It’s a new year and time to reflect on whether your job is serving to increase or decrease your happiness. In an era where there seems to be little loyalty to employees or to employers, perhaps taking a more active role in your career can lead to greater satisfaction in what you do and greater happiness in your life.
In 2014 economists determined that a one-percentage-point increase in unemployment lowers national well-being by more than five times as much as a one-percent increase in the inflation rate. Is our well-being impacted more by our jobs than the overall value of our paychecks? Given how much time we spend at our jobs, what we do for a living greatly impacts our satisfaction and enjoyment.
“Hundreds of studies have shown that job satisfaction and life satisfaction are positively related, and causal: liking your job causes you to be happier all around,” writes Arthur C. Brooks in his book Build the Life You Want, which is co-authored by Oprah Winfrey. “Engaging in work with your whole heart is one of the best ways to enjoy your days, get satisfaction from your accomplishments, and see meaning in your efforts.”
The authors explain how four factors help determine whether you can live a happy life: family, friends, work, and faith. No one of these is more important than the others. And, assuming you’re earning enough money from your job to provide for your basic needs, you should seek to make your work “love made visible” in the words of Brooks and Winfrey. Among other things, this means choosing extrinsic rewards only to the point of providing for your economic requirements and intrinsic rewards for your overall happiness.
To do this with your career, the authors suggest putting some space between your job and your life by making friends outside of where you work. Take weekends off and partake in true vacations to ensure your life is more than what you do for a living. Your career or job should be an extension of who you are and not vice versa: work to live rather than live to work.
Specifically, with regard to enabling your work to be love made visible, Brooks and Winfrey suggest the challenges are:
- Figure out your career goals. To do this, seek intrinsic rewards from what you do to ensure that you are not simply motivated by financial motives or fancy titles. Intrinsic rewards will lead to inherent fulfillment and enjoyment when you do your work. You can often determine whether you have enough intrinsic rewards by reflecting on how you speak to other people about what you do for a living.
- Decide whether your career path is linear, steady state, transitory or spiral. Is your path a ladder, a lattice, or something else? Then actively pursue that path by paying attention to your internal signals as a guide for whether and when to move from one position or company to another.
- Determine whether you have a work addiction by honestly looking at your patterns and assess the health of your habits. Are they serving your mental and physical health, your relationships, your overall happiness? Depression and anxiety are strongly associated with work addiction—either the cause or the result. Making time for family and friends, hobbies, and exercise can reduce the likelihood of these and improve your happiness.
- Own up to whether your identity is defined by what you do. It’s all too easy to lose your true self to a representation of yourself that is based on your job title or duties. Avoid this self-objectification, which is allowing your job to determine who you are. Make sure you get space from your work and have people in your life who see you as a person and not just as a professional.
While your work is not the only factor that can determine your happiness, it can certainly play an important role. Therefore, reflect on whether you are taking an active role in your career. Ensure you don’t let your identity define who you are based on what you do. And, most importantly, don’t neglect your family, friends and faith as these are equally important for building the life you want and one that is happier.