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For most people, work has a huge impact on overall life happiness.

Furthermore, staying in a job you hate can have devastating consequences for your health, your emotional well-being, and your relationships.

After all, we spend about 1/3 of our lives at work, about 90,000 hours for the average person. And many people are working until later in life now.

Research has shown that certain factors play a large role in work satisfaction—Understanding them can help you dramatically increase your odds of finding a job you love (or one that is good enough!).

The BIG IDEA—If you understand what things improve your chances of enjoying your job, you can make new decisions that will impact decades of your life, and—if you manage people—you can use this knowledge to improve the lives of the people that work for you.

Several years ago, I was given the chance to lead a large department of more than 200 people. At the time this was my dream. I thought it would make me happy.

Not far into it, I found myself really unhappy and wondering what had gone wrong. I had made a fairly common mistake.  I had naively assumed that just because it was a promotion, it must be better.

It took nearly a year to admit to myself that I was miserable, and to let go of the status and preconception I had previously associated with the position.

After taking some time to reflect, I decided to leave the job.

Although this was a very challenging chapter of my life, this event ended up being one of the best things to happen to me because it forced me to widen my perspective and reconsider what I really wanted from my work.

Since that time, I’ve spent a ton of time seeking to understand what makes people happy with their jobs.

What makes people happy at work? 

According to Gallup research that analyzed 25 million responses on the American workforce, roughly 70% of people are unhappy with their jobs.

Here are 10 ways you can increase your odds of joining the happier 30%:

Once your income is good enough, don’t keep using it as the only standard for taking jobs

Income is the most basic component of job satisfaction, and obviously an important one. Income is most important up until the point that your basic needs are met. After that, it won’t increase happiness much. But many people fall prey to constantly trying to promote or make more money even when it decreases their quality of life or doesn’t match their skills and passions. I made that mistake in my example above. Just because you can get the job, doesn’t mean you should. As author Cal Newport says, “Sometimes you have to turn down promotions to maintain control of your time.”

Find out about potential bosses before you take a job

Anyone who has had a horrible boss knows this is an enormous factor. I know plenty of people who have lost sleep, had marital arguments, gone on stress leave, or even started medication—due to major conflict with their direct boss.

A frequently cited Gallup poll of more than 1 million people said that about 75% of the time, people quit because of an issue related to their direct supervisor. Leadership expert John Maxwell says you basically have two choices if you are already working for a difficult boss—find a way to support them—or leave. Sometimes tough bosses can also reveal character lessons we need to learn, so make sure you reflect on this before jumping ship.

Meet your future team before taking a job

Nearly as bad as working with a difficult boss, is having toxic or low functioning coworkers. Jim Rohn also famously said—”You are the average of the top five people you spend the most time with.” And we spend an awful lot of time with our coworkers. A great team can take your game to the next level or put a ceiling on your professional future.

Find ways to apply your life purpose and values to your work

One famous positive psychology study of hospital janitors showed that some of them hated their jobs, while others found them deeply satisfying. The difference? Happy hospital workers constantly thought about how they could help sick patients have a clean environment during a tough time in their lives. Their life purpose was related to compassion and service to others, and they saw opportunities every day to apply this at work. People who consciously live their values are also much less likely to become anxious and depressed.

Know your strengths and how you can apply them

I know I keep repeating this, but it’s critically important. If you can’t list your strengths, its doubtful you will ever be able to apply them to your work. This leaves you vulnerable to repeatedly taking jobs for the wrong reasons. Research consistently finds that using your strengths is its own reward, and a powerful intrinsic motivator. According to Dr. Tom Stanley who spent his life researching millionaires, you are also much more likely to increase your income when you do something you love. People who love what they do will naturally persist longer and harder than those who hate what they do.

Maybe you need to change your mindset instead of changing jobs

Yale psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski found that people view their work as a job, a career, or a calling. And this can have a huge influence on how you feel about your work. Nowhere was this more clear to me than my 10 years working in the prisons. When I walked in the gate each morning, I would ask the entry officer how he was doing. Initially, I didn’t understand his response—“One thousand two-hundred and eight-three days.” He had calculated the exact number of days until his retirement and it became his standard greeting. When you tell yourself every single day that the only reason to work is your paycheck and retirement, you inflict deep misery on yourself and those around you.

Does the job take you where you want to go in the long run?

Sometimes you have to take a step back to move forward. Many wise leaders recommend that you take jobs that help you build the skills that will take you where you eventually want to go. That could mean taking a pay decrease that may result in a bigger opportunity in the long run. Our culture likes instant gratification, so this kind of thinking is not the norm.

Ask your boss to change part of the job to match your interests

I know this might sound crazy, but your boss might be able to re-design a portion of the job duties to make you happier. This is a common organizational term called job crafting. Good leaders will often do this to keep good people. Sometimes it really can be as simple as understanding that you don’t have what you need because you won’t ask! Google implemented a plan where employees can spend about 30% of their time on projects that are more personally interesting to them even if they are not directly related to their core job duties. It’s a genius retention and productivity strategy.

Stop looking for the perfect job

There is more to life than work. Maybe you need to get some of your needs met outside of your job. If you have an 80% good enough job, maybe you should focus your efforts on things that will enrich your life outside work.

Don’t be a victim, be the author of your life

In closing, if your job sucks the life out of you, it’s unlikely you will ever find enough self-care techniques to compensate for it. It can be easy to blame your boss or organization, but the fact is, you are making a choice to be where you are. Whatever your reason, working for years in a job you hate can probably take years off your life. Ask some wise friends for input if you feel stuck.

Have a great Friday!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. Authentic Happiness—Martin Seligman
  2. Google 70-20-10 plan

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Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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