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Finding Happiness at Work

Change your Experience without Changing your Job

In my work as a Psychologist, I have daily conversations with people who feel trapped and ‘stuck’ in their jobs due to economic pressures, family obligations and lack of opportunity or direction.

Quite often there is a burning desire to re-brand and change career path, although the reality of doing a U-turn on your career and having a ‘Jerry McGuire moment’, whilst romantic, is often a sobering thought fraught with risk and immediate low return.

It’s human nature to problem solve or find a quick fix – find the shortest queue at the checkout, take the fastest lane on the freeway to get there sooner – but the true challenge often lies in the ability to find meaning and happiness in the lane you are in.

Radical change and re-branding, whilst tantalising in a ‘grass is greener’ kind of way, doesn’t often result in the desired effect. So how do we improve the life we have and find comfort and satisfaction in the daily grind?

One technique I employ in my work with executives is conducting a role ‘audit’ – take stock of your daily tasks and analyse the elements of the role that bring you satisfaction and also those you don’t enjoy. It is valuable to measure how you “feel” about certain tasks – do you find some energising and empowering? Which ones do you put off or dread doing?

Whilst this process does not change the reality of the situation, it helps identify where the ‘weak-links’ are in your daily grind and improve ways of going about these tasks. It might be as simple as tackling the bits you dread first, and rewarding yourself with the energising and enjoyable tasks at the end of the day. We have all heard of the concept of delayed gratification – a simple tool that can help us build skills in patience, impulse control, self-control, willpower and also the ability to increase our depth of gratification & value the reward at the end of the day even more. This simplistic approach can change the complexion of your day and ensure you walk out of the office each day on a high.

In addition, the emotional role audit also allows us to think about our daily tasks differently – If you enjoy the weekly team meeting, or the networking calls, try and weave them in more frequently. If you despise the book-keeping and administration or time-sheets – think creatively about new ways of completing these tasks. Is there a new app or technology that can assist and make this more appealing? Can you break the task into smaller pieces and tackle in increments over the week rather than let it pile up and seem overwhelming by 4pm on Friday? Are you feeling isolated and do you prefer the presence of people? If so, can you do the paperwork or reading in an open environment or kitchen area? Change your physical environment to lift your mood. Are there friendships you can build and connections you can invest in that make the role more than just about the task at hand. Often by opening yourself to new connections at work, the role can take on more meaning and value, particularly to those who feel frustrated and alone in their day-to-day careers.

These are all seemingly simple and common sense approaches, but the trick is to dissect the emotions that are linked to your role. Fuel the fire where your energy and passion burns and disable the negative feelings around the other tasks by taking new approaches, mixing up your attitude and changing the habitual behaviour that makes you feel ‘stuck’ or in a rut.

Find meaning in what you are doing every day. Whilst in your job you may not be saving lives, locking up criminals or changing the world, ask yourself what is the bigger picture you are contributing to? Sure it may seem like a small project, but what difference is this making to the way your organisation is run? Is the new system you are implementing going to change the way your business operates in five years’ time? Meaning is in the eye of the beholder and the challenge lies with all of us to take a look outside our own pod and consider what impact we are making on the broader business. What would this organisation look like without my contribution? If I do feel like just a cog in the wheel, what would happen if I didn’t do my part? Where would the system fail? I really do make this engine tick…

This quote from Tal Ben-Shahar in his book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, captures the sentiment: “our prejudice against work, or a narrow-minded perspective of the kind of work that can be meaningful, often makes us miss the truth—which is that the potential for happiness is all around us.”

Of course, I am not disregarding the practical, external drivers for change that people default to in negative career situations – providing feedback to your line manager, identifying your career progression pathway and putting your hand up for internal promotions and role changes – this is of course all essential to escaping the career rut and taking the next step in your career, but often times this is a band-aid solution. Challenge and mundanity exists everywhere. If we can find true meaning and happiness in our current situation through even subtle changes, life everyday becomes all that more inspiring.

In the words of American poet and novelist James Oppenheim, “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance, the wise grows it under his feet.”

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