Work needs to make us happy, right?

There are many articles written about happiness at work, yet there is a significantly large percentage of employees who aren’t engaged and significantly small percentage of those who know how to attain work related happiness.

If you set happiness as your primary goal, you can end up feeling the opposite. This is because happiness (like all emotions) is a fleeting state, not a permanent one. An alternative solution is to make meaning your vocational goal.

People who focus on meaning in their personal and professional lives are more likely to feel an enduring sense of wellbeing. Research shows that making work more meaningful is one of the most powerful and underutilized ways to increase productivity, engagement, and performance. 

Desire to find greater meaning at work and long-term career satisfaction and engagement are components that make difference for employees no matter where they are in organisational hierarchy.

Researchers showed that a lot of employees would take a pay cut to have their work matter yet what are we really searching for when we say we want more “meaning,” and how does it differ from happiness?

The basic difference lies in distinguishing between wanting and needing.

Wanting is usually connected with positive or negative emotions about something and as we already have mentioned, emotions are fleeting. Emotions are important for the moment; for the here and now. Emotions have none to little impact in the long run and they end up being irrelevant to a meaning or the want.

Let’s take an example of increasing payroll. That’s something that brings the happiness and joy to all of us. But in time (either in the short term or a longer term, depending on the amount) we get used to a bigger number on our payslip. It doesn’t have any more influence on us. It does nothing to our emotions.

Meaning (the need) spreads out to our past, present, and future and represents our bigger picture, beliefs and values.

With the bigger payroll perhaps comes promotion or greater responsibility. We are recognised as someone who can take that responsibility. The informational feedback about our roll in the company was also provided with that increased payroll. The company has plans for our development and we see that plan as recognition of our worth and value to the organisation. That is what matters, that is what we need.

Living with meaning and purpose may initially be frustrating as it requires effort, self-reflection, and wrestling with issues. But when you approach work situations mindfully, with an eye toward contributing to others while honouring your personal identity, you’ll find opportunities to practice the skills that help you find the intrinsic value in your work.

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