8 Ways to Find Real Happiness at Work


AUTHOR PICMost adults spend more waking hours at work than anywhere else. If you are unhappy there, you are unhappy a major chunk of the time. Sharon Salzberg, renowned meditation teacher and cofounder, with Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein, of the Insight Meditation Society, has just released an invaluable resource on finding happiness at work. “Real Happiness at Work” includes practical techniques and practices for people who hate their jobs, love their jobs, or don’t care enough to belong to either group. Her pages speak to folks seeking meaning and fulfillment in their occupations, even if their responsibilities consist of scrubbing down toilets.

After listening to the gripes and frustrations of her students and friends—as well as reviewing what researchers had to say on the subject of work–Salzberg arrived at a few themes of unhappiness:

  • Burnout and the need for greater resilience
  • Questionable moral practices or challenges to personal integrity
  • Feelings of losing a sense of purpose and the need for deeper, more durable meaning
  • Condescension by superiors who do not listen and show a lack of compassion in decision making
  • Boredom, distraction, and ineffectual multitasking due to a lack of concentration
  • The longing for creativity, surprise, variety, and a more open awareness fostering flexibility and change
  • The desire to understand the work environment from a more open perspective

How do you go about resolving these issues? How do you prevent them from happening in the first place? In answering these questions, Salzberg identified what she calls the Eight Pillars of Happiness in the Workplace.

Balance: the ability to differentiate between who you are and what your job is.

Finding balance requires setting priorities and building appropriate boundaries: taking the half-hour lunch that you are allotted and focusing on the responsibilities that fall under your job description, not those of your entire team. Balance is placing a higher value on self-care than boss-pleasing, connecting to the truth of your own worth, and loosening the trip of overidentification with your job.

Concentration: being able to focus without being swayed by distraction.

“Distraction wastes our energy,” writes Salzberg, “concentration restores it.” Concentration is especially crucial in our digital age because the human brain has been asked to process an ungodly amount of information. Workers are expected to write a report while tracking incoming data, answering email, and texting a spouse about dinner. We may think we are successful at all the juggling; however, research indicates that the more multitask, the more mistakes we make, affecting our overall job performance and self-esteem. Per Salzberg: “When we slow down and concentrate on doing just what is before us to be done now, we become the masters of our own environment rather than its frantic slaves.”

Compassion: being aware of and sympathetic to the humanity of ourselves and others.

To cultivate compassion, we shift the emphasis from me to we, a challenging task in work settings that are driven by competition, conflict, pressure, and stress. Equally difficult is offering ourselves the same kindness and compassion we extend to others, to believe in our self-worth independent of the blame and criticism of others.

Real Happiness at Work_HighRes 3D

Resilience: the ability to recover from defeat, frustration, or failure.

Resilience lies at the heart of the greatest lesson of meditation and mindfulness: to begin again without rumination or regret. “That no matter what the circumstances, we are always able to begin again in a new moment,” Salzberg writes. “This is what we mean by resilience. No matter what happens to us at work (or elsewhere), we can use challenges as opportunities to grow, increase our awareness, and learn methods for making future challenges more tolerable.

Communication and Connection: understanding that everything we do and say can further connection or take it away.

Salzberg offers three criteria to help with skillful communication. First, is the information true? Truthfulness is most important when considering what and what not to say to our colleagues. Second, is this communication useful? Be sure to consider context, timing, and the type of person you are communicating with. Finally, will your message be delivered in a kind way—polite, nonaggressive, and nonconfrontational?

Integrity: bringing your deepest ethical values to the workplace.

Integrity is linked to authenticity, “a fundamental proclamation that who we are and where we are arises from an original authority that makes us decent, intelligent, and profoundly resourceful.” It means sitting with our conflicts and dilemmas in open awareness, trying to find a way to integrate our inner concerns and feelings with our outer circumstances.

Meaning: infusing the work you do with relevance for your own personal goals.

Salzberg believes some sense of meaning is vital to being happy at work, but that doesn’t mean we have to love our jobs. We could find meaning simply in being employed, in providing for a family or for ourselves. We may find meaning in the friendships we have at work. “In cases where your job does not easily align with meaningful purpose, it’s still possible to use work as an opportunity for doing good,” she writes. “Any job can be meaningful, or meaningless, depending on how we look at it.”

Open Awareness: the ability to see the big picture and not be held back by self-imposed limitations.

Writes Salzberg: “Open awareness refers to our ability to observe conditions as they are without feeling the need to change them. While this may sound passive to our action-oriented ears, the ability to rest comfortably in the present moment regardless of its imperfections is the foundation of all true happiness.”

Originally published on PsychCentral.com.

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Therese Borchard
I am a writer and chaplain trying to live a simple life in Annapolis, Maryland.

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3 Responses
  1. I am really lucky that I love what I do at work and who I work with (therapists and family dispute mediators!). Who would’ve thought I’d end up working in an environment in which I’m so familiar with?! But I shall make a point of saying that I am a helluva lot happier when I’m working than not. I know that’s a no-brainer for some particularly regarding an income. I’m talking about the human inter-action, responsibility, productivity and bloody fantastic mates met through work.

  2. Betsy

    My work gives me absolute joy. It’s the ultimate heaven with no pill popping to remain happy.

    Unfortunatly our happiness gets tangled with others in the family who suffer from depression, mental illness & are miserable pulling others in to there vessel filled with accid with out permission.

    As humains we hurt for our children regardless of there age. Our happiness for more intertwined & connected. I wish it was that easy to cut the cord & join the epedimic of estrangement & cut off.
    After all this is a another NFT that I can could not fit in like the Atkin diet or becoming a Vegan & join the Hari Krashna & put flowers in my hair.

    Note: NFT ( New Fad Theroy)

  3. Betsy – I’m sorry to read that you are struggling to support people in your life that struggle with depression. It can be a very annoying and troubling disease to those who have not experienced it for an extended amount of time. Please bear in mind thought that the majority of the readers of this blog *do struggle (or are professionals that help treat) with brain chemistry imbalance and the immense pain that follows. I hope that your life provides you with some constructive outlets for your understandable frustration. Glad to hear that you love your job. That’s nice. Take care, Kate