The in-office/remote/hybrid question is just one of the many stressors hitting American workers these days. There’s also constant news of large-scale layoffs, the great resignation that removed many mentors from the workplace, and an overall sense of uncertainty. “Add in large external stressors like the existential threat of climate change, and it can feel overwhelming,” says Dr. Nina Vasan, chief medical officer at the mental health platform Real.
Vasan adds that different groups face their own unique stressors, like GenZ who are just starting off and maybe lost their first job. “Any of these stressors by themselves would be a lot,” she says.
It’s no wonder, then, that many employees are struggling to find happiness at work. The good news is that, you can still enjoy your job—and it’s also a win for businesses when you do. One study from Oxford University’s Saïd Business School found that happy employees were more productive.
“The techniques for finding happiness at work are the same you’d use in any domain,” says Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The Myths of Happiness, and distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. “There are different ways to behave and think on a daily basis that will improve your mood and make you resilient, even in times of uncertainty.”
Focus on the present
While it may seem simple, one of the best methods to infuse happiness into your daily job is to focus on the present, says Jocelyn Michelle Reaves, a healthcare executive turned entrepreneur, and show host at Fireside Insights. “It can bring a sense of peace to any circumstance and ultimately unlock the path to feeling joy at work,” she explains. “It’s easy to get bogged down with thoughts about the recession or potential layoffs, but the fact of the matter is that the only moment you can control is the present moment.”
To accomplish that, Reaves suggests refocusing your attention on what you can do now. “It will allow you to regain a sense of confidence, awareness, and personal power,” she says.
When Hannah Featherman, 34, joined the staff at the National Forest Foundation (NFF) in Missoula, Mont., 11 years ago, one of the things she enjoyed was going into an office with passionate, like-minded people. Like Featherman, most of her colleagues loved to get outside and recreate, and they often bonded in the office with daily chit-chat about their adventures. The pandemic changed that, however; like many organizations, the NFF pivoted to a remote environment, where it remains today.
Despite the loss of physical camaraderie with colleagues, Featherman remains content in her position as communications manager at the organization. She credits myriad reasons, including the fact that the team has remained tightly connected, even while working in a dispersed environment. “We still have fun and levity with our work environment,” she says.
Connecting with colleagues is a worthwhile strategy whether you’re in office or remote. Put simply, other people can make you happy, says Lyubomirsky. “Find those people who help you within the workplace and foster those relationships,” she says. “Anything to improve new or old relationships can be an antidote to workplace dissatisfaction.”
Consider joining a volunteer project, attending a work-related happy hour, or look for employee resource groups. If those don’t exist, try launching one yourself. And if you can help a colleague, do it. “Being kind and thoughtful to others makes you happier and even more creative,” says Lyubomirsky.
Diversify your skills and tasks
Look for places to expand your skill set or add new tasks to your day. “I like having a variety of things to work on, and that can get me out of a funk,” says Featherman. “Pivoting is refreshing and gives you something to look forward to doing.”
Don’t let the unhappy parts of your work cloud over the parts you enjoy, either. “What work or accomplishments make you feel good?” asks Vasan. “Lean into those, and then identify and address the specific stressors at work.”
Infuse the day with positivity
Whether you’re staying or going, creating happiness at work rests largely on your shoulders. Remember that positive emotions neutralize negative ones, says Lyubomirsky. “It might seem trivial but create more bursts of positive emotion throughout the day,” she says. “Do something you like, such as taking a 10-minute walk or chatting with a favorite colleague. Do this five times a day and it really can add up.”
If all else fails
If you’ve employed all the recommended strategies but are still struggling to feel happy at work, maybe it’s time to move on and consider other options. That’s the path Amanda Guisbond took. A communications pro and now owner of Intersection Health, Guisbond says she has never been happier at work. Pandemic-era disruptions, layoffs and what she calls a “toxic work culture,” all led Guisbond to take a leap of faith and became an entrepreneur. “My whole career has been a thesis on how to find joy at work,” she says. “I reflected on myself, the services I enjoy providing, and launched a business doing what I love.”
Now firmly in the driver’s seat of her own workplace happiness, Guisbond has focused on the types of clients and work that fulfill her. “I recently said no to a potential client, even though I knew it would be good money,” she says. “I knew I wouldn’t enjoy it, however. It’s easy to fall into a trap of seeking a certain title or salary, and then end up unhappy. My new approach is asking what I want my day to look like and going there instead.”