The Secret to Happy Work

We’ve all been sold a really harmful lie, by a lot of people.  That lie is:  To be truly happy at work, you must do what you love (or some variation of the same theme). It’s complete garbage that is usually told to you by – an ultra-rich people who can do anything they want, someone who really doesn’t have to earn a living because they have a spouse earning a living for them or someone who just flat out got lucky, right place-right time and does something they actually love.  I know, I know – “Tim, you create your own luck!” – said by the same idiot who’s wife is a brain surgeon and allows her deadbeat husband to be a “writer” at home.

Still most of us define our happiness like this:

Step 1 – Work really super hard.

Step 2 – Really super hard work will make you successful.

Step 3 – Being successful will make me happy.

I hate to break this to you – being successful will not make you happy.  It will allow you to buy a lot of stuff, you’ll probably have less money arguments and you might even feel good about your success, but if you’re not happy before all of that, there is a really good chance you won’t be happy after to gain success.

Let’s start with this concept:

Work Success ≠ Happiness

Have you ever met someone working a dead-end job, a just-not-going-anywhere type of job, but they are completely joyous?  I have.  I envy those people.  They do not define their happiness in life by the level of success they’ve obtained in their career. Their happiness is defined by a number of other things: are their basic needs met, do they enjoy the people they surround themselves with, do they have a positive outlook on life, etc.  These individuals do not allow the external world to impact their happiness.  Their happiness is derived from within.

In HR I’ve been forced to learn this, because I’ve had people try and sell me on that Engagement =’s Happiness – which is also a lie.  I’ve had incredibly engaged workers who are very unhappy people and very happy people who were not engaged.  I’ve found over time, I can do almost nothing to “make” someone be happier.  I’m an external factor to their life.  Don’t get me wrong – as a leader I can give praise and recognition, I can give merit and bonuses, etc. While that might have a short-term impact to ones happiness, it’s not truly lasting happiness that comes from within.

So, how can you help someone find their happiness?  I think we have to start realizing that you don’t have to ‘work’ at something you love, to have happiness at work.  Putting work into perspective of life is key. I like what I do a whole bunch – hell, I blog about it! But if I really thought about it, I don’t ‘love’ it.  I love my family.  I love floating on a lake on a warm summer day.  I love listening to my sons laugh in pure joy.  I find my happiness in many ways – only part of which I gain through my career. My secret to happy work is finding happiness in a number of aspects in my life.  That way if I’m having a bad day at work, or a bad day at home, I still have pockets of happiness I can adjust my focus to.

What is your secret to being happy at work?

4 thoughts on “The Secret to Happy Work

  1. Really enjoyed your post, first time reader. I think as an introvert I find happiness easier than others. I enjoy challenges, and find joy in ‘fencing’ with the issues of the day. For example in a couple of months my fixed term role ends, and I’ve been in love with almost every moment since jobs have started to dry up in my area. I’ve realized that employment isn’t really solving my problems, certainly it is helpful in pushing the financial issues of bills and mortgages out, but it doesn’t really solve anything. For the past few months I’ve spend my waking hours planning my own business, working with providers and suppliers who are highly motivated and removing my business form those who aren’t. Happiness for me, well its being me and doing the things that I want in the way that I want, and relishing the thought that this is all on me.

  2. Lisa,

    Wow – thanks for the comments (I love when someone comments twice as long as I actually wrote!).

    I appreciate the perspective, but let me clarify – I am not saying the same thing as those who say you need to find work you love. I think that is fools gold advice, at best. The people in the dead-end jobs that I saw as happy weren’t happy because of their dead-end job – they were happy in spite of their dead-end job. They didn’t let their “job” define their happiness. I see way too many folks giving advice out that espouse to this philosophy – your job (and love of your work) defines your happiness. That is a huge setup for failure for most people.


  3. It feels like you’re mixing the message up a bit. Your post gives the impression the “do what you love” suggestion goes hand in hand with achieving wild success or a job of some particular status. Also, there is a vibe that “find something you love” is separate from “find a way to love what you do…or are attempting to do.” That’s not what I’ve felt when I’ve heard the suggestion, nor what I’ve meant when I’ve passed it on.

    Some people do indeed love doing their dead-end job and that’s the whole wonderful point. I think you’re making the same case as those you are criticizing without realizing it. Lots of professionals who were experiencing great success and climbing the corporate ladder in roles they hated had the rug yanked out from underneath them over the past 5 years. Add to that, then they had an extremely difficult time finding someone else to offer them the chance to continue to do the job they hated for even less money. It was a blow that was hard to get past and they felt like failures. The do what you love message is exactly what many of those individuals needed to hear to let go of the belief that achieving success (in the form of riches and promotions) and fulfilling roles others deemed as important or acceptable for them had anything to do with being happy and making a meaningful contribution to family and society. They needed permission to actually consider what they enjoy so they could take a moment to look and see what existed in that space and if they had skills/talents that could translate into a paycheck. Paying bills does come first. We all know that. But most people have more than 1 or 2 jobs they are qualified to do and have never taken the time to explore what they’d like. They’ve simply taken the opportunities that presented themselves.

    So many people believe it’s not possible to earn a living while loving their work. That’s a horrible shame. Does their job have to be their absolute most favorite thing on the planet? Does it have to be something they are the most passionate about of all? Nope. But finding a task, environment, industry or what have you that makes it that much easier to get up and go to work is great.

    Add to that, in a job economy where most jobs that aren’t requiring specific technical ability have significant competition, the individual who is raising his hand to do the job who, not only has the ability to pull it off, but can make the case he’ll enjoy it, wins. Love of the work alone won’t do it, but it certainly goes a long way when the skills are there.

    Faking enthusiasm is hard for a lot of people who aren’t cut out for sales. I’ve seen my share of job seekers who aren’t getting anywhere with interviews because they can’t make it through the three primary questions employers ponder…Can this person do the job?…Will this person like the job?…Will I like working with this person as they do the job? The focus is almost exclusively on proving the first question…which is important. The second and third matter a great deal, however. Often times, the third question relates directly to the second, because people who are doing things they don’t enjoy are more likely to add negative energy to a work environment than the opposite. We’ve all worked with THAT person we wish would just quit already! THAT person has a heck of a time on a job search, as you know. If they’re negative by nature, that’s a different problem, of course. But often times THAT person is in the wrong job/profession/industry.

    A job some might view as a dead-end job that I would love is working as a deli clerk. I don’t know why, but it’s always something that has appealed to me. I may do it some day when the job I currently love comes to pass. That said, part of the reason I’ve even bothered to give it a close look is I’ve been on the receiving end of service from those who clearly hate being a deli clerk and I’ve allowed my mind to wander to how I’d do it better than them because I’d be able to do it with a genuine smile.

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