How does your job affect your happiness?
Are you worried about choosing the 'perfect career'? Maybe you feel trapped in your current job because you're not doing what you love. You don't need to be in your dream job to be happy – in fact, if you make a difference at your job, you'll be happier in life. It's intrinsically human to want to feel you're adding value, whether you work at a fast food restaurant or are a brain surgeon, and knowing that your job is important boosts your self-worth.
So the opposite is also true; being stuck in a job where you are not valued and appreciated can impact your happiness, both at work and at home. When you think about how much time you spend at work every week (we're willing to bet it's more than 40 hours some weeks) it's easy to see how your job can affect your happiness.
So what makes us feel good about work?
Research shows that those who have their work acknowledged are willing to go above and beyond, doing more for less compensation, and taking more pride in their work (1). No matter what field you're in, the more people feel their work matters, the more they will engage with their job.
What's the connection between career choices and happiness?
When you leave university, the chances are you're probably not too sure what to do with your life. Obviously factors such as how much money you make are going to influence your happiness – if you don't make enough to support yourself and your family, you won't be happy no matter what you're doing for a living.
Social scientists Angus Deaton and Daniel Kahneman believe that when your annual income exceeds $75,000 (that's around £48,000), you start to notice your emotional well-being diminishing. So whilst earning more might seem like a top priority to those who have just graduated, beyond a certain point earning more and having more won't necessarily impact your happiness (2).
You could argue that because most people work 40 hours a week, and we spend around 30% of our lives at work, that 30% of our emotional well-being depends on the career choices we make. But when you consider that the other 70% of our lives (30% spent sleeping and 40% awake and not at work) is conducted outside work, surely this plays a larger, more important role in our overall happiness? The key is work/life balance. Working too many hours or being under too much stress can impact your personal life and make you unhappy.
What's the secret to happiness?
There is no magic 'secret to happiness', no holy grail, no 'one size fits all' trick that will magically make you happy, although there are those who believe that finding the right job for the right salary is half the battle. A study by the GMAC in 2008 revealed that job fit/enjoying your job was more important than salary when it came to employee retention (3). Once you earn enough to support yourself, more money doesn't boost your happiness levels.
It's hard to know whether you're going to like a job after you've been through the interview process, and many of us fall into jobs when we're younger, thanks to a combination of parental advice, salary and academic interests. Often, it's lack of fit with a company that leads to quitting a job, which can be costly not only for the employer, but also for the employee.
Can your job make you miserable?
You only have to walk around central London at rush hour to see just how miserable some of the busiest people are in their jobs. We're just kidding. Seriously though, the Tube is a microcosm of overworked Londoners in their natural habitat – check it out if you don't believe us! It's true though, your job CAN make you miserable. Salary.com surveyed over 2,000 people in the US in 2013 and discovered that the majority of us are unhappy with our 9 to 5 (4). The top reasons for dissatisfaction were:
- Money – 73% of people said money was their main motivation for getting out of bed in the morning and going to work. But remember that money isn't the key to happiness and even a pay rise will only make you happy temporarily
- Work stress – Work stress can lead to a whole host of physical and mental problems, not to mention weight gain
- Unfulfilling work – A study carried out in 2012 revealed that 60% of employees were fulfilled in their jobs – the new study's figures showed this had decreased by almost 20%. A study carried out in Germany by the Institute for the Study of Labour (5) in 2007 revealed that being happy at work actually makes us healthier. Enjoying your job means you are less likely to see your GP or take time off work sick.
- Not being committed to the job – Since 2012, the number of employees who are 100% committed to their jobs has dropped from 75% of respondents to almost 50%. In 2013, only 30% of people said that they would show up at work if they won the lottery
- Working too much – Over 50% of participants felt 'constantly overworked', a rise of 7% since 2012
How can we be happier at work?
It's important to address what is making you unhappy and take steps towards solving the problem. It could be any of the below:
- Boredom and lack of concentration
- Lack of creativity and variety
- No challenges to keep you motivated
- Burnout/being overworked
- Being forced to multi-task rather than being able to focus on one task
- Lack of value/no sense of purpose
- Problems with colleagues or superior
- Not earning enough money
It's all about balance, so take the time to think about ways to be happier at work, or try one of these:
Speak to your boss
If you're unhappy at work, talking to your boss can help to clarify things. It could be something as simple as a personality clash with a colleague, or perhaps your working hours aren't suitable for you anymore. Your boss should be able to help you understand how your role adds value and they are the person to approach if you're lacking motivation and feel that new challenges or training might help you to progress in your role.
Make a change
If you're feeling unfulfilled or bored in your current role, be aware of other opportunities around you. Perhaps you're struggling to get out of bed in the morning and dreading every day in your boring office job? There might be a new role at your current company that you would be better suited to, or maybe it's time for a complete change and a new company.
Start your own business
If you like the idea of working for yourself then why not consider starting your own business. For most people, this isn't an overnight process and you'll probably have to start small, around your current job. However, working for yourself can be massively fulfilling and give you the sense of value that you're lacking in your current job. Plus, you may be able to work from home!
Your job and career choices have a huge impact on your happiness – but your lifestyle choices such as your diet and fitness also play an important part. The key is enjoy what you do, whatever that is. You don't have to be in a job that you love, but if you can find meaning and value in your work, you'll be far happier.
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