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


happy work“If only …”

If only you had a bigger salary, a nicer boss, a more flexible schedule.

Then you’d love your job! In fact, you’d practically bounce into the office on Monday morning and have to drag yourself away from your desk on Friday night.

Or so you might think.

But if you’re convinced that a few minor tweaks would turn your ho-hum nine-to-five into your dream job, recent research shows, you very well might be mistaken. Here, we show you five common things we all believe would make our professional lives infinitely better, but that simply may not deliver the boost we expect. Plus, what positive psychologists and behavioral economists have found really will make you feel more positive about your work.

1. The So-Called Happiness Boost: A Shorter Workweek

Why you think it will make you happier: Who doesn’t think that the solution to workplace happiness is working fewer hours? In recent research that LearnVest did, a full two-thirds of respondents said they’d prefer a four-day workweek. Spending less time at work means having more time to devote to the activities that really make you happy. You can hang out more with your family and friends, participate in your hobbies, get more exercise and blessed sleep—or so you believe.

RELATED: Does Flex Time Stifle Women?

Why it doesn’t always work: It turns out people aren’t very good at using their newly freed-up time on happiness-boosting activities. A recent study in the Journal of Happiness Science reported on an experiment that occurred when South Korea reduced its workweek from 44 hours per week to 40 hours a week. And employees could only work five days instead of six. (We know, we know.) The result: Worker hours decreased by about 10 percent, but self-reported job satisfaction and life satisfaction didn’t budge. Translation: A happier worker isn’t always the one who works fewer hours in a week.

2. The So-Called Happiness Boost: More Vacation Time

Why you think it will make you happier: You already cherish your time off, so having more of it seems like just what the doctor ordered. Maybe that way you could replace a few desk-bound days with the ski trip or yoga retreat you can never find time to take. In fact, maybe an extra week would put an end to “vacation math”—trying to figure out how you’re going to squeeze in all the trips you want to take with the days you have left—altogether!

  • 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”.