Two and a half years ago I posted the article “6 Ways to Be Happy at a Job You Don’t Like.” Today it belatedly occurred to me that it could be helpful to talk about what makes a job truly fulfilling–that is, instead of talking about making a better situation out of a job that doesn’t feel like a good fit, addressing how a job can provide the greatest amount of satisfaction and enjoyment. I know of five things that can make key differences here.
This may be self-evident, but given that self-reliance and contributing positively to a group are basic to self-confidence and happiness, competence in a job seems to be a near-essential part of the job being satisfying. Fortunately skill and mastery can usually be developed through deliberate practice, so that almost any jobs we’re enthusiastic about can in time become jobs we’re great at. The exceptions are jobs that require some kind of innate attribute, like tallness or very good hearing.
Meaning contributes to happiness and fulfillment by creating a feeling of being involved in something positive and larger than the individual. If I could do the exact same kind of work in two jobs, but in one I would be part of an organization that didn’t do anything I cared about and in the other was helping make the world a better place (by my definition), I’m very likely to be happier with the second job. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see how some jobs contribute to the world, especially when the worker is a functionary in a much larger system designed only to yield profit. This doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time to quit your corporate job and go live on peanuts working for your favorite non-profit. On the other hand, if you’re profoundly dissatisfied with your job, that might be exactly what it means.
I’ve talked in a number of posts about psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow, a state in which a person is both highly productive and absolutely attentive to the work at hand. This kind of engagement–or even its milder relations–can make a profound difference in job satisfaction, because engaging in challenging work and doing well at it yields pleasure and satisfaction. Thus one way to enjoy work more is to find a way to minimize or cluster distractions and interruptions in order to be able to work with exceptional focus and involvement.
It’s possible for us to enjoy jobs almost regardless of other considerations if we really like our coworkers. Of course, the reverse is also true: a coworker who inspires hate or fear can single-handedly wreck any enjoyment we may get from a job. Fortunately, finding meaningful and engaging work often lands us with like-minded people who will appreciate our priorities, opinions, and personalities.
Surroundings can drag a job down or boost it high up. A workplace that feels peaceful, attractive, comfortable, and encouraging creates reasons to want to show up every morning, while a depressing, unpleasant, cramped, uncomfortable, or distasteful workplace creates reasons to call in sick.
It’s difficult–sometimes impossible–to find or create a job that hits the mark on all five of these points, but many jobs can be improved in at least one respect, and taking stock of all five may, I hope, provide some insights on how well your job–present or potential–measures up.
Photo by mangostani