How to Be Happier at Work

Every decision you make — including whether or not to pursue an 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.

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 a 2017 survey by the American Psychological Association, 61% of respondents identified work as their top source of anxiety, so finding happiness there 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:

  1. 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, 40% of the population does not get enough sleep, and 20% suffer from insomnia. Research at the University of Warwick in the U.K. found that improving the quality and quantity of sleep produced happiness akin to winning the lottery. Try to get seven or eight hours of sleep per night. 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.
  2. 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 and another and to dreary consequences, 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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. You will focus on building a solid foundation of sustainable happiness while continually reaching for more opportunity, more challenge, more fulfillment. Think of happiness not as a destination but a state of mind, and it will be less likely to elude you as it has so many others.

Learn more about UofSC Aiken’s online MBA General program.


The Balance: 10 Ways to Be Happy at Work

WSJ: Nine Ways to Make Your Work Day Better

Inc.: 8 Proven Ways to Be Happier, According to Science

IQ Matrix: How to Use the Pain and Pleasure Principle to Achieve a Goal

Inc.: 5 Simple Ways to Get More Sleep

The Atlantic: The Confidence Gap

APA: Stress in America The State of Our Nation

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