Career happiness is something everybody wants—so why is it so hard to find? Lea McLeod, CEO and founder of Degrees of Transition, thinks our first problem is the questions we ask. "When you start the job search process you ask: 'What kind of job do I want? What do I want to be?' You don't say: 'What will it take for me to be really happy in a job?'"
But if you're ready to ask yourself how to kick-start your career happiness, we've uncovered 10 top secrets to on-the-job satisfaction:
If You're Staying in Your Job …
1. Build relationships. Relationships are often at the heart of happiness. "A lot of research shows that higher satisfaction is achieved when there are friendships at work," McLeod points out. In fact, many studies have found relationships are one of the only external factors that can significantly budge your happiness meter.
Cultivate relationships with co-workers you like and minimize time with those you don't. Finding a mentor or mentee can help you boost your network, energize your work, and bring more joy to your job.
2. Find purpose in your work. Too frequently, we get caught up in the day-to-day grind of our jobs and forget to look at the big picture—the "why" that motivates our work. But tapping back into the true purpose of your job can make the daily accomplishment take on more meaning. Ask yourself: How does my work improve other people's lives? What bigger purpose is my company striving to accomplish?
3. Say thank you. Gratitude has a big connection to happiness. In a 2003 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers Robert A. Emmons and Michael E. McCullough asked participants to write down up to five things they were grateful for each week for 10 weeks. By the end of the study, Emmons and McCullough reported a 25 percent happiness increase. This is just one of many studies proving gratitude and happiness go hand in hand. So whether you start keeping track of everyday wins or just thank your co-workers on a more regular basis, bolster your outlook by giving thanks.
4. Challenge yourself. Boredom is kryptonite to happiness. So challenging yourself is one way to ratchet up the joy-factor. In a recent Business Insider article, career expert Heather Huhman suggests going out on a limb to boost your attitude: "Offer to step in where you normally wouldn't have responsibilities," she recommends. "Ask your boss if you can shadow a colleague in another department to learn how various aspects of the company work."
This creates variety in your work (making it inherently more interesting) and you can score points for being a proactive employee who's ready to take on new challenges.
5. Switch off when you leave. You spend around 1/3 of your life on the job, so don't spend the other 2/3 of it thinking about work! When you leave your office, mentally switch off so you can focus on the other things in your life—like being with family, staying healthy, letting loose—that make you a happier person.
If You're Changing Careers …
6. Contribute to something larger than yourself. A popular study from the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago found career satisfaction peaks in jobs that have a direct, positive impact on other people. "The most satisfying jobs … involve caring for, teaching, and protecting others and creative pursuits," said Tom Smith, director of the survey. The take-away? When choosing a new career, consider one where you can contribute to something larger than yourself.
7. Look beyond the corporate ladder. The study also found that eight of the 10 happiest jobs in America weren't on the corporate ladder. Instead, they were gigs with perks like unusual or flexible hours (ex: psychologist, firefighter, and clergy) or high levels of independence (ex: author and artist). This data suggests that choosing work that aligns with your values—even if those values take you farther off the beaten path—is a good foundation for career satisfaction.
8. Focus on the future. Maybe you lost your job. Maybe your industry took a nose-dive. Maybe you chose a profession for the wrong reasons. During a career change, there are many reasons to be mad at the world or angry at yourself. But you can't be a victim and be happy at the same time. "Happy people don't make their lives contingent on situations," McLeod points out. To move forward, put your focus on the future.
9. It's not about the money. Fact: Your paycheck doesn't play a big role in your satisfaction. After a recent CareerBliss job satisfaction survey, the company's chief executive Heidi Golledge was quick to point out that "happiness definitely does not align with pay. Once someone's basic needs are met, the additional money on the job is a nice perk but is not what drives employee happiness." The bottom line: don't hang your happiness on a big paycheck.
10. Minimize uncertainty. Whoever said "ignorance is bliss" clearly didn't have to make a career change. During a big transition, lack of information can make you feel confused, afraid, and depressed.
To remove some of the guesswork, take time to test-drive your new career area. Information interviews, online research, job shadowing, volunteer work, internships—the more data you have, the more certain you will be about your choice and the more prepared you will be for your future. And that's a pretty happy place to be.
Tell us, how are you boosting your career happiness?
Annie Favreau is the managing editor for Inside Jobs—a site that helps career changers and choosers discover strong career options + find the right education to make it happen. Follow her on Twitter @InsideJobs.