Are You Struggling to be Happy at Work?

In 1942 Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist, was taken to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents.  Three years later, when his camp was liberated, his pregnant wife and parents had already been killed by the Nazis. He survived and in 1946 went on to write the book, “Man’s Search For Meaning“.  In this great book, Frankl writes:

“It is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness.”

What Frankl knew was that you can’t make happiness out of something outside yourself.  Riding the Waverunner doesn’t make you happy. You decide to be happy while doing that activity, but you could as easily decide to be angry or sad while doing this activity (although Daniel Tosh would disagree!).  Frankl also wrote in Man’s Search for Meaning, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

I get asked frequently by HR Pros about how they can make their employees or workplace happier.  I want to tell them about Frankl’s research and what he learned in the concentration camps.  I want to tell them that you can’t make your employees happy.  They have to decide they want to be happy, first. But, I don’t, people don’t want to hear the truth.

Coming up with ‘things’ isn’t going to make your employees happy. You might provide free lunch, which some will really like, but it also might make someone struggling with their weight, very depressed.  You might give extra time off and most of your employees will love it, but those who define themselves by their work will find this a burden.

Ultimately, I think people tend to swing a certain way on the emotional scale.  Some are usually happier than others.  Some relish in being angry or depressed, it’s their comfort zone.  They don’t know how to be any other way.  Instead of working to ‘make’ people happy, spend your time selecting happy people to come work for you.

In the middle of a concentration camp, the most horrific experiences imaginable, Frankl witnessed people who made the decision to be happy. Maybe they were happy to have one more day on earth. Maybe they were happy because, like Frankl, they discovered that the Nazis could take everything from them except their mind.

Provide the best work environment that you can.  Continue to try and make it better with the resources you have.  Give meaning to the work and the things you do.  Every organization has this, no matter what you do at your company.  Don’t pursue happiness, it’s a fleeting emotion that is impossible to maintain.  Pursue being the best organization you can be.  It doesn’t mean you have to be someone you’re not.  Just be ‘you’, and find others that like ‘you.’

8 thoughts on “Are You Struggling to be Happy at Work?

  1. “It’s also a good reminder for me – when I start my day, I choose my attitude. Days when I start grumpy don’t go well; days that I make a conscious decision to be positive go much better, even when they’re full of challenges.”

    I’m a fan of this, Tim. And also a glass half-full person most of the time. Cheers!

  2. Dude, that can’t possibly be true. An entire industry of hucksters exists that are telling me they can help me make my employees happy, for one annually renewable price! They were right when I gave them my money to prepare my workplace for millennials, and when I paid them to build my facebook page; so how can they be wrong now? 😉

  3. I have a poster in my office that reflects Frankl’s point of view. It says “We cannot direct the wind but we can adjust the sails.” In a company you can provide the wind but you cannot force the employees to adjust their sails to take them where you want them to go. It is a personal thing.

  4. As the grandchild of four Holocaust survivors, I definitely want to read that book. Thanks for the recommendation and the reminder – much needed today.

  5. This is so true – same for motivation or engagement. We create the environment that is optimal for our teams – but at the end of the day, they have to choose whether to be engaged, to be happy, etc. Knowing my team well is vital, so I understand what factors are most important to them and set up the right atmosphere for them to be engaged. But it’s ultimately their choice.

    It goes along with the idea – hire for attitude, train for skill. I can hire the best technically skilled nurse, but if she has a terrible attitude it will negatively affect our patients. On the other hand, if I hire someone who has had nursing schooling but perhaps has little work experience, and has a fabulous attitude – I can train the specifics and we’ll get rave patient reviews because they have that positive attitude.

    It’s also a good reminder for me – when I start my day, I choose my attitude. Days when I start grumpy don’t go well; days that I make a conscious decision to be positive go much better, even when they’re full of challenges.

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