5 Things You Think Will Make You Happier at Work (But Really Won’t)


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.

RELATED: 6 Subtle Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Job Hunt

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.

RELATED: How I Started My Dream Career After 40

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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  • Anon101

    Actually, the new job made me so much happier. I had a boss from hell. I don’t even care that my commute time nearly tripled with the new job. I finally have a meaningful job (again), receive job recognition, and got a promotion within 6 months of my start date. Perhaps a new job, more money, job promotion, and meaningful work do not make everyone happy. But I am so much happier. :-D

  • Vern

    Love the article. It raises many points to consider. Attitude from within and ability and willingness to change that without reference to the past, the future or comparing yourself to others is important I think. Great source for further thought.

  • centre21

    Has anyone else noticed the proliferation of articles on sites like LearnVest and career-focused sites on LinkedIn telling you how success won’t make you happy?

    It’s an ongoing trend, and while they provide “evidence” to support these allegations, the reality is that it’s simply a bunch of horsepucky.

    The fact is that since the Economic Downturn, there’s been a deluge of articles basically telling us that we should just be happy with what we have and learn to live with less. The Conspiracy Theorist in me believes that this is a well-organized plot to prepare us for the inevitable conversion to Socialism (or worse, Communism). The rational side of me, naturally, thinks this is ridiculous, but is still wary.
    Either way, articles like this are completely asinine. We should all be looking to improve our lives in every way possible. The way to true happiness is the completion of a series of small goals, leading to bigger and better things. Our whole lives we have been doing this and it’s those people who don’t realize it are the ones who are unhappy.

  • Carol Justice

    What corporate wonk wrote this crap?! Seriously I’d kill for 4-10s. I used to work 5-9′s, but lost it when moved to another Bureau that refused to honor it – I lost a full day of fun with my Sweetheart. Frankly I’m still bitter and unhappy over it! I earn pretty good vacation time – 12.5 hours per month, but I’d love more time off to rejuvenate/recharge. A significant pay raise would enrich my life – for cryin’ out loud my wages have been stagnant for years in this economy of “only the rich prosper.” If I could only keep up with all the rising expenses (gas, utilities, groceries, etc) I’d be a lot less stressed (and therefore much happier). Since July 1, 2013 and for the first time in my adult working career I find myself with no meaning to my work. Now mind you this was by no fault of mine (budget cuts forced me to utilize my Union rights of seniority to bump into a job I did not apply for). Meaningful work is critical – I find in this job there is nothing to get passionate about, nothing redeeming – nothing that makes a difference. It sucks! This article is complete malarkey!

  • tygerlilyjp

    I used to work 4 10 hour days instead of 5 eight hour days. I was so much happier with having the extra day off per week. I had time to get the important things done and have some fun.

  • Jeremy

    this is pretty ridiculous “research”.