Finding Happiness at Work


How do you view your current work?

Is it a job, career or a calling?

Here’s what I remembered from the recent book that I read on The Art of Happiness at Work, written from interviews with The Dalai Lama:

  • As a job: you work just solely for the money- after all, money pays the rent and put food on the table. There’s no other purpose. You do not find joy in your work. Most of the time, going to work is a drag- you do not have much motivation and slightest thing gets to you.
  • As a career: you are working nothing more other than for advancement. You are only treating your current position as a stepping stone for something more to come. Sometimes, you may need to do things that are a bit unethical- I have seen people spreading rumours and badmouthing others.
  • As a calling: you basically work because there is a higher purpose- you answer a higher calling, and that normally involves serving others. Your work gives you that type of joy and satisfaction that you are answering to your higher calling.

For most people, it is normally a slight mixture. You may think that most menial jobs such as street sweepers or supermarket check-out clerk would only work as a job while a doctor will treat what they are doing as a calling.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The author, Dr Howard Cutler, a trained psychoanalysts mentioned in the book about a huge study conducted on job satisfaction found that people who treat their work as jobs, careers or calling are equally spread out across all job spectrum. The author also relayed 2 life experiences that he had:

First job at a factory assembly line

When he was studying, he took a holiday job in a juice packing factory. Everyone literally worked in an assembly line. On his first day, he was paired with a man who had a very sour face. Instead of uttering the normal niceties such as ‘how are you’ or ‘what’s your name’, the man only said one sentence: “this job sucks”. And the man worked slowly, causing the author having to do more work. Needless to say, the author hated the job, felt bullied and when he looked around and see people so demotivated, he wanted to quit that day itself. He can’t wait for the day to be over.

Then, on the second day, an older man took over the shift. The old man was so different- he was so jovial and cheerful. The man make it a point to find out what is happening in the lives of those around him. He even went to the extend of finding out where the juice are being shipped to, so you can hear him commenting things like, “Al, be careful with that box of juice would ya? It is going straight to the kids from Nebraska”. He seemed to enjoy his work and he gave the job a whole new meaning.

Supermarket checkout girl

The author used to shop for grocery at a local neighbourhood supermarket. There’s this checkout girl (forgot the name) who is sour as a lemon. She never smiles, hardly look at the customers- all she does is check in the items. She seemed a bit annoyed when customers ask questions or search around for that loose change.

Then, there is another middle aged lady who is ever so friendly. She smiles at all her customers, ask them how are their day. She even remember what the customers previously had brought and tell the customers things like “oh, you prefer this brand now? I have not tried it and I think I should try the brand sometime”. One day the author brought a lot of things and a young boy who works there helped him load the items in the grocery cart to his car. The boy commented that when this cheerful cashier is on duty, even the manager’s mood is better.

Therefore you see, it’s not about just working for money. You spent the best hours of your day working. If you find purpose and are happy doing your work, the hours pass by easier and you lead a happier personal life. Most often, a person’s unhappiness at job will spill over and affect his/her personal life. Of course, the opposite is also true.

Think of the contribution that your current work has on the organisation or the people around you. See how much it helps your customers and how your work add value.

Still not happy at work?

Try to figure out why-

  • is it due to the way you handle stress?
  • Is it an over perfectionist or a careless attitude that needs to be changed?
  • Cannot get along with a co-worker or boss? As we go alone and work longer, we will start to encounter people that we absolutely cannot get along with. It’s good to learn to manage yourself in this situation. Remember, it’s difficult to change others- but it’s possible to change our attitude.
  • Are you given too much to do, more than you can handle or the wages are too low- if that is so, perhaps you need to find a way to bring this up to your boss
  • Or maybe your wages are too good- so good that are you are reluctant to leave a job that you hate because it pays so well. If your job clashes with your personal values and beliefs, then it may be time to reconsider. After all, money is not everything and your peace of mind is worth a lot- it’s your life, after all and no point living most of it being unhappy.

So now, what’s next?

Consider if you are unhappy due to your attitude and the way you view things. We should constantly re-examine our philosophies and attitudes because if it is due a pessimistic outlook, we will face the same problem again and again. And we will wonder why we are so unhappy.

But if after close examination, you realise that there is something else that you would like to do, then, built a good exit strategy. Don’t jump straight to it without proper planning especially if you do not yet have the experience or qualifications. What you can do:

  • take classes/ long distance correspondence courses. Do your research well, especially on long distance course as some may be hoax.
  • or if there is no classes for it, then buy books. Borders tend to carry lots of hard to find titles. Google about it and try to search at YouTube. YouTube helps you to learn both visually and with audio.
  • help out someone in that field, even though for free or a low wage- just to get a feel of it.
  • talk/email to someone who is in the field and ask for advise.
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