Joy on the Job: How to Be Happier at Work

Even if you’re in a job that you love and have worked hard to get, there will always be stretches of time where work is difficult to enjoy. Whether it’s from feeling overworked, underappreciated, stressed, or even bored, we all deal with workplace dread from time to time. 

But how do we learn to shift our mindsets when anger, stress, annoyance, or disappointment toward our jobs become the norm? How do we stay positive through the drudgery that’s inherent in work from time to time? It’s a journey that takes time, focus, and a willingness to reframe our mindsets when the daily grind gets to be too much.

Becoming a Happier Employee 

Berkeley professors Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon Thomas explain happiness at work to be an overall sense of enjoyment in what you do, with an ability to gracefully handle setbacks, amicably connect with colleagues, and an assurance that your work matters to yourself and beyond. 

woman smiling at work

If you’re currently in a role where you’re unhappy, the above definition might feel wildly out of reach, but a study from the Mayo Clinic suggests that developing a happier attitude at work doesn’t necessarily mean every aspect of your job must feel impactful and important in order to experience happiness in what you do.

Rather, they found that if only a mere 20% of your time is spent doing more “meaningful” tasks at your job, you’re at a far lower risk for office place burnout. For most of us, there are always aspects of work that feel monotonous and frustrating, so when we meet people who genuinely love their jobs, it doesn’t mean that every part of their role is fulfilling, but rather that they’ve found a way to make the role fulfilling on their own. 

Finding a Purpose 

Part of making your job more meaningful, and thusly finding more happiness at work, is about transforming your role into one that feels more fulfilling regardless of what the task at hand might be. You can start finding a bigger purpose at work by becoming more mindful of how your assigned tasks make you feel. Certainly, there will always be work that feels more mundane, but by asserting ourselves, becoming more present in all of our tasks, and developing the ability to see the bigger picture, we can start to reframe negative feelings in the workplace. 

An article in the New York Times suggests taking a week to record all of the tasks assigned to you at work, and place them either in a “love” column or a “loathe” column. Writing down what you enjoy doing at work and what you don’t can help to reveal clues about what gets you excited, what makes you feel like you have a purpose, and ultimately what brings you more happiness on the job. Use those findings to assess the kind of conversations you should be having with your supervisor or team members during reviews.  

bartender mixing a drink

Increasing Workplace Engagement

Another way to turn your attitude around at work is to engage more with those around you. Are you the type to clock into the office, sit at your desk, put your headphones on, leave for lunch, keep quiet during meetings, and leave as soon as 5:00 hits? A disengaged demeanor on the job creates an impression that you’re simply there to get the day over with, naturally leading to a more unsatisfied attitude towards your role and the work at hand. 

While a lot of how you spend your time at work is in your own hands, your workplace environment and the level of engagement you experience on a daily basis is also partly under the jurisdiction of your office’s culture. In recent years, lots of companies encourage their employees to engage with colleagues through social outings, and growth-focused work experiences as a team. Even if heading to a company picnic on a Saturday isn’t your bag, making the time to connect with your colleagues creates a platform to be known and to be understood, which can develop stronger connections and relationships to the people around you, making a day at the office a lot more enjoyable than sitting alone with your headphones on. 

coworkers smiling and talking over coffee

On that note, venting to your colleagues can be tempting, especially if you want to feel that added connection with them, but if you feel like you and your coworkers are in a constant echo chamber of complaining to each other on the job, here’s a tip: Try hanging out with the newbies more! Recent hires at work usually bring a huge dose of positivity to the table, and chances are they’ll appreciate the welcoming gesture. 

Avoiding Burnout 

One of the quickest ways to a life of dreading the alarm clock each morning and obsessively watching the hours inch by at work at the end of the day is through burnout. Job burnout isn’t just a casual term created for those of us that have felt overworked and underappreciated, it’s a real term for a special type of work-related stress that causes a reduced sense of accomplishment or motivation on the job and a loss of personal identity. Though it’s not recognized as a diagnosable medical disorder, many doctors believe workplace burnout is often linked to other disorders like depression and anxiety. 

If you’ve ever experienced burnout (it looks a lot like being cynical or critical about your work and your role, constantly complaining on the job, experiencing a lack of energy to perform your tasks, and a lack of satisfaction even when you’ve made an accomplishment at work), then you know that burnout is often fostered when your work-life balance is out of tune. In order to avoid burnout and maintain a more positive attitude during work hours, developing a clear cut delineation between work life and personal life is crucial. 

nurses at work

Mental Health America explains that at work, you should set manageable goals to accomplish each day and break them up into smaller task if necessary so that by the end of the day, there’s a sense of completion or success to the tasks you were faced with, even if they were small or weren’t necessarily time-consuming.

In the same way, however, if you begin to feel the weight of assignments on your shoulders, don’t hesitate to ask for flexibility or give yourself time to take a 10-minute walk in the middle of the day if you need it. 

Another guaranteed way to curb exhaustion and boost your mood? Eat a healthy treat! Almonds can boost serotonin levels, cocoa is magical for lifting spirits, and protein supports neurotransmitter function in your brain, which can help with serotonin levels. FitJoy protein bars contain all of those things, and they taste like a real mid-afternoon reward when you start to slump. Keep a snack in your drawer or locker to eat at a strategic point in your day. It will give you a reason to take a break, not to mention help your focus, productivity, and energy levels. 

At home, your personal life should be your priority. If work consumes your free time —e.g. sending emails from bed, taking calls after hours, using the majority of weeknights for client dinners, then it’s easy to see how burnout and a negative attitude about work can develop over time. Make it a point to unplug from work obligations once you get home in the evenings.

Develop a routine that helps you relax and lets you connect back with yourself at the end of each day—be it washing your face, drinking a big glass of ice water on the porch, or doing some stretches—and make time for the people in your life that aren’t related to your job. 

woman reading on the couch

The Bigger Picture 

If you’ve worked to maintain a positive attitude at your job, made efforts to connect with your colleagues, aimed to develop meaning and purpose in your tasks, and you still feel completely unmotivated and negative about where you’re at, it might be time to consider making a job transition. There’s always room to make improvements, and while it’s your responsibility to make the most of what’s present in your life, you also hold space for yourself in order to recognize when a role isn’t working. If you feel you’re leaning toward the latter, perhaps it’s time to hit refresh on your current job or your relationship towards the career you’ve chosen. 

Take the time you need to decide whether your negative attitude is a result of your own inability to transform your attitude towards your job, or if making a bigger transition out of your career or removing yourself from a toxic work culture is the answer to developing a more positive perception of work! 

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Emma Trevino

Emma Trevino is a freelance writer who splits her time between Los Angeles and Wimberley, a small town situated on the Blanco River just outside of Austin. She's combined her passion for wellness and beauty with her knack for telling stories to help brands communicate their narrative in an honest way. When she's not writing, you can find her swimming in the river, growing veggies in her garden, finding tasty natural wines, and reading on her porch. 

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