Outside the Box: How to be happy at work

United States

Work and happiness don’t always go hand in hand.

Given the need for many of us to work beyond what was once dubbed “retirement” age to help sustain future financial security, and stay mentally and physically sharp, I say let’s have at it.

Finding joy in your job can be integral to making it a win for both you and your employer. To help you do that, my go-to career coach Beverly Jones of Clearways Consulting has a fine new book, Find Your Happy at Work: 50 Ways to Get Unstuck, Move Past Boredom, and Discover Fulfillment

This playbook is for anybody who has found themselves trapped in a job — jaded, anxious, or feeling devalued.

I spoke with Jones to hear more about her insights and advice on how people can, well, find their happy at work. In the spirit of full-disclosure, I also interviewed Jones on camera for her book trailer.

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

Kerry Hannon: How can learning new things make us happy on the job?

Bev Jones: ‘Engage in continuous learning’ is classic advice for anyone who wants to enjoy meaningful work at retirement age and beyond.

Expanding your expertise not only is key to remaining relevant in your current job, but also will help you attract other interesting opportunities. You can multiply your career options by acquiring in-demand skills, perhaps through low-cost online courses. 

Becoming a learner also promotes resilience. When things aren’t going well, being in learning mode helps you to see the big picture, step back to assess the situation, and quickly spot next steps. And, because learning is enjoyable, it helps you be more optimistic and at your creative best.

I encourage my clients to keep a ‘learning list’ of challenging topics and to find activities that will help them grow. This might be as simple as setting aside time for reading. But the rewards are greater when you stretch yourself, perhaps by volunteering to complete an unfamiliar task or offering to speak about a subject you haven’t mastered. 

Learning can be an easy habit to build because it is inherently fun. Developing a new understanding about something makes you feel good, at the same time it can make you more interesting to other people.

What role does a positive attitude play?

There is a clear link between a positive attitude and career success. When you get bogged down in cynicism and negativity, your brain sticks in patterns that set you up for failure. But research says if you maintain a positive mind-set, staying hopeful in even rough times, you are more likely to enjoy your work and succeed in your career. You’re more creative.

A positive attitude is particularly important for older professionals. Ageism can lead to assumptions that workers of a certain age are more likely to be grouchy, fearful or resistant to change. An energetic and upbeat attitude can help you quickly move past the unfair stereotypes.

If, like me, you were born a worried pessimist, it is important to understand that optimism is something you can cultivate. A key to becoming happier in your work is to choose positivity and discover which of many tactics will help you to reframe your negative view of life.

As a starting point, in my book I suggest that your ‘career’ activity should include taking steps to promote your well-being. That means nurturing your physical, emotional, and spiritual self, and at the same time taking care of your brain and your state of mind. Exercise, deep breathing, taking breaks, enjoying nature, connecting with other people, and managing the voice inside your head are a few of the ways you can promote health and happiness.

You say to be happy at work you need to broaden your network. How so?

When I work with clients seeking a change in their work, one of the first things I ask about is the state of their network. That’s because a wide network can support your happiness and career success and is the foundation of any job search or other transition. I’ve seen many people find surprising opportunities after pushing themselves to step beyond their normal social circles.

When I talk about ‘networking’ I mean building a diverse collection of relationships for the purpose of sharing information, services, and support. Human beings are inherently social and have evolved to collect information and benefit from social relationships of many kinds, from close friendships to casual communities.

A network with plenty of variety delivers more kinds of possibilities. It helps you expand your perspective, stay in touch with developing trends and speak with deeper insight about the future. It puts you in the flow of discussion about things like consumer preferences, market changes, and technical innovations.

Connected people also are more likely to thrive in their work. They tend to have more confidence and self-esteem, and they experience lower levels of anxiety and depression. And older professionals with friends of all ages more easily escape the stereotype of being bogged down in the past.

Kerry Hannon is an expert and strategist on work and jobs, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home, Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneurs Guide To Starting a Business Mid-Life, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, and Money Confidence. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon