Finding Meaning and Happiness in Your Work

by Stephen Mills on September 28, 2009

Cubicle Fun

A man came upon two workers breaking granite so he stopped to ask them, “What are you doing?” The first one sarcastically replied, “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m trying to break this granite. The second worker enthusiastically responded, “I’m part of a team of people who are building a beautiful cathedral.”

So you don’t like your job.  Think about getting a different one, but in the meantime or as an alternative make the most of the one you’ve got.

Two Levels in Which You Can Find Meaning in Your Work

At one level, you might work for an organization whose mission aligns with or resonates with your own personal mission.  For example, your personal mission is to help kids and you work for a children’s hospital.

Even if the organization’s mission doesn’t align with yours, you can very often find some meaning in it.  A sales clerk at Wal-Mart can appreciate serving people with limited incomes (yes they shop at Wal-Mart).

The second level of meaning is personal.  You can almost always derive some meaning and some degree of happiness while doing whatever it is you do.  I’ve read the stories about the janitors or Fred the mailman, among others, who have found happiness and personal meaning in what most would consider menial jobs.  It may take some work and creativity, but it can be done.  Stop whining about your job and start looking for opportunities to be extraordinary and find something positive in what you do every day.

Personal Growth

One of the best ways to find some personal meaning and happiness in your job is to use it as an opportunity to improve yourself.  Personal growth is one of the best ways to do this, for at least one person – you.  You can make your work the education and practice ground for creating a better you.

What a fantastic way to approach any job! Just make your own personal growth become your doing what you love.

Bring Your Strengths To Your Job

Maybe you are great at comforting people or giving advice about personal or professional issues.  Take that to your job and look for opportunities in both professional and personal social situations at work to apply that strength.  Maybe you are a great technical problem solver.  There are very few jobs where solving problems is not a high-value skill.  Instead of sitting around like a bump on a log, do something with your strengths.  I call BS on people who say they have no opportunity bring their strengths to their jobs.

Be Curious and Look for Novelty

You do not do the same thing every day no matter what you claim. You are just choosing to see it that way and ignore the opportunities.  You can find something new in everything you do.  Just be curious, looking for new things and trying to figure out what you can learn from and it will work wonders.  This keeps you more engaged and will result in you getting more out of your work.  You are going to move in one direction or another.  You are going to spiral upwards or downwards.  You have the power to decide what it’s going to be.

Make it Challenging

One of the worst things you can do in your work is to just put in your time.  I assure you that you will not feel good about yourself in the long run by just going through the motions.  You will miss many opportunities for personal growth that will serve you in the future.  If you’re putting in the time you might as well get something out of it.  Whenever I’ve been lazy in my work, I’ve hated my job.  I pretended like the hating it made me lazy, but I knew that I had the causal relationship backwards.  Being lazy made me hate it.

Connect With People

If nothing else practice social skills such as listening, conversation skills, empathy, influence, leading, or whatever.  People skills are extremely valuable and a workplace is a fantastic educational opportunity.  Make it a point to work on these skills as part of your job and you will not only make the world a little better place but you will develop a very important skill.  It will give meaning and purpose to your job, no matter what it is.

Aside from all that, many people find their life-partners or lifelong friends in their places of work.  What a fantastic place to meet interesting people.  Make it a daily goal to find out something interesting about one person every day at work.

I could go on and on but hopefully this is enough to get you thinking about ways to be happier doing your work.  You can choose to look at it as a necessary evil to pay the bills or as a fantastic opportunity to learn and grow.  I’ve never heard a good reason for it not to be the latter.

If you have a plan to get out then by all means execute it, but in the meantime make your time meaningful.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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Stuck in a Dead End Job « Bess Wess
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{ 38 comments… read them below or add one }

Positively Present September 28, 2009 at 6:53 pm

I think my work day’s going to be a lot better after ready this post! Thanks!
.-= Positively Present´s last blog ..the filmstrip: a new way to look at presence =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:50 am

Hi Dani! Thanks for commenting.

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Robin Easton September 28, 2009 at 7:14 pm

Although I work for myself the thing I really feel would make my work day if I worked for someone else would be to connect with the people I worked with and for. Much more than being an opportunity or an way of learning, connecting with people one works with in a genuine way makes life meaningful no matter WHAT one does. To do this as a WAY of life from a place of genuine caring and reaching out will change your life not matter what you do. And to do it without any goal in mind other than to love, soothe and simply connect is profound.
.-= Robin Easton´s last blog ..Bizarro Week =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:52 am

Hi Robin, I totally agree about the value of connecting with other people. Thank you for stopping in to comment.

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BunnygotBlog September 28, 2009 at 8:59 pm

This is great and really at the right moment for me.
It was one of those Mondays, for me. So this post has come at just the right time.
.-= BunnygotBlog´s last blog ..Astrology And Raincoats =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:52 am

Hi Bunny, that’s great. I’m glad it helped 🙂

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Dragos Roua September 28, 2009 at 11:01 pm

Yes, finding meaning at work can be challenging, been there too. What saved me from boredom was in the end what you call curiosity and search for novelty. At the risk of being considered the freak who’s trying stuff just because he likes trying stuff I always innovated in my job. I remember one time, when i was working as an anchor man in a radio station, I was so bored to read the news every half an hour that I started to read them upside down, sitting on my head. That really changed my perspective. Years later, some of my colleagues in that radio become quite visible political figures. And when I met one of them, he clearly remembered the “sitting on my head” episode. We reconnected instantly because of that.

Changing the way you do things is sometimes enough. 🙂
.-= Dragos Roua´s last blog ..The First Year Of Blogging – The Series =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:54 am

Hi Dragos, thanks for commenting. That’s a great story!

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Gordie Rogers September 28, 2009 at 11:17 pm

To find meaning in my work, I feel I need responsibility and continually learning new skills. If, for example, I’m a sales clerk in a clothing store and I continually out do my self. Eventually I’m going to want more responsibility or some recognition from management. If I never get that I’m going to start feeling unappreciated and exploited even.
.-= Gordie Rogers´s last blog ..Review: Free Ebook- Breaking Free. =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:55 am

Thanks for your comments Gordie. Glad to see you here again. 🙂

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Steven Aitchison September 29, 2009 at 1:08 am

Hi Stephen, another good post here. It got me thinking about my work. I actually enjoy my work and am really helping to change people’s lives if they wish, as an addiction worker. I have been in jobs where I just ‘put in the time’ and it doesn’t work at all, I got so bored I had to mix it up and started challenging myself.
.-= Steven Aitchison´s last blog ..100 Ways To Develop Your Mind =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 11:59 am

Hi Steven, thanks for your thoughts. That’s so great that you have a job where you find that kind of personal meaning.

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Diggy - upgradereality.com September 29, 2009 at 4:15 am

Heya Stephen!
Love the approach, there are always two ways to see things, half empty or half-full.
I like the mindset that if you’re doing something, you may aswell enjoy it, because its not going to get more pleasant if you resent it.

If you hate it that bad, then quit, otherwise, learn to love it 🙂

Thanks!
.-= Diggy – upgradereality.com´s last blog ..Why learn martial arts? =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Hiya Diggy! Yes, if you are doing the time you might as well enjoy the time.

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alternaview September 29, 2009 at 8:18 am

I think this post is right on point. So often we say that we dislike our jobs and are just there until something better comes along. The reality is that one of the prerequisites to finding a better opportunity is that you give everything you have to your current job. That means you have to often times change your perspective so that you will be more motivated to give more of yourself to your current opportunity. Yes, you may not be in the ideal job, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t do all you can to take advantage and learn from your current opportunity. It also doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t go above and beyond the call of duty just because you dislike your job. I think you better position yourself for success in the future and finding your ideal job when you make a concerted effort to have a better perspective about your current job and continually go above and beyond the call of duty. It is not that you may not eventually move on, but rather that you are doing what you should be doing which will ultimately help everything fall into place, even future opportunities.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 12:24 pm

Well said alternaview. This is a great summary of my article 🙂

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Rosa September 29, 2009 at 8:57 am

I needed just that today 🙂
Thank you

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Great Rosa, I’m glad it helped. Thanks for commenting!

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Vin - NaturalBias September 29, 2009 at 10:19 am

I think the last sentence says it best:

“If you have a plan to get out then by all means execute it, but in the meantime make your time meaningful.”

For most of us, time spent commuting and working accounts for a third to more than half of our waking hours. Our perception of this time has a significant impact on our sense of well being. Based on this, we should strive to make the best of it!
.-= Vin – NaturalBias´s last blog ..Super Size Me: Is Fast Food Really to Blame? =-.

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Stephen Mills September 30, 2009 at 12:29 pm

Hi Vin. I’m glad you mentioned the time thing. I’ve read that the total time consumed for full-time jobs is 45%. I can’t get up to that number but regardless it’s a lot. Thanks!

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Steve September 29, 2009 at 5:21 pm

This reminds me of a timeless classic audio program from Nightingale Conant called Acres of Diamonds. A poor farmer dug in his back yard looking for diamonds, but gave up after a short stint. He then travelled for years in other continents, looking for diamonds, but died heartbroken after not finding one. Meanwhile, the person who had moved onto his property mined the field, and found acres of diamonds. Our diamonds are in the opportunities before us each day: we just have to have the creativity and persistence to turn those lumps of coal into priceless diamonds.
.-= Steve´s last blog ..Get Rid of Quitting Once and For All =-.

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Jonathan - Advanced Life Skills September 29, 2009 at 7:51 pm

Stephen, I thought this article was exceptional. People spend such a big part of their lives at work, and yet, for many it is perceived as a negative experience. I remember Zig Ziglar did a video called – Attitude Makes All The Difference. He tells a story about a lady who did nothing but complain about her job. Of course, in true Zig Ziglar style he got here all straightened out. It’s on YouTube for anyone who’s interested.
.-= Jonathan – Advanced Life Skills´s last blog ..Make It Happen Now – 2009 Countdown Challenge =-.

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Greg September 29, 2009 at 8:54 pm

I know too many people who spend their time moaning and groaning about how much they hate their jobs, or defining how miserable they are. It’s sad. We all have to do things we may not enjoy from time to time, but there’s always humor or challenge even in the meanest work. If you decide to be miserable, you will…
.-= Greg´s last blog ..Life Lessons From A Honey Bee Attack =-.

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Life it up September 30, 2009 at 6:41 am

Happiness is all about Positive state of mind .Work satisfaction and persistent growth in working profile brings happiness to me.

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Jodi at Joy Discovered September 30, 2009 at 4:36 pm

Hi Stephen, Excellent ideas here for finding meaning and happiness in your work. I think like anything else, our experience is all based on our attitude. These are all really great tips.
.-= Jodi at Joy Discovered´s last blog ..My Happy Place, Your Happy Place =-.

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Walter October 2, 2009 at 12:36 am

It’s often hard to find happiness in our work especially if we don’t love what we are doing. However, we must develop our happiness within, this is where our most important work is. 🙂
.-= Walter´s last blog ..Why are we having problems with problem? =-.

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga October 13, 2009 at 5:20 pm

I think the key to finding meaning and happiness in your work is to do what you love. If you do what you love, everything else falls in place. If you’re unfortunate enough to have a job that you hate, you can at least find one great thing about it & give your attention to that. You mentioned being curious. If you use that curiosity to find something enjoyable, you can make the best of an otherwise sucky work experience.
.-= Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last blog ..What It Really Takes to Achieve the Impossible =-.

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快播电影 May 18, 2011 at 4:25 am

Stephen, I thought this article was exceptional

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Kizi December 6, 2011 at 11:25 am

Hi Bunny, that’s great. I’m glad it helped

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Steve G April 6, 2012 at 5:17 am

Hi Stephen,
I think you are spot on with this article. Focusing on positive aspects of work or in any life situation will have a tremendous impact on our over well being. Sometimes this is more difficult, especially when someone is trapped in a job that they really hate. They can however, try to find joy in small aspects of the job that bring them happiness whilst they look for a new job that is better suited to them as a person. In all cases though, focusing on negative emotions will only drag us down into a spiral of unhappiness that will be difficult to escape from.

Steve’s last blog Change of Career

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Ganeshkumar September 28, 2014 at 7:15 am

Ha !! Just the kind of post that was most suitable for me to read in my current circumstances. Totally loved it. Feeling a bit up-beat with a renewed attitude 🙂
Ganeshkumar´s last blog post ..10 “Finding Happiness” videos that will touch you

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Carol Newlands July 23, 2015 at 3:02 am

When you don’t like your work it’s called stressing yourself but when you love your work it’s called passion. There are many challenges that you can encounter when working but even though how much it is hard the task is you can do it with a smile.

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