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Happiness at Work – What Does it Take?

Happiness at work is a big topic at the moment. But what does it mean, and how can it be measured? Looking beyond happiness to joy, how can we cultivate it from the inside out?

What is happiness at work? Today’s interview in The Times with an ex Goldman Sachs banker who has now devoted his life to helping people cultivate happiness prompted me to reflect on what leads to happiness at work, and its relationship with joy. It’s a big topic these days, so I’ve taken the pyschologist Martin Selgiman’s acronym for happiness (PERMA), and then related it to the inner quality of joy.

Pleasure: Deepak Chopra, in answer to the question ‘What’s the single most important thing that can lead to happiness?’ replied ‘Make someone else happy’. When we help others at work it leads to a feeling of contentment.

Engagement: Flow is the state that results when we are engaged in an activity or process that seems effortless. For many, this is a sure sign that they are using their skills and talents to the full, and the more often they experience this state, the more likely it is that they are following their ‘true path’. This leads to fulfilment.

Relationships: When I’ve observed people being at their happiest at work it has more often than not been because they feel secure in their role in the organisation, and because they feel they belong – they are part of a community or extended family. Many people form long-lasting emotional ties with friends through a work setting. Love is a core component of happiness. At our core, each of us are longing to love and be loved, and relationships at work fulfil this need for many people.

Meaning: Defined as ‘a perceived quest or belonging to something bigger’, this comes to the notion of purpose as an aspect of happiness – the giving of one’s time and talents in service of something that is considered worthwhile. People are happy when they are contributing to something greater and bigger than themselves.

Accomplishments: We all know how it feels to have accomplished a goal or objective which took commitment, focus and an investment of time and effort. The sense of reward from having achieved it is key to our overall sense of well-being, especially within a work context where ultimately everyone wants to feel like they have a contribution to make.

Choose JoyFor a great list of tips on how to be happy at work, check out this article at But whilst any one of the above can lead to happiness, they suggest a temporary state that is dependent on external factors. Whereas joy is internally driven, and can be tapped into at any one time. Here are my top 10 tips to generate joy:

  1. Be generous of yourself
  2. Be spontaneous
  3. Smile!
  4. Have fun
  5. Be optimistic
  6. Celebrate!
  7. Be grateful
  8. Make conscious choices
  9. Say yes
  10. Give others permission to be their glorious selves

These are all within our control, and help to generate a state of joy which naturally leads to more happiness at work. Organisations can look at how to cultivate happy workplaces, but joy is a quality that can only be generated from the inside out. Stress, burnout, office politics and the like can all zap our happiness reserves, but if we start with joy and bring that to work, then it’ll be a lot easier to make ourselves and others happy!

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