We’re all just chasing happiness, and since work is such a big part of our lives it’s often one of the first places we look for it. But what does it take to be happy?
No matter what anyone tells you, money does make us happy to a certain degree, which is why feeling underpaid is one of the top reasons for unhappiness at work.
But money can only go so far, and a study by Nobel prizewinning psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that happiness only rose in line with salary until people earned around £50,000 a year. After this, earning more money did nothing to boost people’s happiness.
Although it’s not entirely clear why, Kahneman speculates that further increases in income no longer improve an individual’s ability to do the things that matter most to their emotional well-being.
“Do what you love” is another cliché that tends to be drummed into us from early age, but while there’s no doubt that it can be incredibly satisfying to work in a job you’re passionate about, not many of us actually have the luxury of getting paid to do what we love.
So what should you look for in a job if you just want to be happy? £50,000 a year wouldn’t go amiss, of course, but failing that, here are five of the most important factors that contribute to your happiness.
1. A satisfying home life
Although it might not the first place we think to look, a satisfying and fulfilling home life can make us happier at work too. And because most of us have more control over our personal lives then our work lives, it’s often a good place to start.
Perhaps you could spend more time focusing on a personal hobby such as music or painting. Or maybe spending more quality time with your kids, such as reading them a story before bed or eating dinner around the table rather than in front of the television, could increase your sense of fulfilment at home.
One study found that the happiest marriages were those in which both partners kept each other informed of what was going on at work, even if the information seemed ‘boring’ or trivial. So rather than trying to separate our work from our personal life, we should look for ways to connect these two worlds.
2. A sense of freedom and individualism
A sense of freedom and the ability to make at least some of our own decisions at work is another thing that makes us happy. In fact, meta-analysis of data from 63 countries found that personal autonomy and freedom are more important than money when it comes to being happy.
Another recent survey found that self-employed workers tend to be the happiest, with 92% saying they enjoy their work. This makes sense because being your own boss gives you the freedom to set your own schedule and prioritise certain tasks.
Of course, you don’t have to be self-employed to be happy, but you should look for work that gives you a sense of freedom and individualism. This could mean looking for anything from a more flexible schedule to a leadership role that gives you more say in how things are done.
3. New challenges
Although at some point we’ve probably all fantasised about having enough money to retire and sip cocktails on a tropical beach for the rest of our days, the truth is that human-beings thrive on challenges and are happiest when pushing themselves to the limits.
As an added bonus, challenging work can also protect you from cognitive decline later in life. So if you’re feeling bored or unfulfilled at work, getting out of your rut and tackling something new and difficult could actually increase your happiness, even if it means you end up working harder.
4. A sense of security
It’s hardly surprising, of course, but research shows that feeling insecure can have a negative impact on job satisfaction and hinders our performance. Obviously, if we’re worried about being fired, we won’t be able to perform our jobs effectively, much less innovate and be creative.
So in addition to looking for a job you can picture yourself in for years to come, it’s a good idea to look for a supportive and positive work environment where you’ll feel valued.
Does the company’s mission statement outline positive values? Do they emphasise health, family and environment? Do they seem to have a sense of humour? How to they react to negative feedback? Asking questions like these can help you determine whether or not a workplace would be supportive.
5. Opportunities to learn and progress
Last but not least, in order to be happy in our work and personal lives, we need to feel that we are progressing somehow. Being able to leave work at the end of the day knowing that you’ve learned something new or made meaningful progress can be extremely satisfying.
A research review by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer shows that people feel happiest on the days they feel they made some progress, even if it’s something seemingly minor.
So if you want to be happy both at work and in your personal life, set clear goals and never stop looking for opportunities to learn and progress; whether that means taking formal courses or simply being open to learning from those you work and interact with on a daily basis.
By Marlanne Stenger, as published in The Huffington Post on 11th July 2017