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How to Be Happy at Work

Einstein wasn't trying to "crush it" at work. You shouldn't either.

Key points

  • Research shows three types of people: those who prioritize happiness, those who prioritize meaning, and those who enjoy richness.
  • People who value meaning and richness will feel more satisfied when their work feels more valuable.
  • Seeing your work as a craft can propel you to do better work and help you build resilience.
Thought Catalog/Unsplash
Source: Thought Catalog/Unsplash

Work takes up a large chunk of our lives. If you're miserable at work because you're overburdened, disrespected, or clash with co-workers, that can take a huge toll.

Here are some tips for feeling happier at work.

1. Know what "a good life" means to you.

Research shows three types of people – those who prioritize happiness, those who prioritize meaning, and those who enjoy richness. Let me explain what these terms mean in the context of work.

  • Someone who seeks happiness may prioritize a cruisey job. They want it to be low-stress. Whether they like their workmates and have fun at work is likely to be a high priority. They probably prefer not to think much about work during their downtime.
  • Someone who prioritizes meaning is concerned with the greater good and/or having experiences that feel personally meaningful to them. They want the work they do to reflect their values closely.
  • "Richness" is the least intuitive concept. It refers to people who like a variety of experiences. They like novelty. They like complex problem-solving. They like learning new skills. They enjoy finding creative solutions to problems more than standard ones. They don't like too much sameness or consistency.

Put these concepts in rank order of importance to you. This will help you understand what work will make you most happy. You can then use that self-knowledge for selecting a work role, but also for job crafting, which we'll discuss next.

2. "Job craft" your way into doing work that has more value.

Job crafting refers to, over time, making your work a better fit for you – whether in terms of your personality, your strengths, or your preferences (e.g., if you prefer to work from home).

You can also job craft your way to doing work that's more meaningful and valuable. For example, traditionally, salespeople are judged on how much they can up-sell customers. That's not very fulfilling. But, here's an example of a salesperson who is creating value.

This guy (who I have no affiliation with) sells Airstreams at a dealership. He also makes incredibly detailed, passionate YouTube video walkthroughs of different models. The videos overcome a problem most of us have – humans become easily flustered when we need to compare multiple complex options, especially with large purchases.

That can make visiting a dealership feel extremely pressured and stressful. He's removing that stress for people, helping people understand the product, and driving many customers to his dealership. He's achieving more sales but in a valuable way.

In particular, people who value meaning and richness will feel more satisfied when their work feels more valuable. For people who value richness, some of that satisfaction will come from figuring out how they can do that in a creative way. Remember, they like to solve challenging problems.

I give many more strategies for creative ways to job craft in Stress-Free Productivity. It can take time, and it requires understanding yourself and what makes you feel calm and happy.

3. Reject hustle culture.

Many forces shape our behavior to make us feel pressured to conform to hustle culture. For example, it's largely seen as the norm in current American corporate life, even though it's not "normal" if you take a broader view over different cultures and periods. When people exist within that bubble, it can be difficult to see outside it and see that it's not normal or acceptable. This happens in any microcosm.

Social pressures contribute too. For example, when other people tell you, they're overworking because they see it as essential to their success. That can make you think you need to do that too. But you don't. You can reject that assumption.

Pick something memorable that helps you do that. For example, I like to say, "Einstein wasn't trying to 'crush it' at work." Einstein is an example of someone who valued richness. He was inherently motivated to understand the world better. He was motivated by doing good work.

Seeing your work as a craft can propel you to do better work and help you build resilience. This can apply to almost anything – teaching, accounting, a plant nursery business, writing, an Etsy store. When you see your job as a craft, it makes you interested in learning new skills, getting feedback to improve, and interacting with a wide range of people who can help you improve your craft. Again, this will most appeal to meaning and richness seekers.

What about toxic work environments?

If your work culture is toxic, that's not a self-help problem. Asking how you can change yourself to thrive in a toxic culture isn't the right question to ask. That's like if a battered partner asked me how they could get their spouse to stop hitting them. It's not your responsibility to figure out how to stop someone from abusing you by re-shaping yourself in a way that makes staying in the situation tolerable.

What's a toxic work environment? It's, for example, the kind where your boss sends you emails and expects responses in non-working hours or when you're on vacation.

Self-help articles must acknowledge when problems don't lie within individuals, as this can lead to harmful self-blame.

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