Is Career Happiness – Just a Pipe-Dream?

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Happiness has long been regarded the preserve of childhood and mostly didn’t feature in the adult world of serious things like supporting ourselves through work. However, expectations of work and careers have changed dramatically, and more and more people seek personal fulfilment in their jobs. But how do we actually achieve career happiness? Is it just a pipe-dream, or an unattainable luxury, especially in the current economic conditions?

If you have been job searching for months, or if you are exhausted at work because you are performing the jobs of two people or more as your company has tightened its belt, you may find an article about happiness at work completely frivolous, even unrealistic. Yet, in today’s tough circumstances it is still completely possible to encounter those who are happy at work, and even more common to find those who aspire to it and work towards it. If some can achieve it, and many are taking meaningful steps towards it, happiness at work is arguably, possible.

For many, career happiness happens when you find yourself able to put your best strengths to work. It is important to consider that even during these trying times, there are actually lots of people – determined, innovative and creative, who are committed to either finding the ‘right’ work or who are working out how to adjust so that the job they currently hold works better for them. In this rests a kernel of truth – that happiness is not the same as the rush of joy arriving in a moment at a fun party or the fleeting bloom of self-pride when we are suddenly publicly recognised, rather it is a quieter sense of fulfilment made up of many moments where we experience ourselves as more hopeful, meaningful and able to contribute the best we have to offer.

In his book, ‘Authentic Happiness’, researcher and professor of psychology, Dr Martin Seligman identifies 24 of what he calls ‘signature strengths’ and claims that when we are expressing our top strengths we are mostly likely to experience a more enduring happiness.
Interestingly, while most people might believe that more money and higher status would most make them happy,
Seligman’s research shows that the five ‘signature strengths’ most associated with general well-being are:

  • curiosity and interest in the world
  • the capacity to love and be loved
  • gratitude
  • zest, enthusiasm and energy
  • hope, optimism and future-mindedness

This is information that is not just relevant to the employee seeking greater fulfilment, but also to the forward-thinking employer who wants to create a work environment where employees are able to be engaged and fulfilled.

One of the stumbling blocks to enhancing personal well-being at work can often be a reluctance or resistance to reflect and explore our own personal landscape in the work context, especially if we have ranked notions of ‘security’ rooted in money and status ahead of personal fulfilment. We may justify this by repeating adages such as “Better the devil you know…” or claiming, “I am too busy to reflect…” or reiterating that, “It’s a terrible economic time, I had better stay put…”. In some cases the pattern of being highly competent and automatically taking the next opportunity that arises can result in a trajectory that can seem satisfying for many years without us being actually engaged in anything that we actually care about. Yet, many of us get to that moment of taking a frank and less than happy look at our lives; and some are able to acknowledge that we might have lost track of what we really enjoy and what brings meaning and fulfilment into our lives.

This improved awareness of what we want does not mean that we should automatically rush to change jobs. The first step in the process of moving towards greater well-being in the work-place is most often to start with what we can adjust in our present circumstances to bring about more fulfilment.
Some tips to move towards career happiness include:

  • Be aware of what you love to do, and find the ways to do something you enjoy at work each day
  • Take charge of your professional and personal development
  • If you feel stressed because you think don’t know enough about what is happening in your company or your department, take responsibility for finding out all you need to know to be able to relax more at work
  • Ask for regular feedback from bosses, colleagues and clients
  • Make an effort to deepen your bonds with co-workers with whom you feel an affinity and don’t be afraid to develop appropriate friendships at work
  • Avoid negativity such as ‘water cooler gossip’, covert criticism and exposure to and spread of rumour
  • Be courageous, and do not fear conflict that you can engage in, in a meaningful way
  • Don’t make commitments that you can’t meet

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