Does career happiness seem out of reach? According to a University of Wisconsin study about happiness in midlife, career satisfaction is possible, but it depends on your definition of “happiness.”
If you’re like me, you may have grown up with the idea that career happiness is related to an ever-larger paycheck and all the things it can buy. Or maybe you thought everything would be great once you achieved that important-sounding title or corner office with a view.
There’s no disputing that these things can bring pleasure. But this type of happiness, the kind that emphasizes status and materialistic pursuits, tends to be short-lived.
Career happiness comes from doing “good work”
The study found that a much longer-lasting type of happiness results from doing work you love rather than working for the sake of short-term gains. You experience this type of happiness when your focus is on relationships, community, and work that provides a sense of meaning and purpose.
Another study, this one from the University of Chicago, found the same thing – that career satisfaction is not related to prestige or income level, but rather involves “caring for, teaching, and protecting others and creative pursuits.” The happiest workers are those who serve other people in some way, and feel like they’re contributing to something larger than themselves.
All of this fits with what I’m seeing in my own clients. More and more people are looking for “good work” – work that’s meaningful and provides them with a sense of purpose. I don’t see people in midlife looking back at all the good times they had or how much money they made. In their 40s and 50s, they begin looking back to make sense of their lives – did they live purposefully, did they make the most of the gifts they were born with?
So, based on these studies, what can you do to have career happiness?
Find what you’re good at. Identify what you really enjoy doing. You have a set of unique gifts and talents that are there to be used. If you’re like many people in midlife, you’ve grown tired of outdated definitions of success and are ready to find work that fits who you are. Your priorities have changed. You’d like your work to feel like a calling.
Create a sense of purpose about your work. Find the meaning in the work you do. As human beings, we’re wired to look for a sense of purpose. We want our lives to make sense. We’re storytellers, with the ability to create a new narrative for our lives.
If you have trouble seeing your work as purposeful, look for the meaning in the day-to-day activities that you do. In what ways does your work make other people’s lives better? What larger purpose is your work, perhaps through your employer, accomplishing?
Simply expressing your natural talents in your work can be enough to make a positive difference in the lives of others. But when you add to that an underlying sense of purpose, your work becomes much larger. As Aristotle said, “Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.”
How do you define career happiness? In what ways can you create meaning in your work? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.