Insights & Ideas

How to find happiness in the workplace

Want to feel satisfied at work? Try thinking of “happiness” in a new way.

If somebody in your office (or Google meet) started singing, “If you’re happy and you know it” would anyone clap their hands?

Probably not (unless they were being sarcastic). In addition to the clapping feeling awkward, most people wouldn’t consider their workplace to be their “happy place.”

Especially in the U.S., we’re conditioned to think of happiness and work as opposites. Happiness is a vacation day or TGIF. Work is—in the sage words of The Bangles—just another manic Monday. Unfortunately, that means people feel like a significant part of their lives is an unending slog—even though their job is a huge part of their identity.

But what if our definition of happiness is part of the problem?

There’s more than one type of happiness

Happiness is a complicated psychological concept, but many psychologists believe there are (at least) two kinds of happiness:

  • Hedonic happiness is the most common way Americans think about happiness. It’s about maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain. It’s the wine-all-day, lazy-afternoon-in-a-hammock, and Ted-Lasso-marathon kind of happiness. Hedonic happiness helps you regulate emotions and reduce stress.1
  • Eudaimonic happiness is about having meaningful, purposeful experiences. It’s the feeling you get when you achieve a goal, prove your competence, make a discovery, or complete a difficult task. It’s taking pride in a job well done. Eudaimonic happiness leads to greater meaning and satisfaction in life.1

If you feel like both types of happiness sound good, you’re not weird. Research shows that most people are programmed to avoid effort when possible and paradoxically choose high-effort tasks that might lead to rewards.2

Both types of happiness are important to long-term well-being

We all talk about work-life balance, but hedonic-eudaimonic balance might be equally important. While a life of hedonism sounds great, too much hedonic time actually lowers people’s well-being3

People need eudiamonic happiness to balance it out. That’s why retirees volunteer, lottery winners go back to work, former couch potatoes run marathons, and people have goal-based hobbies (e.g., Getting 6000 rides on the Pelaton or finishing Lego kits for grown-ups). Come to find out, most people like achievement and purpose as much (or more) than constant leisure.

How to find eudiamonic happiness at work (and what to do if you can’t)

Except for the odd party, workplaces aren’t hedonic hotspots. However, work is full of opportunities for eudiamonic happiness. After all, the whole job-thing is about accomplishing things.

If you want to feel more satisfied with your job, start by identifying the rewards you get from your work (in addition to your paycheck). Find these eudiamonic nuggets of happiness by regularly asking yourself questions like:

  • What makes me grateful about my role/workplace?
  • How does the work I do make a difference?
  • How does my job help me live my values?
  • How am I growing as a person and professional?
  • What achievements am I most proud of?
  • What milestones am I working toward?
  • What coworker relationships do I value most?

Of course, not all jobs are full of sunshine and roses (or even dandelions). If you’re struggling to see any positives at work, it might be time to make a change. Ask yourself:

  • Does my job match my values? Can I be myself at work?
  • Do I feel competent in my job? Is the kind of work I do rewarding?
  • Do I have development goals that interest me? If so, can I see a path for achieving them?
  • Do I have a choice in what work I do or how I do it?
  • Are my accomplishments understood and appreciated?

Even if you have an amazing job that you’re good at, you might need to change things up to protect your well-being. For example, recently, the #1 women’s tennis player in the world, Ashleigh Barty, retired at age 25 because she wanted to focus on other endeavors. Sometimes taking control of your happiness takes some bravery, too.

Happiness at work requires effort

If you take the time to focus intentionally on what makes you happy, you’ll realize you have more control over your happiness than you thought. According to one researcher, 50% of your happiness is genetic and 10% is impacted by your circumstances—but the other 40% is up to you.1

That means, you can take charge of finding work that fills up your workplace eudiamonic happiness bucket—whether you learn to appreciate your existing role and/or take action to make a career shift. Then, with any luck, you’ll be happy, and you’ll know it

Salo could be the change you need

When people have choice and control over their work, they often find it more rewarding. At Salo, we help senior professionals in finance, accounting, and HR design their own consulting careers—choosing the work that is most meaningful to them. Every day, we help our consultants Make It Meaningful.

Learn more about our consulting careers!

Allie Davis
Allie Davis

Allie Davis

Sr. Talent Connection Manager

LinkedIn