Happy Human, Rockstar Career: The Science Behind Happiness at Work


5 min read

We spend a third of our waking hours at work.

In fact, some of us spend more time with our workmates than we do with our own families and friends.

If you do the maths, it amounts to a staggering 90,000 hours at work over our lifetime.

So, if we don’t feel happy at work, there’s something seriously wrong.

But what does happiness at work really mean, and how can you take steps to enjoy more of it?

Let’s dive in:

What is happiness at work?

The concept of happiness at work isn’t complicated.

As founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo inc (and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work), Alexander Kjerulf explains in Happiness At Work, it’s when you like what you do, you feel like you contribute, you like people you work with, and when you go home, you feel like coming in again the next day.

According to an eminent happiness researcher (yes, they exist!), Lord Richard Layard, being happy at work comes down to the same things that make people happy in everyday life: a sense of belonging, social connections, and a purpose or meaning.

The Danish even have a word for it: Arbedjsglæde.

It’s the sense of happiness you get when you feel good about the work you do.

Before we move on, it’s important to note – happiness at work is not the same as job satisfaction.

Job satisfaction is how you think about your job, not how you feel about your job.

How much does happiness at work really matter?

Everyone can and should have happiness at work.

Here’s why:

1)    Time

From when you are born to when you die, you spend more time at work than on anything else, except sleep.

When you spend that much time doing anything, it should be something that makes you happy. Even if you can’t be happy every single day, you should be happy most days.

2)    Life

There’s a huge connection between happiness at work and happiness in life.

According to positive psychology (AKA the science of happiness), the secret to a good life is:

o   A good romantic relationship

o   A few close friends who love you for who you are

o   A good and meaningful job (having a job you like that’s meaningful to you)

o   Success.

If you’re happy, you’re better at what you do and you’re more successful. That means chasing happiness has more chance of making you successful, than if you chase success to find happiness.

Because if you’re happy at work, you are more likely to be creative, productive, engaged, and even likely to earn more.

3)    Health

Being happy at work is great for your mental and physical health.

There’s evidence that happiness can have beneficial effects on the cardiovascular and immune systems, influence hormones and inflammation levels, and speed up wound healing.

On the flip side, being unhappy at work is linked with an increased risk of depression, cardiovascular problems, and other physical health problems, research shows.

There’s a ripple effect of happiness, too. Your happiness has an impact on your social network (in real life, not on social media) and even people up to three degrees of separation. That means your happiness has an impact on people you’ve never seen or met.

How to supercharge your happiness at work

  • Help someone

Have you ever noticed how good you feel after helping someone? When we help someone else, it’s not just good for them but good for us. It activates the rewards centre in our brains, which makes us happier. And when we’re happier, we help other people more – it’s one big cycle of helping and happiness.

Studies also show that being kind makes us feel less stressed, isolated, and angry.

Instead, it helps us feel more connected with the world.

In a famous study, students were asked to do five random acts of kindness each week for six weeks. At the end, they showed a 42% increase in happiness.

The best part is, helping people is easy – start doing simple acts of kindness without being asked and offer support to workmates when they need it.

  • Start every day on a happy note

How you feel in the morning affects how you feel at work for the rest of the day.

Do something you love in the morning before work, or even when you get to work.

That could be something as simple as getting a coffee from your favourite cafe, walking your dog, or getting dressed in something that makes you feel good.

In the famous commencement address the late Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005, he shared how he always started the day:

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

  • Find your strengths and use them

Positive psychologists have found that some of the happiest people on the planet are those who have discovered their unique strengths and used them. Research shows that people who deliberately exercised their signature strengths daily became significantly happier for months.

Your strengths are the unique combination of your character (personality traits) and talents (abilities). In short, they’re the things you’re good at without even trying.

Focusing on our strengths* can help us grow faster than when we focus on our weaknesses. Gallup, a global analytics company, found that people who use their strengths are up to six times more engaged in what they are doing and at least 10% more productive.

That’s huge.

When you’re using your strengths, it’s easier to find a sense of ‘flow’. You might recognise the feeling as when you get into the zone and everything just seems to just flow.

  • Stop comparing

Studies show that people who regularly compare themselves to others are more likely to experience envy, guilt, regret, and defensiveness, and be less satisfied with their jobs.

One way to combat this is to focus on your best traits and find a new way to use them every day for a week.

A final word of advice: choose a job that will make you happy

If you’re looking for a job, pick the one that will make you happy, not the one with the highest salary. It sounds obvious, but aim to find a job you will actually enjoy and will bring meaning to your life. After all, you’re spending a third of your waking life there.

*Want to discover your personal strengths and start putting them to use? Download Hodie, FREE, to find out.