Are you like the guy in the commercial who has a parrot who repeats “Not another day.” “Can’t take this.”? If you don’t like your job, or school, or whatever you spend most of your day doing, there are several actions you can take other than complaining.
Making a big change
One possibility is to find a new job. This may take courage. Also, if you’re considering a different kind of work (or even a different work environment), it might be better to try out your new idea first by getting some experience with that new kind of work through volunteering, or by getting a part-time job without quitting your old job. If nothing along these lines is practical, find out whatever you can about the new work situation first before taking the leap. You don’t want to find out the hard way that the new situation is even worse!
Making a small change
What if it’s not a reasonable option to change jobs, or you really don’t want to for some reason? In that case you might look for ways you can transform your work situation so it gives you more satisfaction. People are happier in their work if they can be fully engaged, if they’re using their personal strengths, and if they feel like they’re making a contribution. There may be some changes you can make – or request to have made – that allow you to do these things more. If you’re bored, if you’re not able to use your abilities very fully, try taking on something more challenging, either by requesting it or by just voluntarily doing it even if you don’t have to. You may find that work becomes more fulfilling, and side benefits may include more interesting and higher-paying jobs in the future.
If you can figure out a way to do your work more efficiently and free up some of the time you saved as a result, you might be able to do something else worthwhile, either for your employer or for yourself.
Making an extracurricular change
Another option is to approach your happiness at work from the other side: Doing things outside of work that make you happier may cause some of that positive frame of mind to spill over into your work life. At the very least, it should increase your overall happiness. Just like a good vacation can rejuvenate you, a hobby or some activity you enjoy can put you in a better mood not only when you’re actually doing it, but afterward. Especially if you haven’t figured out a way yet to make your work more satisfying, make room in your life for some activity you really like.
For me the last few years that’s mainly been ballroom dance (broadly defined, including West Coast Swing, Argentine Tango, and especially Latin). It’s great because it’s good exercise (I’m a bit over 6′ tall but I went from a 35″ waist to 32″ and got more toned), there’s a social element that’s even friendlier than in most shared activities, it involves music, encourages creativity, and is a lot of fun. It’s also good for your brain: it facilitates mind-body coordination, cultivates bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, and gives your gray matter a workout through learning new dance figures and details of technique. I’ll write more about this in a future post. I’ve even participated during this time in large regional, national, and international DanceSport competitions, working my way up through 6 levels to Pre-champ Latin finalist.
As a teenager I really got into chess (and other strategy games) and played in tournaments. Next I took up guitar, and got good enough to briefly consider a career as a musician (they do have very high job satisfaction). In each case these activities were challenging and rewarding, a learning experience and fun. They allowed me to immerse myself and be fully engaged, experiencing sometimes what psychologists call “flow.”
Meaning, Pleasure, Strengths
Harvard psychology professor Tal Ben-Shahar encourages people to begin the process of finding the right work for themselves by asking three crucial questions: What gives me meaning?” “What gives me pleasure?” “What are my strengths?” Looking at the answers and finding areas of overlap may help. He recommends taking more time than just jotting down what comes to mind. In terms of what we find meaningful, for instance, he suggests: “We may need to spend time reflecting, thinking deeply to recall those moments in our lives when we felt a sense of true purpose.”
While this exercise is intended to guide a person in making a major career decision, it can be applied to the all three strategies above for increasing happiness. Extracurricular activities that people find meaningful, for example, can be very rewarding and nourishing.