Joy and work: The secret to a longer life?

Can you find joy on the job?

If you enjoy laughing while learning, check out The Happy Secret to Better Work[1] on YouTube.  Shawn Anchor uses humor and impressive scientific data to tell us what we all probably know on an instinctual level: people perform better and live longer when happy.

Sure, we all want to live a happier and longer life. Are you happy at your job, comfortable with the routine, or do you find it a chore to even think about the drudgery of your work? It does not matter if you are the boss or the ‘go-fer” — if you have to travel an hour in heavy traffic or if it takes a two minute walk in your slippers to get to your home office—you know that if you don’t want to be there, you won’t put in that extra effort and you won’t get the satisfaction of a “job well done.”

What Can You Do Differently?

So how can you find joy in your work? As an Executive Coach I can share insight my clients have found useful. Perhaps by considering their discoveries, along with cautions evident in these Five Top Regrets of the Dying by Bonnie Ware[2], you may find an option or two that will align with your career goals.

Regret #1: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

Option: Exhibit a Healthy Selfishness

As defined by author Susan Scott in Fierce Conversation[3], the term healthy selfishness is the need to be authentic.  Exploring the “need” vs. a “want” to be authentic gives us a clearer understanding of why Scott uses the term “selfishness” when we strive to achieve what we most desire. 

Author Kerry Patterson in Creating Joy at Work[4] expands on the extensive variety of reactions and emotions we experience during a typical work day:It’s important that we acknowledge the fact that a workplace can be a cornucopia of positive emotions

 “Stress shouldn’t be the norm. Anger, depression, boredom, disgust, fear, and other negative emotions shouldn’t be shrugged off with, “Hey, it’s work. Nobody said it was supposed to be fun. Work is too time-consuming and life-absorbing not to provide us with lots of positive emotions. Anything less would be a tragedy.”

We often create our own tragedies by selecting a career that seems safe. Seeking to limit risk may actually bring about greater stress, especially when we try to avoid mistakes at any cost. No one can only make ‘right’ decisions: change and unexpected events happen. An attempt to protect ourselves when mistakes occur, often results in defensive and blaming behaviors that end in loss of both self-respect and the trust of colleagues.

 It may take time, but when a coaching client recognizes the inevitability and value of mistakes, we are both rewarded. The moment we selfishly ponder what we gained from the event, we experience a renewed sense of enthusiasm to test ourselves and our limits, to look past the immediate emotion of failure, to see and use the learning experience that has been presented.

Regret #2: I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

Option: Find the Joy

More companies are coming to recognize that the people they want to hire are selective and seek work in a stimulating, supportive, and pleasant environment. For example, Menlo Innovations proudly announced via Richard Sheridan in Joy, Inc[5] that they have:

 “changed everything about how our company is run, and have brought that joy into the lives of our clients and their end users.” Last year, more than 2,000 people came from around the world to visit their site, “not to learn about technology, but to witness a radically different approach to workplace culture — one intentionally designed to produce joy.”

Of course, if what you want cannot be found by a conventional job, you may choose to find activities outside of work that satisfy our creative needs and future goals. It is not uncommon to find someone “working on the assembly-line as the “perfect” unfulfilling job…in exchange for a paycheck. The moment you stop thinking you need to find fulfillment from your day job, you are going to be at least somewhat happier” explains Paul Brown in a recent Forbes article, “Why Work Doesn’t Have to be Fulfilling”[6]:

 “No, nothing about the job will have changed, but your attitude about it will. You will no longer expect that your day job to provide you with fulfillment. That’s a small step in the right direction. It’s totally within your reach and it costs you nothing;[7]

…enabling you to explore personally rewarding ambitions or prepare to enter a new field.

Regret #3: I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Option: Laugh out Loud

Recently one executive I admire stated that he wished he had been granted the freedom to laugh and be vulnerable early in his career, convinced that he would have achieved more and enjoyed the years invested. From an early age, this talented individual had been taught that work is work and play is play: when at work you are serious, when at play you can relax.

As a result, when at work he rarely joined others for lunch or a group event, avoided typical office banter, and did everything possible to keep his home life private. Following our coaching engagement and his release from formerly binding actions, the crease between his eyes became less apparent; he received compliments from others noting he seemed taller; and colleagues remarked that it was wonderful to finally hear him laugh.

Regret #4: I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Option: “Love the One You’re With”

Steven Stills’ song from the 1970’s “Love the One You’re With” may remind us to appreciate those we see daily without minimizing the importance of maintaining our history and building on shared life experiences.

So how do you work friendships and relationships into your busy day? Perhaps there is a clue in Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman[8], a “user-friendly book in psychology for the educated layperson.” The reader is offered only one equation with representing your goal to achieve an enduring level of Happiness: H = S + C + V. Consider as your Set range and to represent the Circumstances of your life. The key to understanding the formula is to accept as the most important Variable representing factors under your control. It is a reminder that you control how you spend your time and how you view the events in your life.

Regret #5: I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Option: Commit to Balance

Recently a senior executive was asked by the company CEO to describe the outcome of our coaching engagement. His response: “finding balance.” The executive was not only referring to work/life balance as he attempted to put into words what he gained from the time he invested. After much consideration he thoughtfully explained that he found courage once again;

 “the courage of youth now tempered with experience.”

He wanted to be vulnerable; to put himself “out there.” He was proud of his success and ready to share what he had learned; to be a “mentor.” He wanted to explore new personal life and career goals; to “reinvent myself.”

Give Meaning to a Working Life

We all need reminders and encouragement to reinvent ourselves, to find a sense of purpose and joy at work. Here is one of my favorite quotes about The Meaning of Life from Jonathan Heidt’s.[9]


“Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you. Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.”[10]

[1] Shawn Anchor, The Happy Secret to Better Work.  YouTube. June 2, 2015.

[2] Bonnie Ware: Five Top Regrets of the Dying. February 1, 2012.

[3] Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations. Viking Press, 2004.

[4] Kerry Patterson, Creating Joy at Work, Crucial Learning, January 21, 1014.

[5] Richard Sheridan, Joy, Inc. January 27, 2015.

[6] Paul Brown, “Why Work Does Not Have to be Fulfilling”,  Forbes, June 19, 2012.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman, Free Press, 2002.

[9] Jonathan Heidt, The Meaning of Life, NYU Stern School of Business, September 2, 2013

[10] Ibid.

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