Smiling mug holding pencilsAre you happy at work? Are you happy with work? Are you supposed to be happy at work? Maybe you aren’t – after all, there’s a reason they call it “work.”

I looked for the holy grail of happiness at work for a long time until I realized I was searching for the wrong thing. What I really meant was satisfaction at work. After all, happiness is mysterious, magical, and alchemical. It sometimes catches you by surprise. Satisfaction is something you can create for yourself on a regular basis.

How can you make this happen? The most important thing is to believe that you deserve to be satisfied at work. Everything flows from that core belief, and it will guide your actions. Don’t kid yourself, it will take some action on your part to make it happen — but you will reap tremendous rewards in ways you never thought about. And everyone around you will benefit at work from your conviction about what’s important, your improved mood, and your willingness to create a positive work environment.

5 Steps Toward Workplace Satisfaction

1. Focus on what you do well — and keep doing it. My breakthrough came when I realized I could stop obsessing over my weaknesses and instead find work that used my strengths. An invaluable book for me is First Break All The Rules by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1999). Lena recommends StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath (New York: Gallup Press, 2007).

2. Ask yourself what’s working now — and what isn’t. List the negatives and positives. Is your chart weighted to one side or the other? What’s the importance of each thing you’ve listed? On balance, where are you?

3. Think about what can and can’t be changed — and then test your assumptions with your career development partner. Lena has challenged me many times when I said something “couldn’t be fixed” and given me ideas to get unstuck. Can you have an honest talk with a colleague who isn’t cooperating? Can you talk to your manager about a more productive way of giving you feedback? Can you “unhook” from the negative emotions that are stopping you from gauging the depth of the problem?

4. Look at your life outside of work. A recent survey showed that people who were more satisfied about their outside lives were more satisfied about their work life. It’s what you always knew — spend time with friends and loved ones; exercise; reduce passive activities like TV and web surfing; and (my favorite) do as few chores as you can. Are you asking for too much emotional sustenance from your workplace instead of finding other outlets for your friendship, involvement, and creativity?

5. Make a pact with yourself. After looking inward, looking at your work, and looking outward, create a firm understanding of who you are and what you need to do. Can you stay where you are and make some changes? Or is now the time to take yourself to the next career opportunity?

“To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.” –  John Dewey

Now It’s Your Turn

Read the two articles linked below. Look at The Happiness Project blog and sign up for the monthly newsletter. Pick one simple thing you can fix – and fix it. Remember, it takes 21 days to make a (good or bad) habit, so be persistent. Celebrate your success.

How Adults Achieve Happiness (article)

If Not Passion for the Job, At Least Warm Feelings (article)

The Happiness Project (blog)

Read more posts from Your Life@Work.