4. The So-Called Happiness Boost: A New Job
Why you think it will make you happier: You swear that your current gig is single-handedly the thing bringing you down, and you dream of telling your boss to “take this job and shove it.” Then, or so the fantasy goes, you’d never have to deal with the horrible commute again. You’d never waste another minute in another pointless meeting. You’d get a shiny new job and it would be everything that your old job wasn’t, with the “new is always better” rule in full effect.
Why it doesn’t always work: This one is tough: Maybe you are over your job. Maybe it is time to move on—and here are the seven telltale signs you might need to. But there are also plenty of times that it’s not necessarily the gig itself, but your attitude toward it that’s holding you back. Before you throw in the towel, try this happiness-boosting trick: “We can train our brains to be grateful and appreciative of the environment that we’re in, and to find ways to improve it,” says Gielan.
Her prescription: Every morning for the next 21 days, write down three benefits from your job. It could be something like what the salary affords you (your gorgeous home) or someone it allows you to connect with (the friendly barista who makes your latte each morning). This exercise, she says, “makes our brains focus on the positive instead of going to the problems and complaints.”
5. The So-Called Happiness Boost: “More Meaningful” Work
Why you think it will make you happier: “As human beings, we want to feel a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives,” says Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., author of “A Happy You.” That’s why people fantasize about ditching their corporate jobs to volunteer overseas or teach in a struggling classroom. We dream of curing cancer or climbing mountains, and think, without that, our work lacks import.
Why it doesn’t always work: When Dan Ariely, a leader in the field of behavioral economics, conducted a study to explore what makes people find meaning in their work, the outcome truly surprised him. In one experiment, he asked subjects to build sculptures out of Legos for $3 apiece. Then, he gradually lowered the price he would pay them for making the same creations. Surprisingly, his participants kept on toiling as the price they were paid got steadily lower.
Then Ariely introduced a game-changer: He offered the participants the same $3 per Lego creation, but he and his team dismantled what his subjects had created before asking the participant to build the next. The rub? When they saw that no one would ever see what they’d built, the participants became depressed, and, even for the same payment, created fewer sculptures. The meaning you can extract, says Ariely, in this TED presentation, is simple: It doesn’t matter what you’re doing—whether washing a floor, designing a car or isolating a gene, what gives us a sense of purpose and keeps us motivated at work is receiving recognition of our efforts. If your job doesn’t give you that, then it may be time to strike out … or at least look for a new manager.
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