Stress Less, Stress Relief

How to Be Happy at Work Even if You Don’t Have Your Dream Job (Yet)

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By Emma Stessman

For many people, the dread of starting a new work week is enough to make them want to crawl right back under the covers after their morning coffee.

And while even the most successful, thriving professionals occasionally hit the snooze button on Monday mornings, if you have a job that you really don’t enjoy or your nine-to-five is a (tough) temporary stepping stone, that anxiety is amplified.

Here’s the good news: You can actually like your job, even if you don’t necessarily love it or want to keep doing it long-term.

In the book How We Work: Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind, meditation expert and Stanford University lecturer Leah Weiss, PhD uses common mindfulness practices to create a user-friendly guide to thriving in any work environment.

One of the key ways to do this, she explains, is finding Purpose (yes, with a capital P) for both job-related and overall well-being.

“The capital-P kind of purpose is a far-reaching, steady goal, something personally meaningful and self-transcending that, ideally, shows up in our lives every day,” Dr. Weiss says. And since many of us spend most of our time at the office, it’s a super important place to find it.

Below, Dr. Weiss shares how to find yours long before you’ve landed your dream job, so you can start feeling capital-P Psyched about going into work every day.

How to Find Your Purpose at Work

The idea of figuring out your purpose might seem like a totally overwhelming task––one that takes a ton of soul-searching and enlightenment—but it’s actually a lot simpler than that.

Finding purpose simply means finding meaning in the work that you’re doing, Dr. Weiss explains. “When the work that we do has meaning, we are happier to do it and look forward to the workday––rather than dreading it,” she says.

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Start with this: Your work has meaning because it is distinctly yours. You were hired for a reason. You contribute a key element to your job that no one else can provide. Whether it’s the perfect dash of humor you add to emails or the unique point-of-view that you bring to meetings.

“Try to imagine what your workplace would be like if you weren’t there,” Dr. Weiss says. “You have specific skills, traits, and ideas that make your work distinctly you. Discovering where you fit as a piece of the overall puzzle will give you a sense of purpose.”

In fact, focusing on finding meaning in the minute tasks (AKA the ones you really don’t want to do) like sending emails or writing memos, can make the process of finding your purpose seem a lot less overwhelming. “You don’t need to find your purpose in life right now,” says Dr. Weiss. “Narrow it down to finding your purpose in the minute, hour, or day.”

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happy at work

How to Do a Top-Down Assessment

In her book, Dr. Weiss suggests writing a “top-down assessment” to help you define your purpose. With this method, you begin with a big idea and work your way down to a smaller, specific purpose. (Maybe tackle it right after your office meditation break?)

To start, make a list of the five to ten values that matter most to you––not just in a work context, but family, life, and community values, too. Then, take a look at both your daily calendar or to-do list and analyze whether your day-to-day tasks in both your work and personal life align with your values. For example, if having deep, personal connections is one of your core values, check to see if you are taking the time to get lunch with a co-worker or create a meaningful bond with a client. While you’re analyzing your tasks, take note of which ones invigorate you and which ones make you feel seriously drained.

Then, identify the gaps between the activities that emphasize your values and make you feel happy and energized and the things that you’re actually doing on the daily––and adjust your behavior to close the gaps.

How to Know When You’ve Found It

OK, so you won’t actually have a “Whoomp! (There It Is)” moment. It will likely be a gradual, slow change. It will, however, be one that both you and your boss will be happy about.

“When you find your purpose at work, your days will become more enjoyable, the work you do will be done faster, and you will spend more time thinking about how you can approach your work in different ways,” Dr. Weiss says. “It’s the opposite [feeling] of punching into work and watching the hands on the clock tick by in anticipation of leaving the office.”

Here’s to making work feel less like… work, right? At least until you put in your time and get that pie-in-the-sky dream job (which you totally will).

(Photos: Shutterstock)

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