourself that align with what makes you happiest and take concrete steps to achieve them. And one way to build relationships is to offer to help colleagues “with unsavory tasks, not just the fun stuff.”

To be happier at work involve a willingness to really reflect on your internal world and what makes you tick. McKee reminds readers that having emotional intelligence—an ability to read your and others’ emotions, emotional self-control, and empathy for others—can be invaluable in a work setting, where we often have to deal with setbacks or disappointments that might otherwise derail our motivation, productivity, and relationships.

Too Good To Be True?

How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship (Harvard Business Review Press, 2017, 272 pages)Some of McKee’s suggestions on how to be happier at work seem more research-tested, such as being generous toward coworkers as a way to build relationships or using gratitude practices as a way to be happier. Others seem less so. For example, I was unconvinced by her suggestion to stop pessimistic thinking by focusing on personal strengths at work and reflecting on how these have “consistently moved you in the right direction.” In fact, the whole chapter on optimism (or hope) seemed a bit thin to me, and left me wondering more about its potential benefits.

Some readers may balk at McKee’s tips for other reasons—perhaps thinking they are too simplistic, or only work for people like her who earn a lot of money. But it’s clear McKee thinks her advice can be applied to any job—including some of her own less glamorous ones.

When working as a caregiver for an elderly couple, she found happiness by focusing on the great relationship she had with her employers, the connection to the natural beauty surrounding their home, and her feeling that she was helping people in need—a true calling. If that seems too good to believe, she also points to the work of organizational researcher Amy Wrzesniewski, who found that hospital janitors who imbued their work with meaning and made connections to patients were much more satisfied with their jobs than those who didn’t.

Though the book is based on research—there is a long notes section in the back—many of the references listed are books, making it difficult to assess the strength of the science. But, even so, there is much to recommend the book for those who feel stuck in a job that makes them miserable. Some of McKee’s stories of people who left dead-end jobs and refocused on what matters to them are inspiring and instructive in their own right. If nothing else, the book provides the kind of encouragement that one needs when trying to make a change.

Jill Suttie, Psy.D., is Greater Good’s book review editor and a frequent contributor to the magazine.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.

See also:
Negative Thoughts Harm Your Health By Damaging DNA
Why You Shouldn’t Want To Always Be Happy

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

September 23, 2019

During the predawn hours the Sun slips into Libra and Autumn begins. The Fall Equinox is a short-lived time of year when the hours of daylight and darkness are balanced. If you’ve been putting off preparations for the coming winter, set to it. The waning…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

September 2019

It’s time for a workshop!  One plus one always equals two. In a similar fashion EFT plus Law of Attraction always equals effective and positive change. Teaching Emotional Freedom...

Cost: $40

Where:
21 Wiles Farm Road
Northboro, MA
View map »


Sponsor: Medicine My Way
Telephone: 508-523-7132
Website »

More information

In this 90 minute workshop you will find clarity in what brings you joy. You will create your personal vision statement that will help guide you to living a more satisfied, balanced life. This...

Cost: $25 early-bird till 9/20 ($30 after)

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

Witness the healing power of mediumship! Join New England's own trusted spirit medium Raylene Sousa and top UK medium Dominic Boag from Scotland for an afternoon of spirit messages. If...

Cost: $40

Where:
The Little Meetinghouse
723 Roosevelt Trail
Windham, ME  04062
View map »


Sponsor: Raylene Sousa Medium LLC
Telephone: 207-956-0220
Contact Name: Raylene Sousa
Website »

More information

Come shine with us! Join us in harmony and in our goal to bring the light of Spiritualism forward to all those who are searching.

Where:
VFW Post 2597
775 Boston Rd, Rt 3A
Billerica, MA
View map »


Sponsor: The Spiritualist Fellowship Church Of New England
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

2nd and 4th Monday of every month This psychic message circle is for anyone wishing to raise their connection using their psychic centers known as the “clairs.” Learn how to use...

Cost: $20

Where:
Messages From Heaven Healing and Learning Center
646 Central Street
Suite 3
Leominster, MA
View map »


Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Members of the Reflexology Association of NH will be offering “mini” hand or foot reflexology sessions at the Salt Cave within Bien Soigne in honor of World Reflexology Week.

Cost: Donations suggested $15 - $20

Where:
Bien Soigne Salt Cave
350 North Broadway
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Reflexology Association of NH
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 25–October 29, 2019 Expert Tai Chi instructor and Qigong Master Instructor Terry Dunn will be giving a total of four five-day intensive workshops in October 2019 at Eastover...

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat
430 East Street
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

September 26–29 This training at the Center for Mindfulness and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) uses mindfulness meditation and cognitive therapy to break the cycle of...

Cost: $1,390

Where:
Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
1035 Cambridge St, Suite 21A
Cambridge, MA  02141
View map »


Sponsor: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Center for Mindfulness and Compassion
Website »

More information

Come detox, relax and renew yourself for the fall in our sanctuary! We have an intimate gathering of great readers and healers providing services at sampler rates to enjoy their services while...

Cost: $60: 3 Pack Service Special; $25: Single Service

Where:
Healing Power Of Flowers—Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Rd
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: The Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Mirabai Starr was an adjunct professor of Philosophy and World Religions at the University of New Mexico-Taos for 20 years. Her emphasis has always been on making connections between the perennial...

Cost: $20

Where:
First Parish in Lexington
7 Harrington Road
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Lexington Community Education
Telephone: 781-862-8043
Contact Name: Craig Hall
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Maryellen Labelle, David Sholemson and Steve Cunningham are excited to announce Qigong for Inner Peace teacher training fall term 2019. This 50 hour certification training is appropriate for a wide...

Cost: $1100 / $800 early registration

Where:
Yoga Depot
17 Depot Square
Lexington, MA  02420
View map »


Sponsor: Qigong for Inner Peace
Telephone: 617-721-7215
Contact Name: Maryellen Labelle / David Sholemson
Website »

More information

Join life coach Cheryl Richardson and her husband, Michael Gerrish, a psychotherapist and gifted intuitive, for a special evening designed to help you upgrade your life! During this event,...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

This Dating Program is the follow-up to Kerri Morrison's workshop, Deliberate Dating: 5 Keys to Successful Online Romance; held Friday, August 16th, 2019 from 6:30-7:30pm. View that event...

Cost: $199

Where:
Awaken Holistic Counseling Services
2 Liberty St., Unit 2L
Newburyport, MA  01950
View map »


Sponsor: Awaken Holistic Counseling Services, LLC
Telephone: 978-255-7893
Contact Name: Kerri Morrison
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Learn Reiki—revitalizing self-care and healing in the palm of your hands. Facilitated by Lou Orsan, Reiki Shihan (master teacher.) This one-day class covers the...

Cost: $150

Where:
Northeast Reiki Center
61 Nicholas Road
Framingham, MA  01701
View map »


Sponsor: Northeast Reiki Center
Telephone: 508-808-5696
Contact Name: Lou Orsan
Website »

More information

With Laura Haley, IET Master Instructor Trainer  This class provides you with everything you need to conduct a powerful Integrated Energy Therapy session on yourself or others (either in...

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
Methuen, MA


Telephone: (978) 474-8010
Website »

More information

Learn the benefits of yoga for families as well as how to develop character in children to get them more focused, respectful, and confident before returning back to school this fall! This class...

Cost: $45 early bird till 9/25 (includes child and a parent), $50 after

Where:
Sohum Yoga and Meditation Studio
30 Lyman Street, Suite 108B
Westborough shopping center
Westborough, MA  01581
View map »


Sponsor: www.SOHUM.org
Telephone: 508-329-3338
Contact Name: Ritu Kapur
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Saturday 10 am Registration; 10 am–5 pm  Sunday 10 am–5 pm This practitioner training takes place over 2 days and offers students the opportunity to...

Cost: Course Fee: $450; Recalibration Appointment: $333

Where:
The Hampton Inn Coventry Warwick
850 Centre Of New England Boulevard
Coventry, RI
View map »


Telephone: 617-366-6042
Website »

More information

September 28–29 Learn hands-on techniques for the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine, as well as the sacrum, psoas and ilium. Leave with tools you can use right away. Coming in...

Where:
Downeast School of Massage
Waldoboro, ME


Telephone: (617) 678-8920
Website »

More information

Learn to overcome spinal tensions through therapeutic postures, designed to decompress your spine and relieve pain. Taught by a certified yoga therapist, classes bring you through poses...

Cost: 5/$50

Where:
Bliss Through Yoga
484 Bedford St
East Bridgewater, MA  02333
View map »


Telephone: 508-331-3564
Contact Name: Janice O'Brien
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags