Julia Gaynor, Monster staff
It’s easy to point to the things we hate about our jobs: toxic bosses, long hours, no chance for advancement. But even if you haven’t found the job of your dreams, is it possible to turn things around at the job you have now?
Annie McKee thinks so. The author of the new book How To Be Happy At Work talked with Monster about how to take control of your career happiness, and specifically, three things you can do to bring more joy to your job.
Monster: Do you really think you can create happiness at a job that you hate?
AM: Happiness at work comes from the inside out. It’s something we create for ourselves. A lot of people will lose or leave a job and go somewhere else and find that they’re just as unhappy. We need to feel that our work is meaningful, that we’re doing something linked to our values, that we’re making a difference, and that we feel hopeful about our future and see a clear link between the work we’re doing now and the future that we want for ourselves. And additionally, we need friendships.
Monster: How do you add meaning, purpose or friendships to a job that doesn’t have them?
AM: One way we can run toward happiness at work is to take a hard look at our lives and what’s really making us unhappy. Maybe the culture isn’t great or there have been layoffs… and maybe those things are real, but are they really the source of your unhappiness or have you become really pessimistic in the last couple of years?
Maybe you find yourself hanging out with the complaining group most of the time or maybe you’re not raising your hand for those exciting projects because you feel beaten down and don’t feel like giving more of yourself to the organization. Those things matter. The way we approach our work, how we spend our time, who we hang out with—are they positive and optimistic or negative and cynical? So yes, the conditions of the workplace really do matter and some of them are beyond our control. But I truly believe that we have a lot more control over our own emotions and our own mindset than we think we do.
Monster: You say that friendship is one of the keys to work happiness. What if you don’t have any friends where you work?
AM: Some of the tips I give people are pretty simple but they make a big difference. For one, don’t lock yourself in your cubicle or office. Go out and have a conversation about something that’s not linked to work. Take a lunch break. Don’t eat at your desk. Find somebody to grab a sandwich and go for a walk with. Those very basic human things revive and renew us and they also foster a sense of “Hey we’re in this together, let’s go have some fun together.” You don’t have to be best friends with everyone, but finding ways to connect during the work day in little ways makes a huge difference.
Monster: They say that money can’t buy happiness. Do you agree?
AM: There are tons of studies that show that living beyond the lifestyle that we actually desire doesn’t satisfy us. If you find yourself staying in a job just to get that next promotion or bonus, you’ll probably find out that the minute you get the promotion or bonus you’re still miserable, or you’re looking forward to the next one and not enjoying the present moment.
Happiness comes before success, not the other way around. So when we’re happier, we’re more successful in life, and not the other way around. If we’re optimistic and excited, our brains work better and we’re probably going to have better relationships too because we’re fun to be around. If we’re negative and cynical, no one wants to be around that.
Monster: You talk about feeling helpless as being one of the worst “happiness traps.” How do you stop feeling helpless at a job you hate?
AM: If you’re feeling truly helpless, this is the time to take a hard look at what you’re doing, where you’re doing it, and why you feel that way. There is nothing worse than feeling stuck and helpless to make a change. If it continues, you may indeed want to look for another job.
Monster: And funnily enough, one thing that can help you feel less helpless and more hopeful is finding a new job.
AM: Yes! Take some action. Visit Monster. Set up some email alerts. That will start focusing your attention on the future, a hopeful view of the future and also makes you feel powerful. We need to feel powerful, that we can control our own fate.