How does work contribute to happiness?

Last May I was pleasantly surprised by the positive message that an impressive 89 percent of the Dutch population indicate that they frequently experience feelings of happiness. This is the conclusion of research by psychologist Ad Bergsma and the Trimbos Institute.

Just before summer, when many of us are about to leave to wonderful holiday destinations in search of happiness, I am keen to explore this further.

I wonder how work contributes to finding happiness? Yes, we work to make money, but surely there are other reasons too?  Below I discuss five factors that I  – and various experts –  believe play a role in finding happiness for your staff or yourself.

Find a goal
Working shapes our sense of finding our purpose in life. I recently watched a documentary about some of the oldest people in the world who live in Japan. One of elements that struck me was that they were all working until a very high age. One person was running a small shop and the other worked in the fields. Their working pace was not high. But working provided them with a purpose and a reason to get up for in the morning.

It is motivating and inspiring to set realistic goals for yourself and others.

Find a purpose
Do you feel your work bears purpose and meaning? It is good to be aware that we can find a sense of purpose in various roles in life. Roles such as as parenting, volunteering or supporting a dear friend can bring about an enormous sense of fulfilment. If you have trouble finding meaning in your paid work then invite yourself to look for meaning in other roles.

Questions you can ask yourself are: ‘how do others benefit from what I do?’ and ‘how can I place my work into a bigger perspective?’ A personal or professional crisis, such as a thirties dilemma, frequently bring about life purpose questions.

How does it fit with your values?
Does your job or employer fit in with your beliefs and what you find important in life? In one of my workshops I met a participant who worked at the claims department of an insurer. His manager gave him the task to try and pay out as few claims as possible. With many clients he had discussions trying to convince them to not hand in their claim. This employee found himself confronted by his own values. His job profile did not match with how he wanted to live his life.

Look at your staff members, are they still in a role that fits them? Discuss your observations with them. Check regularly whether your job and employer fit with who you are and what you stand for.

Connect with others
For many of us work forms a big part of our social life. People that experience high levels of happiness invest in maintaining their social contacts. On average we have about 2 to 3 people whom we consider to be our ‘close’ friends. But most of us have many other social relations – for instance socialising with colleagues at the coffee machine, meeting clients or talking to suppliers on the phone – which all give us the opportunity to exchange and connect.

Facilitate contacts between others. Invest in the relationships with people around you.

Become who you really are
Who are you really? Many people use techniques of meditation or yoga to connect with their inner self. If this sounds a little too spiritual for you, then take a look at the Maslow hierachy of needs model. Maslow indicates that in the top of the pyramid is our wish for self actualisation. If all our other needs have been fulfilled, such as finding safety and esteem, many of us start looking for ways to develop and reach our potential. Work can play an important role in this growth process.

How can you facilitate your staff fulfilling their potential? How can you develop yourself in such a way that work gradually starts fitting with who you are?

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