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  1. Blog
  2. Culture & Professionalism

I Learned How to Be Happy at Work

Four things you can do right now to make your working world a brighter place

woman laughing
Photo courtesy of Brooke Cagle

If you’re unhappy at your job, you’re not alone. Thousands of women tell InHerSight that they want to find workplaces where they not only feel valued and respected, but also happy.

I get that. Happiness at work has always been at the top of my list, and I’ve been zeroing in, almost scientifically, on my work-bliss factors since the very start of my career. Do I like taking lunch with people or not? Should I exercise before or after work? Can I meditate for 10 minutes when I’m stressed? (Oh boy, I cannot.)

As with many situations in life, there’s no one-happy-fits-all solution. My answers to those questions are likely very different from yours. But in the midst of all my joy seeking, I’ve found a few truths I consider universal for inching your way toward workplace happiness.

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1. Be liberal with praise. Yes, liberal

A few years ago, I made a New Year’s resolution to compliment someone every single day. That seems like a lot, and it was. But I did it because I’d realized that I had a lot of positive thoughts about people I never expressed: I like his glasses! She’s an amazing presenter. I’m so impressed with how creative they are. And although my reluctance to share my thoughts wasn’t affecting anyone but me, it also wasn’t making anyone’s day any better. By resolving to share my genuine thoughts about others, I was teaching myself how to bring positive energy into my world.

Work can function the same way. Management or not, positive company cultures are driven by people who are willing to acknowledge the hard work and achievements of others. You don’t have to tell Xiaoling every time one of her Power Point slides is off the chain, but you should actively try to end the practice of withholding praise until something earth-shattering happens. And guess what? The more thoughtful compliments you give, the more positivity you’ll receive in return.

2. Say thank you

Gratitude is good for you. Research from Harvard Medical School (and many other universities) has found that thankfulness leads to more positive emotions, helps you enjoy more experiences, improves your health, and helps you forge stronger relationships.

If you want to be happy at work, that last factor is especially important. We know from research here at InHerSight that having great relationships with coworkers is the number-one driver of job satisfaction for women. Be happier and have more friends at work. Win-win.

3. Let go of expectations

My favorite quote comes from author Laurence Gonzales: “The plan, a memory of the future, tries on reality to see if it fits.” In other words, you can plan, plan, plan all you want, but you can never truly predict how things are going to turn out. You need to accept that.

Tough love there, I know, but in the working world, expecting every project, every coworker, and every company to be perfect sets you up for disappointment and resentment.

If you’re a person who likes things just so, then that’s a difficult lesson to learn. Try slowing yourself down: So, the recap email Sidney sent to your boss wasn’t formatted the way you wanted. Was all the information there? What was something positive she did in that email that you wouldn’t have thought of? Then move on. You can send the recap next time.

4. Decide what you want, and find a way to get it

Maybe you want a better salary. Maybe you want to work from home every Friday. Maybe you just want to quit. The key to work happiness doesn’t just fall into your lap; you have to figure out what it is and then pursue the heck out of it.

Here, the first cut is, in fact, the deepest: making the decision. According to self-development author Brian Tracy, “Decisiveness is a characteristic of high-performing men and women. Almost any decision is better than no decision at all.” That’s because stagnation leaves you exactly where you already are and don’t want to be: unhappy at work and feeling hopeless.

Sure, you’ll end up having a few awkward conversations about money or you’ll have to research tuition reimbursement programs so you can go back to school, but the time you spend pursuing your happiness will be so much better spent than it would have been if you’d agonized, forever, over your horrible job.

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