Think about your work – How do you feel?
During the past month, how often did you feel like the two in the picture above? How often did you feel unhappy, drained or bored while working?
And, how often did you feel like in the picture below? How often did your work “make” you feel happy, energised and inspired in the last month?
If you were unhappy more often than happy – it is time for a change. Life is too short for being unhappy in your work. After all, you spend a big chunk of your life, energy, and time on your job – probably more than 8 hours each day. And on top of that: Being unhappy with your work does not help you to be a positive partner, parent, or friend in the rest of the 24 hours.
The power of happiness
The good news is that being happy is not just important for yourself and your family and friends. It is actually very important for whomever you work for. Research apparently shows that happier people are:
- more creative
- more productive
- more likely to attempt new challenges
- more liked by their peers
- recruited into better jobs
- and accruing more money.
( Sonya Lyubomirski, Laura King and Ed Diener: The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? )
Would you like to have those things happen to you? Would your boss or your customers like that? How then do we become happier with our work? The good news is it is actually rather easy. If you find out what you are passionate about and what you are good at – you can make the right decisions that will lead to “happy work”.
The first step is to do things that you care about. When you do things that you are passionate about and which have meaning for you you will feel happy and actually gain energy. Check on a regular basis: “Do I devote my time to something valuable or do I waste my time on trivial matters?” This will tell you whether you need to change what you do.
“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you have not found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.” Steve Jobs
Nobody can tell you what the things are you love doing. Ask yourself: “What is it that I really enjoy doing? What were those moments, in which I felt like a giant in the last months? What did I do?” Maybe it was an idea you had which made a project easier, helping a colleague with some insights, tweaking a system or process, selling a product or landing a deal with a customer? Or were there some “smaller” things like making a joke which made everyone laugh and put positive energy back into the room?
The second thing is to make sure that you do things that you are actually good at. Ask yourself: “Do I produce top quality or can I not meet my own standards?” When you are good at what you are doing there is a higher chance that you feel good about the work and that you will be rewarded by others. We all know that it feels much better to be able to say after finishing a task: This was high-quality stuff I produced – I am proud of it. One way to find out what you are good at is to ask some of your colleagues and friends.
Doing what you are good at will help you to be more often “in the zone” or in the “flow” – a concept developed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. The state of “flow” is characterised by such positive things as:
- Merging of action and awareness with distractions being blocked out, no feelings of anxiety or worry about failure,
- Distorted sense of time,
- Positive feeling of accomplishment afterwards.
One of the important conditions to reach the state of flow is that the challenges of the task are balanced with your skills. You must feel confident to be able to do the task in order to reach a state of flow. And more flow means more happiness.
Choices to become more happy and productive
Thus, the sweet spot to aim for is to do things you are good at and passionate about. It is what I call happy work! You could also call it playing but that might not sound serious enough for some. No matter how you call it – you want to be doing things that are in that happy space at the top right corner of the diagram to the right.
However often in our careers, we do things that we are bad at and do not care about. Those are the activities in the lower left corner. You need to find ways to do less of those or to convert them into more meaningful tasks. Doing these things will feel dreadful, it will drain your energy and make you unhappy.
Very interesting are the remaining two quadrants. On the top left there those activities that we are very good at but we do not find much meaning in them. This might be something that was really important to you in the past but is not anymore. Often we end up doing activities in this space because the people around us recognise our strengths and will come asking. Be selective about what you take on. It might help you and others but it will drain you of energy unless you can convert it into something that has meaning to you.
The lower right corner is full of activities, which offer growth opportunities. These are the things that you enjoy doing but you might not have much experience yet. Find a way to do more of them and claim spaces to practice. Yes, it will feel challenging and you will be nervous at times but the sense of achievement will be immense. And over time you have additional activities that give you energy – activities, which make you happy at work.
Obviously, the activities we are good at and find meaningful change over time. We are always growing. You can grow faster if you make conscious choices about what you do. All humans have a natural tendency to end up in the top right “Happy Work” corner. The feeling of happiness is a good guide towards fulfilling your potential.
If you are not doing enough “happy work” identify today what you want to do more of, what you want to do less of and how you can convert meaningless into meaningful work. Maybe compiling that budget is boring? Can you delegate it? Can you teach someone else to do it? Or maybe you can find a way to present the budget and the new opportunities you would want to pursue in a gripping speech to your team, stakeholders, and your boss?
In the end, both your clients and you yourself want you to do meaningful and high quality work. Don’t let anything get in your way. Your own choices determine what you do and whether you are happy.
“When you find yourself in love with something you’re good at, you never really work again.” Sir Ken Robinson
Some resources on the concept of flow:
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper Perennial.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1996). Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Collins.
Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (1998). Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life. New York: Basic Books.