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How to Be Happier at Work

Every decision you make — including whether to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) — is driven by the pursuit of pleasure or the avoidance of pain. Happiness, a subjective concept, has many definitions; here we view it as a state of experiencing prolonged feelings of pleasure, satisfaction and fulfillment.

Unlike short-term gratification, lasting happiness depends on finding sustainable sources in work and personal life. Happiness at work is especially important for career-minded people who spend long hours on the job.

In the 2023 Work in America Survey from the American Psychological Association, 77% of respondents identified feeling work-related stress during the previous month. Further, 57% of those surveyed reported the kinds of stress that can be associated with burnout at work. Clearly, finding happiness on the job can prove elusive. Is it inevitable that work is not a happy experience, or do pathways exist that most people can take with reliable positive results? Indeed, there are steps to becoming happier at work:

Get Plenty of Sleep

Lack of sleep has been linked with health problems ranging from depression and cardiac disease to obesity and a propensity for injuries. Yet, according to the American Sleep Apnea Association, a third of U.S. adults do not get the sleep they need to be healthy, and 50 to 70 million people in the U.S. suffer from sleep disorders.

Conversely, research suggests a bidirectional relationship between happiness — or “life satisfaction” — and sufficient quality sleep. To take advantage of this correlation between happiness and sleep, try to get seven or eight hours of sleep per night. Also, importantly, strive for quality, uninterrupted sleep by practicing good sleep hygiene. You may have to track the quality of your sleep using your phone or a smart watch and learn to stop your overactive mind. These changes are worthwhile. In fact, nothing will produce happiness without first solving your lack of sleep.

Choose a Career That Fits You

Many people find themselves in careers seemingly due to happenstance rather than by exploring their interests and rallying their talents. If one chance turn has led to another, resulting in an unsatisfying work environment, take stock in where you are. You may need to reevaluate whether you are in the right work or if you should find something new. People who are passionate about what they do for a living approach their daily work, even the tedious aspects, in a better frame of mind.

Advancing your education can be an excellent way to improve and diversify your job prospects. Programs like the University of South Carolina Aiken’s online MBA General program give you the flexibility to earn a respected degree while you continue working and looking for better career opportunities.

Get Invested in the Outcome

Take charge of your professional growth by seeking opportunities to stretch your skills. Work with someone in your industry who has experience in developing a career plan with definable milestones, then go for it. Look for assignments that will drive you toward your goals. Be assertive about doing all you can to match personal objectives with those of the organization and be proactive when meeting with your boss to add meaningful tasks. Graduate-level study can also take your skills to the next level, helping you become the type of in-demand employee that employers work hard to retain.

Take Action to Boost Self-assurance

Those who learn to master the workplace and to influence, rather than to be influenced, enjoy having control of their circumstances. Achievement in the workplace builds self-assuredness, which promotes sustainable happiness. You may be competent, but you will not feel confident until you demonstrate that competence consistently. If you lack the confidence to take action, explore what it would take to demonstrate your capabilities. Once the ball starts rolling, you will benefit from an accumulation of positive experiences that make a difference in your approach to work.

Build Positive Work Relationships

High-quality relationships in any context, personal or professional, correlate to happy experiences. People who craft rewarding relationships in the professional arena derive a greater sense of meaning from work and from collaborations with colleagues. Build diverse relationships — peer, mentor-mentee, boss-subordinate — for in each you will play a different role and develop different skills that will enrich you. For example, as a mentor you will nurture someone else’s talents, so you can enjoy that person’s professional growth. As a peer, you may enjoy collaborating on projects or achieving shared wins.

Each of these steps will push you toward career positivity and away from negativity. Focus on building a solid foundation of sustainable happiness while continually reaching for more opportunity, more challenge and more fulfillment. Think of happiness not as a destination but as a state of mind, and it will be less likely to elude you as it has so many others.

Learn more about the University of South Carolina Aiken online MBA General program.

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