Is “Happy At Work” At All Possible?

More than 70% of employees report being unhappy at work.

Are you one of them? Is life at work “just OK”? Do you feel that, more days than not, you need to drag yourself out of bed?

Being happy at work is a challenge for both employees and the companies they work for. So much so that engagement is now a top priority for many CEOs. (You’ve probably seen more recognition programs and employee-friendly initiatives come your way recently).

Engagement initiatives are an efficient way to make you feel valued at work. According to neuroscience, they can boost motivation. But is this all it takes to make people happy at work?

In my opinion, you need more than that. It takes a conscious choice, and a shift in perspective to become happy at work. Let me explain.

I know someone who’s really happy at work

One of my friends is always grateful for what comes, and remains calm and respectful no matter what the day throws at him. (As an Executive with enough seniority to influence the strategic direction of one of the biggest Financial Institutions in the UK, I can tell you this is remarkable performance).

Is he frustrated at times? Of course.

Stressed? Oh dear yes.

Is he unhappy at work?


I asked him how, with the complexity and responsibilities of his role, he could still say that he was happy at work.

“Yes, there are good and bad days. But I’m lucky. I have a fantastic team. I learn something new every day. I’m trusted by my peers and boss and have the freedom to make my ideas real. At the end of the day, I think I’m doing the right thing for the institution and its people. That matters to me.”

No mention of his salary package, benefits or bonus in there because, for him, what’s important is the big picture. The path can be hard and unpredictable. But the way you go about it is your choice, and dictates your experience.

You don’t need to belong to the C-suite to have the same mindset. A good sense of purpose and perspective is accessible to all of us. So why don’t we do it more often?

A simple definition of happiness

In his book “Solve for Happy”, Mo Gawdat likes to see happiness as an equation.

Source: “Solve for Happy”, Mo Gawdat

When reality meets or exceeds our expectations, we’re happy. Therefore, it makes sense to look at both parts of the equation:

  • increase focus on the reality (how you’re getting there)
  • stop idealising the expectation (it’s just a personal projection of an ideal future)

We often fixate on the end result only, attaching our happiness to “we reach/have it or we don’t”. But our reality is changing constantly! So we need to adjust and learn to manage our expectations.

Related: How to rethink the way you lead

This is key if you want to find joy; the path to your ideal future is as important as the outcomes you envision. By acting with awareness and flexibility, you free up mind-space to actively shape your future. Of course, this is a way of being. It requires intentional action, commitment, and discipline.

So if this equation works in real life, could we use the same to be happy at work?

Being happy at work requires intentional action

Many unhappy people complain about their company: “no one does anything for me there”; “no one cares”.

Assuming that actively managing your expectations can improve happiness, are you taking action? Or passively waiting for gratification to hit your fan?

Let’s say you want training.

Passive attitude: Your expectation is that your company will provide you with training.

Intentional Action: Have you considered if there are any e-learning programs available? Do you set 1 hour aside each week to look at some of the free resources available online?

Let’s take another example — you want workplace culture to improve.

Passive attitude: Your expectation is that your boss will tell everyone how things should happen and make sure everyone is happy with the way they do happen.

Intentional Action: Do you take action and play your part, by building positive relations? Do you help others by sharing knowledge? Can you defuse arguments?

These two simple examples show you it’s still possible to meet your expectations, even if things don’t go according to plan. But it requires you to execute your part!

Work is an inevitable part of life. And life is far too short to be spent being unhappy!

If we want to find our own motivation at work, we can’t just rely on engagement programs. It’s time to make a conscious choice on how we experience our work life, and take responsibility in doing our part of the work with a positive mindset.

Many people see the workplace with negative bias. But, to be fair, is life at home “always happy”? You don’t “quit” your family because your kid just destroyed your favourite shirt. You keep going because you know there’s more to family life than that.

Do the same if you want to be happy at work. Your job is not to idealise the end result (“being happy once and for all”), but to declutter your mind and focus better so that you make sense of the difficult.

What makes you happy at work? Leave us a comment below!




Founder, Yoäg: inspiration & yoga breaks. Conscious leadership lessons learned as I grow my wellness travel business.

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Coralie SAWRUK

Coralie SAWRUK

Founder, Yoäg: inspiration & yoga breaks. Conscious leadership lessons learned as I grow my wellness travel business.

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