The majority of American workers are unhappy in their current careers. In fact, nearly 75 percent of U.S. adults are unhappy at work and are open to a new job. If you ask your friends and family about their current level of job satisfaction, you’ll quickly realize this has become the norm; most people simply don’t like their current jobs or aren’t engaged with them.
Why is this the case? Obviously, there are many potential root causes, and most employees will be affected by a complex combination of several of them. If you want to find more fulfillment in your career, and end each work day happier, you’ll need to take an active role in trying to make things better.
How to Be Happier in Your Career
So what can you do to be happier in your career?
1. Identify your personal goals. First, take inventory of what would make you happier or more satisfied. What are your personal goals, as they pertain to your career? Don’t state something vague, like wanting “more money” or “a higher position.” Be specific. Do you want to manage a small team? Do you want to make $80,000 a year? Are you just interested in having more schedule flexibility? Write those goals down and start working on achieving them.
2. Work remotely as a digital nomad. Nearly 90 percent of “digital nomads” and location-independent workers are happier now than they were when working in a conventional office environment. That doesn’t mean it’s a lifestyle that works for everybody—just 90 percent of the people who eventually achieve it. Accomplishing this can be difficult, especially if you have a job that requires human interaction. However, with the right software to allow you to work remotely and the right pitch to your boss (the “higher productivity” angle usually works), this could be a new reality for you.
3. Help other people. Helping other people universally makes us feel good—and satisfied with our lives. If you’re struggling with a serious crisis of purpose, consider changing your career to a path that allows you to more directly help a larger number of people. If that’s not an option, you can spend more time helping people in your immediate vicinity, such as teaching your coworkers new things or collaborating as a team more often.
4. Find people you get along with. The type of people you work with on a daily basis has a massive impact on your job satisfaction; good people can make a stressful position tolerable, and bad people can make a great position unbearable. Try to adjust your career so that you’re surrounded by more people who make you feel good and help you do your best. That could mean shifting your hiring strategy, working with new teams within the company, or seeking a new employer, depending on how bad the situation is.
5. Seek more autonomy. Multiple studies suggest that the real secret to workplace happiness isn’t money or opportunity, but autonomy—in other words, the more power you have over your own decisions, the happier you’ll be. With this information, make a push to take on more responsibilities and more direction in your own role. If you can’t get it at your current job, consider starting your own business or working for an employer who directly encourages employee autonomy.
6. Shake things up. Doing the same thing every day and feeling trapped in the same environment can lead anyone to lower job satisfaction. Shake things up on a regular basis by trying to work in a new location, doing your tasks in a different order, and seeking new responsibilities. The extra novelty will make you feel happier with your job.
7. Take plenty of time for yourself. It should go without saying that work-life balance is critical to feeling satisfied with your career. Take plenty of breaks throughout the day, and plenty of vacations throughout the years. Invest more time in your personal relationships, including those with family and friends, and find a hobby (or several) that brings you personal satisfaction. Your career will feel much more rewarding if you have these things.
There isn’t a switch you can flip to go from “unhappy” to “happy” in your career, overnight. Instead, you’ll have to put in effort on a daily basis until you get where you want to be. Spend time reducing your short-term stress with activities like exercise and meditation, and take at least one step in the right direction for your goals. For example, if you want to become a digital nomad eventually, learn how to accomplish one of your daily responsibilities remotely. All those baby steps eventually add up, and you’ll feel good that you’re making progress along the way.