Some people believe happiness at work is either an impossible dream or the goal of lazy people who don’t want to work hard. I think it stems from the Puritan work ethic that’s part of the foundation of this country. “If it’s pleasant, it must not be work.”
So if you’re looking for happiness as part of your every-day work, are you unrealistic? Should you accept that varying degrees of unhappiness, ranging from mild dissatisfaction to outright misery, are inescapable at times?
This might sound like a harsh statement, especially if you feel as if you’ve been giving the situation your best effort. However, most of us could probably admit to the possibility that we might have some mistaken impressions holding us back from feeling genuinely happy at work. People who manage to feel and express strong happiness in their work situation might have some secret you haven’t uncovered, but it’s also possible you’ve overlooked some aspect of what you’re doing or not doing that’s contributing to your unhappiness.
What might that be?
Here are just a few examples:
What you probably need to be considering is whether you have options for changing your approach and handling things more productively. Looking back regretfully won’t help you resolve your unhappy work experience.
Recently I came across a Harvard Business Review interview online with Annie McKee, the author of a book called How to Be Happy at Work. It’s a fairly long interview, but it contains some points that bring a new perspective to the concept of being happy or unhappy at work. For example, the interview states that McKee believes “wherever you live, and however you earn a living, you have much more control over your own happiness at work than you think. She says happiness is your choice, and that too many people get trapped in destructive ways of thinking that keep them in unfulfilling jobs.”
You might be familiar with one aspect of the situation that McKee talks about, which she calls the “should trap.” This is where you make choices in your life or career management because of your perception that you should do them–that people expect you to. By the same token, I suppose, you could say there’s a “shouldn’t trap.” In that case, you might be holding back from some action regarding a meaningful change in your work or career because it’s something people believe you shouldn’t do.
In a sense, those are self-imposed limitations. You’ve accepted someone else’s view of what you’re supposed or not supposed to do. On the other hand, as the interview points out, some of your thoughts and actions are more internalized–fear of failure, fear of success linked to imposter syndrome, confusion about what really makes you happy, and so on.
You might just need to take a deep breath, examine your situation as objectively as possible, and begin to map out a plan to increase your happiness where you now work or find a more satisfactory work environment somewhere else. Being happy or unhappy at work–where you spend a large chunk of your life–depends on multiple factors, not just one. Pick your battles! Look for even small wins that will fuel your energy for the larger challenge.