5 Simple Ways to Find Happiness at Work (Even if You Don’t Love Your Job)

As always with a new year, we hear endless choruses of “New Year, New You.”

The place I always find it most challenging to bring a refresh to is my job. Even if you love your work, you’re probably feeling that mid-winter burnout. It’s dark when you leave for work and dark when you get home. It’s cold. You’re stuck inside a lot. I don’t know about you, but that makes me a bit cranky about the whole thing.

The average full-time employed American spends approximately 40 hours at work per week. In terms of waking hours, that’s about 35% of most people’s time spent at work, not including commuting, getting ready, etc.

The number of people I’ve met who are unhappy with their jobs, or complain about work, far outnumbers those who tell me how much joy their work brings them.

How can we continue to spend such a large part of our time doing something that makes us so unhappy?

In the fall of 2015, I left my public relations job in Chicago and moved to a tiny retreat center in Northern California. I was seeking respite from that 40+ hour week corporate life.

However, it turned out that not only was I once again in a marketing position at Ratna Ling Retreat Center, but we were expected to work from 8am to 6pm Monday-Saturday. You see, Ratna Ling is grounded in Buddist teachings, and was as much a place for spiritual learning as it was a job.

One of the core teachings of this community is the idea that work is a daily opportunity for improving awareness and increasing satisfaction in life. Work is a teacher, a means of self-discovery.

As I explored and volunteered at different communities around the world, I found that work, purposeful work, was a common theme across all of them.

Ask yourself:

  • Even if you don’t love your job, can it still support your emotional and spiritual growth in terms of mindfulness and awareness?

  • Can you find a way to use your work to find purpose and happiness in your life?

For most of us, work in one form or another will always be part of our lives. The key is figuring out how you can find happiness at work and let your work benefit YOU, even when the going gets tough.

Every moment in life is an opportunity for learning; every experience enriches our lives. We are the directors of a magnificent play, and it is up to us to see that every moment of our lives is enacted with the uplifting quality of true inspiration. Work, which makes up a large part of our daily experience, is an opportunity to actively develop and perfect the universal qualities in ourselves that make life rich and meaningful. 

— Tarthang Tulku – Skillful Means

To find happiness at work and for it to benefit us, we need to shift our point of view of work.

From something that we MUST do to survive, to something that, when we participate in it fully and mindfully, can reenergize us, deepen our awareness of self and others, and support us in reaching our bigger life goals.

Work as a partner, not as the enemy. 

Finding Happiness at work

There are a few ways you can begin to shift your approach to work, incorporating mindfulness and other techniques that not only make work more enjoyable, but also increase productivity, allowing your work to truly benefit you. 

1. Set clear goals for each day.

Set aside 5-10 minutes when you first sit down in the morning, or before you head home in the evening, and outline the 3-5 tasks you’ll focus on during the workday. These should be accomplishable to-dos — if items on the list are going to take many steps, break them down into specific, manageable tasks.

And while there may be several items on your list, take time to identify the one that is most important. The one that is causing you the most stress. Successful entrepreneur and author Tim Ferriss talks about this in his productivity tips, asking: “If this were the only thing I accomplished today, would I be satisfied with my day?”

Mindful Work To Do List

Photo by Gleen Carsten-Peters

It’s good to have longer-term goals, but breaking them down into simpler steps makes them feel less overwhelming. Setting smaller, clear goals also helps you stay present in the moment. You know what needs to be done that day, or that morning, in order to reach the larger goals you’re trying to achieve.

Try to work on each task until completion, keeping your mind focused on the activity at hand, even when it is part of a much bigger picture.

This way of working dispels the sense that there is too much to do and never enough time in which to do it.

— Tarthang Tulku – Skillful Means

2. Stop multitasking

In author Tom Rath’s international best-seller Are You Fully Charged?, he says people unlock their cell phones an average of 110 times per day, and that workers sitting in front of a computer screen are interrupted at least every 3 minutes, forfeiting 28% of each day to distraction.

We love to think we can handle doing a lot at once, and may even take pride in it, but research shows that multitasking actually makes us less productive. Our brains just aren’t wired to work best that way.

So turn off your email pop-up notifications. Put your cell phone away. Close all of those open tabs on your computer browser (I recently started using the browser extension OneTab, which condenses all of your tabs into one, decreasing distraction and improving your browsing speed). Find an empty conference room to hide out in.

Give your full, undivided attention and time to one task.

Try dividing your day into sections, devoting a specific amount of time to one particular thing, and let it be your number one priority during that timeframe. Explore how much more productive you can be when you are focused, how much more present you are with your work.

When we focus on one thing at a time we are energized by our work because:

  1. We often complete the task more quickly, thus feeling satisfaction from finishing something.
  2. Our energy is directed more efficiently, reducing fatigue caused by doing too much at once.

Happiness reminders, right at your desk!

Download a printable with these simple tips to post at your desk & start getting more joy out of your job today.

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3. Take a breath…or a few

While I was in Morocco last spring, a call to worship would ring out five times each day from the local mosques. A booming voice raining over the city reminding people to pray. While this was a bit off-putting at first, far outside my cultural norms, I came to realize how incredible it is that people stop and pause multiple times per day.

Happiness at Work in Morocco

As someone who does not identify as part of any particular religion, I see prayer very much like meditation. It’s a time where we stop thinking about everything else going on in our lives and let our minds become quiet. We can take a moment to reflect on something bigger than ourselves.

You can bring this mindfulness into your work life, and get a little recharge, by taking just a few minutes every couple of hours during the day to close your eyes, take a breath, clear your mind and come back to the present. Give gratitude for what you have. Really be where you are.

So find a quiet space (a bathroom stall works just fine) and allow yourself to sit, breathe, let go.

4. Practice mindful speech.

How often do you find yourself lingering at a coworker’s desk finding anything to talk about just to avoid going back to work? How often do we say things out loud just to say them, without really thinking?

What if you went a full day only saying things that really needed to be said? Things that were necessary to communicate about your work.

If a full day seems like a lot to start, try an hour.

Before you say something, text someone, or send that instant message, stop for a moment and ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Are you just filling space? Are you avoiding something (**your own work**cough cough**)?

What if you directed that energy into your work rather than into unnecessary communication? When we focus our energy, and use it wisely, we’re less likely to feel depleted. And, especially when we avoid complaining, we stay focused on completing the task at hand, as well as maintain a better attitude.

Which brings me to the next point.

5. Adjust your attitude.

How to find happiness at work

While this can be easier said than done, shifting your internal attitude toward your work has a huge impact on your life. Instead of waking up and immediately thinking about how dreadful it is that you have to go to your job, try changing thinking about something positive instead.

Maybe the sun is shining, your partner is lying next to you, there’s a big fat orange cat ready to cuddle, you’re about to eat some really delicious avocado toast for breakfast. ((Obviously, these are personal for everyone. What does it for me may not do it for you, but you get the idea)).

Find one thing to be grateful for when you first wake up and let that set the tone for your day.

Bring that positive energy to work with you. If you made your to-do list the night before, think of that one task you know you’re going to accomplish and how good it will feel to do so. 

Imagine yourself smiling at your desk, learning something new, recognizing that you’re contributing to something larger than yourself.

It’s not necessarily an easy task to adjust our perspective on our work. However, when we start incorporating these small things into our daily lives, we notice work begins to become more tolerable. And over time, we see an increase in energy, and in joy. We begin to find happiness at work because we are making the choice to shift our view.

This post is just a taste of the teachings I studied while living and working at Ratna Ling. If you’re interested in learning more about finding happiness at work, check out the book Skillful Means, which provides exercises and guidance on truly making your work support you.

What are some things you do to find joy at your job?

Happiness reminders, right at your desk!

Download a printable with these simple tips to post at your desk & start getting more joy out of your job today.

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Comments

  • Arielle

    January 15, 2018 at 1:52 PM
    Reply

    Fantastic blog post. Love the simple reminders on how to be less stressed at work. The statistics on how often we check our phones is […] Read MoreFantastic blog post. Love the simple reminders on how to be less stressed at work. The statistics on how often we check our phones is staggering yet I can see the truth in it. Arielle Joy - www.livinglifewithjoy.com Read Less

    • Rose
      to Arielle

      January 15, 2018 at 4:28 PM
      Reply

      Thanks Arielle! I know, I thought that phone statistic was crazy too. A good thing to keep in mind as we reach for ours all […] Read MoreThanks Arielle! I know, I thought that phone statistic was crazy too. A good thing to keep in mind as we reach for ours all day! :) Read Less

  • Kalyani

    January 15, 2018 at 1:34 PM
    Reply

    What a great read! You're right about your job being hard to bring newness into - as it stays pretty consistent. Though it really is […] Read MoreWhat a great read! You're right about your job being hard to bring newness into - as it stays pretty consistent. Though it really is all about choosing your attitude and making small adjustments in our lives to set the scene for the bigger picture. I agree about stop multitasking! I get such a headache and actually feel like I've slowed myself down when I try to take on more than one project at once. I know a lot of people that say multitasking is the way to go. However, I think dividing your day into small sets of goals makes it more achievable, plus when you break it down and cross more off your list - it really makes you feel good :D Thanks for sharing this! Read Less

  • Sandrine Ferwerda Coosemans

    January 12, 2018 at 12:36 PM
    Reply

    This is a refreshing outlook on things! I'm not stuck in a 9-to-5 (I work for myself) and love my work (a bit too much, […] Read MoreThis is a refreshing outlook on things! I'm not stuck in a 9-to-5 (I work for myself) and love my work (a bit too much, at times) - but I could have used advice like this one when I was still in the treadmill :-) Thank you for sharing! Read Less

  • anne -onedeterminedlife

    January 11, 2018 at 3:53 PM
    Reply

    I love these tips. I know so many people who complain about their jobs. When we were living paycheque to paycheque I wanted to tell […] Read MoreI love these tips. I know so many people who complain about their jobs. When we were living paycheque to paycheque I wanted to tell those people: your job may not be great but be thankful for it and what you can do with the money you make. An attitude change helps so much! Read Less

  • Nicole | The Professional Mom Project

    January 10, 2018 at 2:52 PM
    Reply

    Thank you for your positive attitude! It can be a challenge to see the good things about a situation when you're deep in the middle […] Read MoreThank you for your positive attitude! It can be a challenge to see the good things about a situation when you're deep in the middle of it. Especially if you aren't happy. Read Less

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About Me
Hi, I’m Rose! An ex-corporate girl-turned yoga teacher on a journey to find greater purpose in life. I love mindfulness, community, and travel, and I’m always looking for the next adventure. I’m here to help you live your best life by offering resources for intentional living, community building and sustainability.
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