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Build Your Career: 5 Ways To Have More Joy In Your Job

Now is the time to ensure you’re happy in your career. During the last year, chances are your work patterns have been significantly disrupted. This gives you a great opportunity to look with new distance and objectivity at your job, your colleagues and your company.

When you return to the office—or to a more normal work pattern—you’ll be reminded with fresh eyes of all the things you love (or don’t love) about your work situation. This is a valuable moment to reassess, reset and reinvigorate your career. It’s the perfect time to make choices that create the conditions for your happiness at work, whether you decide to seek new opportunities with a different organization or infuse more happiness into your existing work.

And happiness in your career and your job are worthy goals. Large numbers of studies have shown when you’re happier at work you tend to have better physical health, perform better, make better decisions, set bigger goals, seek greater learning and pursue growth and development more enthusiastically. In addition, you tend to be more likeable. These are all very good things if you want to progress in your career. They will make you super valuable to your employer and bring you joy as well.

No matter what job you’re in, you won’t be happy every single minute. After all, every role is a mixed bag of things you’ll love and things that won’t be as lovely. But you can strive for a mostly-positive experience. Ironically, your best strategy won’t be to pursue happiness itself as your end goal, but to find the right conditions that set you on the path toward happiness.

Making Work More Joyful

As you seek to make your work more enjoyable, here are some science-backed ways to make a difference for yourself and others;

  • Meaningful Work. You will be happier in your work if you feel it is meaningful, according to a study by the University of Alabama. Consider how your job connects to a bigger purpose or how you make a contribution to your community. Also remind yourself about how your talents are unique and the ways you make a difference are special. Perhaps you’re a ninja with organizing a project or maybe your sense of humor tends to light up a room. Or perhaps you’re the one who is always able to remain cool under pressure. Appreciate yourself and how your efforts ladder up to something greater than your individual role.
  • Exploration. You may have been told that your best bet for a career is one aligned with your interests. While being in tune with your interests can be insightful, your interests are only one aspect of satisfaction with your job—and less important than we tend to believe. University of Houston research reviewing 65 years of data, and examining 105 studies with 39,602 participants found interests were actually only minimally related to fulfillment and satisfaction with your job. Other variables were very important as well including colleagues, leadership and company culture. Find work that is generally a match to your interests, but when opportunities emerge with great colleagues, terrific leaders or especially effective company cultures, welcome them and be open to exploration and expansion. Pursue roles—at your current company or a new organization—which may be slightly less aligned with your core interests when other conditions are positive.
  • Helping Others. People tend to be happier when they are generous and have strong relationships. There is a scientific correlation between helping others and your own contentment. In a related way, University of Chicago research assessing 27,587 people found those who were happiest had professions that involved helping others (ex. clergy, education, healthcare). No matter what kind of work you do, you can apply this knowledge by seeking to help others. Volunteer for a project in which the team needs another set of hands. Offer to get involved when a colleague needs a new perspective. Overall, focus on the ways your everyday tasks matter to the people around you.  
  • Trying new things. Variety is important to our brain health. When we feel stimulated and inspired, we are more likely to thrive. New York University research found people tend to be happier when they have a greater number of new and diverse experiences. Seek work that allows you to explore new areas and solve challenging problems. In addition, join groups where you can interact with people who have diverse experiences and new perspectives. Also consider small things like taking a different route to work, varying where you work during the day (home, onsite, enclosed spaces, conference rooms, work cafes) or taking a walk during a break. Seek variety in big and small ways.
  • Control. You will also tend to be happier with your career when you have more control, according to a study by the University of London. Empower yourself to work in ways that work best for you. For example, organize your day to accomplish different types of tasks at particular times of the day. If you prefer to do your more intense, concentrative work in the morning, block out time to do that. Or if you excel with logistical parts of your job (email, scheduling meetings, responding to quick requests) in the afternoons, make time for those types of tasks. Also ask your leader for support working away from your desk at various parts of your organization’s campus, at a remote location or at home, depending on the kind of work you need to accomplish.

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A Word On Pay

Despite what many believe, wages are not a guaranteed pathway to happiness, and the elements described above are more proven ways to experience joy in your work. Of course, a certain salary level is critical to your quality of life and health—you need to pay the rent and buy groceries. It is also important that your wages are aligned with the value of your role and your contribution. But beyond these, research suggests pay is less important than so many other variables. Seek fair wages, but also pursue other elements in order to accomplish happiness.  

In Sum

Now is the time to find a job—or enhance your role—in order to bring out your best. If you’re looking for a new organization, you’ll also be interested to know about a study at the University Miguel Hernández: When you’re happier, you’re more likely to find a great job. So embrace your positivity and set a course to find work or influence your work in ways that will make you happy.

The secrets to happiness at work go beyond the points above—there is more to the story—but work that is meaningful and done with colleagues who care will give you a running start toward a joyful experience.

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