You’ve done everything you think of to tick all the boxes for the perfect life. You finished your degree, got a well-paying job, and fell in love with a partner you can count on. Everything looks good on paper — so why aren’t you happy?
It can come as a blow when we realize that getting everything we thought we wanted isn’t enough. But, sometimes, learning how to enjoy your life and your job means changing how you look at them.
Have you been working at a crazy pace for years to achieve what you have? Maybe you’re so stressed out from overwork that you simply can’t enjoy your accomplishments.
Perhaps circumstances have put you in a tight spot that you can’t seem to dig your way out from — at least, not yet. It’s no secret that we’re often forced to take an unpleasant job just to pay the bills.
Even worse, sometimes we feel that we need to do even more to deserve happiness, no matter how hard we’ve worked. Could it be that we’re aiming our feelings of dissatisfaction more at ourselves than the circumstances around us?
The Search for Happiness
Some experts blame our materialistic society for the plague of modern-day ennui. After all, they say, Americans were happy with much less only 50 or 60 years ago. Their expectations were much lower compared to those of modern-day Americans.
The drive for wealth can be motivating, but it’s also a double-edged sword no matter where you end up on the totem pole.
Psychologists have found that material success — and the aspiration for wealth — can leave people feeling isolated from their own values. It even increases stress and decreases feelings of well-being.
Other experts blame our worship of individual autonomy and the drive to do our own thing. This urge can lead us to seek fame rather than fortune. But it’s not selfishness or ego that makes us unhappy when we seek notoriety — it’s the lofty expectations.
We live In a society that tells us that we can be whoever we want or do whatever we can imagine. In fact, this concept was institutionalized into the U.S. Constitution, and “the pursuit of happiness” defined as an alienable right.
But, the rate of failure is bound to be high. So, while we should try to realize our dreams, we must be realistic about the odds of success.
And even if we reach the pinnacles of our chosen careers, it appears that success doesn’t make you happy.
Are We Even Meant to Be Happy?
Maybe happiness just isn’t all that. Are we even meant to be happy?
While it makes sense that happier people are more successful, it’s a fine line to walk. Downright joyful people aren’t quite as successful as those who are just “generally happy.” And then there’s the chicken and the egg question — which came first — success or happiness?
Is Happiness Overrated?
Some psychologists say we have a “set point” for happiness. What’s more, they believe that we aren’t affected in the long term by positive or negative events. They call it the Hedonic Treadmill, and despite good or bad events in our lives, we’ll return to that “set point” pretty quickly.
If they’re right, you may wonder if you can reset your happiness set-point and learn how to enjoy your life and your job.
In his autobiography, Mark Twain wrote: “If everybody was satisfied with himself there would be no heroes.”
The human capacity for happiness is a motivating factor in much of our history. Still, it may be the search for this elusive emotion that has driven our success, not the emotion itself.
Our big brains and our emotional self-awareness seem to come with a huge side order of dissatisfaction. And while we may interpret that as being unhappy, perhaps it’s the reason our species has survived so long despite our mediocre physical prowess.
Some scientists have even speculated that depression serves an evolutionary role.
So, while happiness is undoubtedly something to desire, it may not be the key to a rewarding life.
In fact, one of history’s most successful monarchs, the Caliph of Cordoba, described his successful life as “50 years in victory and peace, beloved by my subjects.” He was wealthy, triumphant, and enjoyed all the pleasures his station offered.
Yet, when asked to count them, he “diligently numbered the days of pure and genuine happiness,” and discovered that the total was only 14.
What Definitely Doesn’t Work
Current social factors are proven to negatively affect our ability to be happy and feel satisfied with our lives. Scientists have found that since 2000, adults are increasingly feeling unhappy with their lives. For teens, the trend started in 2012, and experts have examined the patterns pretty closely.
Screen time — digital media — has had a devastating effect on our ability to feel happy. Experts aren’t suggesting we ditch our smartphones, though.
A 2017 study found that teens that spent more than five hours a day on electronic devices were 71 percent more likely to have a risk factor for suicide.
For adults, the trend of dissatisfaction occurred around 2000, the year most businesses and homes adopted internet access. Previously, people over 30 became increasingly more satisfied with their lives as they grew older. But this trend came to a halt in the early 2000s.
The creation of “Insta-fame” via internet culture not only makes all our greatest efforts feel puny, but it also often comes without any real achievement. This social trend has moved offline into mainstream culture, as well, with public figures considered successful because of their ability to attract attention rather than accomplish worthy deeds.
The rise of the information age and its effect on our feelings of well-being can also be a “chicken-egg” scenario. However, it can lead to a descending spiral — while distracting yourself from real-life problems may provide some relief, it can also prevent you from solving them.
Happiness vs. Satisfaction
A good life doesn’t mean being happy all the time. The first step in learning how to enjoy your life and your job may be accepting the negative aspects — maybe even embracing them.
Some people thrive in adversity. They enjoy hard work, whether it’s physical labor or mental acrobatics. They joy in conquering enormous tasks. For those people, and perhaps for the rest of us, happiness comes at the end of the struggle. That’s when it is called “satisfaction.”
Daniel Kahneman, a Nobel-prize-winning economist, has worked extensively in the study of happiness and defines it as quite separate from life satisfaction. Life satisfaction, he says, is measured against other people when it comes to “achieving goals, meeting expectations.” He described happiness as something that “feels good in the moment.”
Happiness is what we feel right now, while satisfaction is something we can look back on with pride.
Learning How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job
While you may not be happy every minute of your day, you can ultimately learn how to enjoy your life and your job by increasing your satisfaction levels. This could mean conquering new challenges or learning new skills.
Another measure of life satisfaction involves creating more meaning in your life. A meaningful life is usually associated with being of service to others. As well as providing you with feelings of accomplishment, it can also help you focus on events outside your own mind.
Focusing on the darker side of your life can result in increased depression and even social isolation, according to scientists.
A study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology revealed that people who fixated on their depression and reached out to others frequently were often rebuffed. So, rather than receiving the social support they needed, they were rejected.
In this case, mental health experts suggested that rather than focusing on feelings, people should focus on solving concrete problems. It can take some effort and discipline to stop “ruminating” — chewing your mental cud — but meditation and distraction can help.
If you find yourself constantly re-thinking distressing situations or events that you can’t solve or do-over, Yale University psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema has a few suggestions:
- Take small actions to solve your problems.
- Review and reappraise any negative perceptions of the situation.
- Let go of unattainable goals and look for other sources of self-esteem.
Creating a Better Work Life
It’s not surprising that our jobs have such an impact on our levels of happiness and feelings of satisfaction. In modern times, our career says a lot about our standing in society, intelligence, and our work ethic. At least, that’s what everyone thinks.
However, even if you know — and your boss knows — that you’re just killing time in that dead-end job, being underemployed affects how you feel about your whole life.
We may only spend eight hours a day working, but how many of the remaining hours of the day are really about preparing for those eight? How much time do we spend on commuting to work, packing meals, preparing our wardrobe, or even dressing to go to the workplace?
So, it’s not surprising how much that job can affect our happiness.
And part of the problem — again — is our expectations.
Seeking happiness can actually lead to disappointment because of the extraordinary value we can place on a fleeting emotional moment. Experts have found that the more people expected an event to make them happy, the less satisfying that event turned out to be. The elevated expectation led to disappointment.
This has real consequences in the workplace that can lead to unhealthy relationships between employers and employees. It can result in needy, overinvested employees who become devastated if they lose their jobs. It can also provide employers with a way to unfairly manipulate their workers.
Learning to Love Your Job
The amount of focus on our careers can’t be ignored, and the amount of time we spend in our occupations needs to be addressed.
Why spend so many hours a day doing something that makes you miserable? Can you learn how to enjoy your life and your job, even when both are less than ideal?
Remember, not loving your job doesn’t mean it can’t be otherwise fulfilling. It may provide a sense of satisfaction and meaning that transcends happiness and lasts much longer.
And don’t confuse happiness with passion — they’re not the same thing. Being passionate means feeling strongly about something, and you can be passionate about your work without actually loving it.
Consider those who work with abused children or burn victims or disabled veterans. Surely, there’s nothing there to be happy about in any of these professions. Just imagine the amount of satisfaction that comes with a good outcome. That can transcend any momentary feeling of happiness.
In fact, a large number of us would take lower salaries if it meant we could find more meaningful work. A 2017 study showed that over 90 percent of participants would be willing to take as much as $22,000 a year, or 32% less, to take a job that held more personal significance to them.
The Secret to Happiness
While everyone has their “one thing” and deepest passion, scientists have looked for overall trends in what makes people happy.
How do we figure out how to enjoy our life and our job without falling into the pit of “seeking” happiness?
It seems that the secret lies in making more concrete goals rather than in vague feelings.
1. Find Purpose
Finding a deeper purpose for your work allows you to focus on the long-term mission of your life without getting flustered by the ups and downs of the everyday routine. Having a sense of purpose in your career can improve your health as well as increase the odds of your success.
2. Engage Your Mind
Boredom at work is one of the primary killers of career satisfaction. Have you ever held a dull, repetitious job? If so, you know that eight hours can take about 14 or more to finally pass. Engaging your mind means finding ways to have fun, get creative, and even overcome new challenges.
Recent studies have found several strategies for increasing engagement at work — although it may take some participation from your boss and coworkers. Developing strong and positive relationships is key as is cultivating a sense of ownership and emotional investment in your company’s success
3. Be Yourself
This is a concept that motivational master Dale Carnegie talks about at length in his book “How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job.” Even though this book was published in the 1970s, he brilliantly describes the importance of being yourself. Today, we would probably call that being authentic, but it’s a critical factor in work satisfaction.
The “fake it till you make it” gurus may disagree, but pretense is not just deceptive — it’s downright exhausting. Let’s revisit the wisdom of Mark Twain again, who wrote: “If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”
4. The Willingness to Change Your Mind
Perhaps the most essential step in learning how to love — or at least enjoy — your work is being willing to change how you look at it.
Discovering an overarching purpose in your work life may not be as simple as you’d like. Perhaps your inner mission is more family-oriented. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t change the way you look at the job you must do, for whatever reason.
5. Develop a Sense of Service
Philosophers and religious leaders have emphasized the importance of service for millennia, and not just as a way to get free labor for their church. Truly being of service to others offers a unique situation where the benefactor is often better rewarded than the recipient.
Even something as simple as offering special customer services to the underserved can lift a low-level fast-food job into a moment of redemption.
6. Focus On Your Craft
No matter what you do for a living, find pride in yourself by doing it better than you ever have before.
You don’t have to compete with others to find job satisfaction — you just have to compete with the person you were yesterday. If you make coffee for a living, turn it into a craft, a calling, a work of art.
Look for the creative potential in even the smallest work tasks.
Finding a way to enjoy the tasks of your job can lead to success. This ability leads to mastery, which is one of the key components of enjoying your job and your work.
And being more engaged with your work can improve your overall level of satisfaction with life.
7. Develop Strong Relationships
Forming strong and positive relationships with coworkers can build resilience. Having like-minded compatriots empowers you to overcome adversity. More importantly, it provides the emotional strength to recover from failures to try again.
8. Mentoring Others
Even the most mind-numbing and undignified job gives you an opportunity to provide service by mentoring or looking out for junior employees. You don’t have to be in charge to watch the back of the new kid on the floor. Share your experience and offer support.
9. Take Charge of Your Future
Even if you haven’t found your forever home in the corporate world, that doesn’t mean you can’t make the most of whatever situation you find yourself. Every job offers a chance to learn new skills and make new connections.
Scrutinize your company website and publications for new job openings, advancement opportunities, educational programs, and even social events.
10. Focus on Real-Life
Despite the hours spent at work, remember that you have another life outside of it. It pays to maintain a good work-life balance. This is especially important if your job or coworkers make you feel out of place. Take time to travel and create memories during your off-hours. That music festival may only be a weekend, but you’ll remember it for the rest of your life.
If you feel like you have no control in your work life, it’s critical to make deliberate choices outside of your work life that align with your values and goals.
Developing Your Real Life
If you’ve been focusing too much on your career goals, you may have let a few things slip outside the office. It’s not hard to do when we spend so much time striving for success.
For too many people these days, just getting by means holding more than one job too. Side gigs and second jobs are growing, and wages remain stagnant. Just keeping up with the rising cost of living can mean working more hours than you should.
Even if you love both — or all — of your jobs, your family, friends, and other aspects of your life deserve some thoughtful attention.
How do you meet the demands of a social and home life while still making headway in the workplace?
1. Spend time with family and friends
A 2008 Gallup poll found that spending social time reduced stress across the board. Whether you value your time with your buds or your babies, it’s important to spend relaxation time with those you care about the most.
2. Stay in touch with friends – or broaden your circle
After we leave school, we’re often tempted to focus on just a small circle of our closest friends. If we marry and have children, we can often become quite isolated when caring for our immediate families.
However, a 2012 study showed that maintaining a broader circle of friends impacted our sense of happiness significantly — especially in our middle years. The study suggests that having a network of more than 10 friends or family members to rely on increased levels of happiness.
3. Keep your romantic relationships positive
When you’re exhausted from work or harried from a busy schedule, it’s tempting to dump chores on our significant others to save time and reduce conflict.
However, it’s especially critical to keep your partnership interactions on an upbeat note when you don’t have much leisure time.
Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D. recommends improving relationship satisfaction with a few simple concepts:
- Provide recognition for commitment and caring
- Create positivity and an emotionally comfortable space
- Create something meaningful together
- Take responsibility for your actions
- Remain accountable for commitments you make
- Make sure that effort is acknowledged and rewarded
- Encourage self-development in each other
- Give your partner room to shine
- Understand each other’s motivations and stress factors
- Keep it interesting
How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job — Dale Carnegie, Updated
If you read Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job, it may feel a bit outdated in the 21st century. He recommends learning to relax and delegating tasks to lighten the load. This isn’t bad advice, but most people don’t have the luxury of following it.
In contrast, Tony Beshara, President Babich and Associates, a Texas recruitment firm, offered updated advice in a 2016 Ted Talk called “The 10 Principales of Loving Your Career and Your Job.”
After talking to over 26,000 people, he identified 10 traits in those who both loved and were successful at their jobs:
- They knew their aptitudes and their strongest skills.
- They accepted their initial ignorance at work and began practicing every task they need to perform to make it seamless and natural.
- They had a passion for what they did, aiming to leave an impact on the world with their work. They developed a vision for their work that got them through difficult times.
- They faced each day anew, rather than resting on their previous accomplishments.
- They created a process to reach their goals, developing rituals and routines for everyday work. This makes trivial tasks effortless and allows them to focus conscious efforts on more important things.
- They accepted the need for practice, taking failures and setbacks in good grace and separating them from their sense of purpose.
- They continually sought to learn more about their chosen field while mentoring and teaching others in their industry.
- They remained humble about their inadequacy and remained grateful for the ability to do what they loved for a living.
- They deliberately envisioned their futures while reframing their past failures as necessary learning experiences.
- They realized that their road to success and how it changed them was more important than anything they managed to accomplish.
Service vs. Self-Serving
From Sidharthat to Jesus to Mohamed, human wisdom invariable finds that the way to fulfillment is to focus on others. That may be building a better life for your child or creating a memorable experience for your customers.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with striving for material goods and trying to live our lives as we please. However, always wondering what’s in it for us often leads to disappointment. Life is generally unfair, and often, there’s often very little in it for us.
With life so tough all over, maybe the best way to enjoy your life and your job is to try to make it just a little bit easier for others.