If I spend more than half of my waking hours doing something that causes more pain than joy, can the rest of the day compensate enough to still have the potential of making me a happy person? We could discuss the answer, but most probably it would be no.
Now, can I still be happy at work if I have a grumpy and unsupportive boss, if my wage is not very competitive, and if I find my job dull? Surprisingly, the answer can be yes.
There are a number of explanations to that answer, but a basic one is that just as nobody can make a person happy if that person doesn’t want to be, nobody can cause someone to be unhappy if that person is equipped with all the tools and is determined to be strong, positive and happy.
Just as nobody can make a person happy if that person doesn’t want to, nobody can cause a person to be unhappy is that person is equipped with the tools to be happy.
Research suggests that there are three fundamental human needs that must be satisfied for our own psychological well-being: autonomy (the need to feel free to make certain decisions), mastery (the need to feel competent), and relatedness (the need for belonging and human connection). The extent to which our job helps satisfy these needs will influence greatly our enjoyment, engagement and satisfaction with it.
Because of the incredibly large amount of time we spend at our job, our work environment gives us plenty of opportunities to implement some of the various science-backed ways to be happier: constantly learning new things; pursuing and achieving goals; using our strength and building our self-confidence; widening our social networks and finding meaning. Work will always be work, and the “TGIF” expression will not cease to exist, but there are ways to make it more fulfilling and satisfying.
Work will always be work, but there are ways to make it more satisfying. Click To Tweet
Finding meaning at work
Meaning isn’t about the job itself, but rather about how we view it. Finding meaning means finding something of value that our work can provide. The more value we find in our tasks, the happier we will feel. Why? Because we will feel that we are not wasting our time, that we are not doing it just to earn our living, and that our salary is just one part of the benefits.
The value or meaning we find in our job will depend on our goals, needs and ambitions: self-fulfillment, esteem needs, and social needs, so it will differ from person to person. Sources of meaning include:
1. Learning. This is specially the goal of graduates or young employees, for whom learning and acquiring skills is probably more important than the wage they receive, but it shouldn’t be restricted only to young employees – acquiring new skills and expanding horizons should always be valued. Learn as much as you can from your job. Observe. Pay attention. Be curious.
2. Achieving one’s goals and full potential. Your work is the ideal place to show all you have to give, and to seek for recognition and respect for your knowledge and abilities. This is especially important to your self-worth and your self-confidence. Your work is also the place to set yourself goals and go after them. Make use of it.
3. Prestige of one’s profession or position. Being able to say that you work in a renown firm or that you hold a respectable position is something that many people find valuable. If that is a motivator for you and that’s where you are, then consider yourself lucky.
4. Belonging. People usually value those workplaces where communication flows, where there is a good atmosphere and which provide a sense of community or camaraderie. Good co-workers make a lot of difference. On the contrary, spending time with toxic colleagues can drain meaning from the most gratifying jobs.
5. Autonomy. Freedom and flexibility are always big motivators. People who find that they are free to make their own decisions, to speak up their ideas and to manage their time and workload, always find their jobs meaningful.
There are many other sources of meaning, like the social responsibility of the organization and how much we perceive it works on helping or benefiting others. The key is to identify any positive aspect that your job has, focus on it and make the most of it.
Shaping your work experience through job crafting
Job crafting implies proactively adapting and expanding your position to your interests, strengths and passions to get more satisfaction from it. Katherine Brooks, Ed.D, explains that “anyone who would like to improve their job satisfaction and go home from work more energized can apply new ideas and techniques. Job crafting can be a particularly valuable skill to develop when the economy or other factors prevent you from leaving your current job.”
Is there any skill you have that is not particularly required in your day-to-day responsibilities but that you would like to apply? Or any passion or strength? Is there any way you can bring something that you really like to your workplace so you get more pleasure from it? Of course, not all companies or positions give room to job crafting, but there is always some degree of latitude within which you can “craft” your job.
You know what they say: if you love your job, there is no difference between a Monday and a Friday.
At work, as in any other aspect of our life, we need to become aware of what causes our (un)happiness, what our drivers and motivators are, and what gives meaning to our jobs and lives in general. Once identified, we just need to focus our energy on them.
What about you? What brings meaning to your work? Have you been able to craft your job and adapt it to your strengths and interests? We look forward to reading your comments!