By Rebecca Morrison, Happiness Coach, Author of the Happiness Recipe & Founder of Untangle Happiness
We’ve all heard the old adage – “choose a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think we can all agree that while it might be true that if you land in the perfect job, with the perfect boss, the perfect coworkers, the perfect clients and the perfect projects it might actually not feel like work. But I also think we can all agree that there is no such thing as perfection.
So, for those of us who live in the real world where our job sometimes isn’t perfect, here are a few things you can do to be happier at work (regardless of where you are working).
1) Figure out what makes you tick.
Most of us don’t know what really drives our happiness. We might have a vague idea, but few people have taken the time to do the intentional and deep work of really understanding what makes them tick.
I recently asked a coaching client of mine who was struggling in their current job: what makes you happy? After some back-and-forth, she answered “a vacation.” I bet you can relate. Most of us like vacation. But because I’ve found that the reasons why are varied. I asked my client, “what is it about a vacation that makes you happy?” She answered, “I like having a break from work.”
That made sense. Her job was stressful and difficult. But we didn’t stop there. I asked “what is about having a break from work that makes you happy?” Her ultimate response “I really appreciate having the time and space to just be with my thoughts. I don’t get many breaks for quiet reflection, when I do I really start to appreciate everything I’ve accomplished and I can better understand what I need to prioritize from there. I just really enjoy it.”
Perhaps you can relate. Often, we move through life at a million miles an hour, not stopping to take stock of where we have been, where we are or where we are going. But here’s the magic in the exercise I used with my client – we identified one of her essential source of her joy: quiet reflection. Something, that when she needed a little happiness in her day, she could inject at will.
I challenged her over the next several weeks to try deploying “quiet reflection” when she felt particularly stressed and overwhelmed. She did and found that as a result she was happier, less stressed and felt more in control.
Let’s be clear, I am not saying you need to inject quiet reflection into your day anytime you feel stressed. (You might, if it’s a source of joy for you – but you also might not). What I am suggesting is that you take the time to find your own essential sources of joy and inject those.
Challenge: Find your essential sources of joy.
To find your essential sources of joy, all you need to do is follow these simple steps.
- Ask yourself: What makes me happy? Write down the first three things that come up (no editing, no judgement).
- Take one of those things and ask yourself: What about this thing makes me happy? Write down that answer.
- Take your answer from the step above and ask yourself: what about that makes me happy?
- Repeat this at least 6 mores times, or until your answer doesn’t change.
- Review what you’ve written down. Somewhere in those answers you’ve got one or more essential sources of joy. You will know you have it when it is something that you could literally inject into any day of your life.
You can repeat this for the other items on your list in the first step. Then you can apply those essential sources of joy liberally to your life – including at work.
2) Get Curious.
Curiosity is my favorite tool. Too often we approach problems or conflict – especially in a workplace setting – with a brain full of judgement. We think we know what the other players in the situation are thinking, we think we know their motivations and we think we already have considered the issue from all sides. Really, we are just operating on stories – not facts. The net result is that problems are hard to solve, conflict is hard to resolve, and we find ourselves in unhappy-making workplace situations.
If instead, you can take a step back and get curious, you are much more likely to truly understand not only the problem, but also the best solution. You can diffuse or even avoid conflict. And ultimately, you can get more done.
Here’s an example: Bob had a co-worker, Abby. He and Abby were tasked with teaming up on a project. Things were not going well. Bob and Abby left most meetings frustrated with each other and without having made the decisions that needed to be made so the project could go forward. Bob told me that he was sure that the issue was that Abby had been passed over for a promotion that Bob had received. I asked Bob how he knew that was the issue. He admitted that Abby had never said so, but “he just had a feeling.”
I challenged Bob to bring his curiosity (and vulnerability) to the situation, and to ask Abby some questions that might allow him to figure out what was really going on. He did and he discovered that Abby was not bitter about the promotion, but was worried that Bob didn’t trust her and was trying to edge her out of the project. By talking about what was really going on, they were able to clear the air and the project was able to move forward.
This situation with Bob and Abby is not uncommon. Often we allow our judgement to get in the way of both our work and our happiness. If instead, you can bring some curiosity to work and happiness comes easier.
Challenge: Bring your curiosity.
Next time you are feeling defensive or stuck, consider how you could replace your judgement with curiosity. Here are a couple questions to get you started:
- What assumptions are you making?
- What questions could you use to replace those assumptions with facts and better understand where the other players in the situation are coming from?
- What questions could you ask to find common ground?
3) Make connections.
The statistics on workplace loneliness are staggering, particularly in 2021. People everywhere are feeling isolated. This loneliness impacts all manner of business outcomes from productivity, to safety, to performance and it impacts individual happiness.
If you want to be happier at work, it is important to make sure that you are connected. In a world where we have become geographically disconnected, that could begin with simply reinforcing the connections that you already have. But, if you find that isn’t enough, you might also reach out and make new ones – either within the workplace or outside.
Making connections doesn’t mean simply talking to other people. It means showing up and relating to them on a human level – bringing your whole self and your vulnerability to the conversation.
It’s easy during a crazy work-life to lose genuine connection because we are so focused on doing. But the reality is that is connection is not time consuming. Chances are you are talking to people every day here are a couple of easy questions – beyond the usual “how are yous?” to turn those conversations into connection.
- What is new in your world?
- What’s something that’s challenging for you right now?
- What’s something you’re celebrating or excited about right now?
- What’s something you learned recently?
- What’s something that surprised you recently.
Reach out to a few people in your universe today – or make a new connection.
Ultimately, feeling happier at work doesn’t require radical change. You can make a few small tweaks and inject more happiness into every day. It’s as simple as knowing what makes you tick, using curiosity to understand and resolve problems,\ and genuinely connecting with the people around you.