The Science of Happiness in the 9-5

Exploring the science behind workplace happiness, and how to enjoy the 9-5

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For decades it seems we’ve been placing our values on the wrong things; we think that money, success, and power will bring us satisfaction, but the science tells us this is far from the truth. So what does make us happy, and more specifically, what makes us happy at work? Whilst our mission at Sunday Sanctuary is to explore the different ways we can find contentment in all corners of our lives, in this article we’ve summarised the science behind the foundations of our happiness in the 9-5.

The Money Fallacy

The age old saying that money can’t buy happiness is true – but only after a certain point. In 2010 Princeton University did a study that plotted happiness & wellbeing against income, and found that at a certain point people’s satisfaction tapered off, regardless of an increase in wealth. The figure was $75,000, or around £60,000, but why this number specifically?

When we look at life satisfaction globally, the results are quite different. In poorer nations, happiness correlates very strongly with income, the simple reason being that people’s basic needs are being met the more they earn. In wealthier nations, our basic needs are met more often than not; consequently, our happiness will eventually taper off regardless of our earnings as there comes a point where we can afford everything we could ever need, and any extra money, is just that, extra.

Work-Life Balance

We often spend more time with our colleagues than we do with our loved ones, which is utter madness when you really think about it, yet it is so universally accepted that we often feel any other way of life is indulgent. Unsurprisingly, studies have found that a good work-life balance positively impacts our mental wellbeing, and as a consequence our overall job satisfaction increases too. Happy employees are more productive employees, so it’s a win-win situation, and a great reason to pitch remote or flexible working to your manager if it isn’t something your workplace is doing already.

Variety and Education

Making sure your job challenges you and your abilities is one of the key factors in levels of job satisfaction. Hitting the sweet spot between putting your brain into gear, but not so difficult that you burn out, has been shown to boost your confidence and interest in your work. For many of us it can feel like we stop learning after school or university, but lifelong education is what keeps our brains youthful and engaged, so making sure we’re always challenging ourselves is one of the most important things we can do to succeed both in our personal and professional lives.


A hands-off boss is the best kind of boss. Being trusted to do the work you do, and the work you do well, is a huge influence on our overall happiness. If you work with a micro-manager, try speaking to them about it professionally and politely, giving your point of view in a way that lets them know you can be trusted to do your thing, and do it well. And of course, keep that trust in place by giving it your best shot when you are given free rein over your own work.

Social Capital

Getting along with your colleagues (who as we’ve already mentioned, we see more than our loved ones) should also be considered when it comes to job satisfaction. Whilst social capital at work is perhaps not as strongly correlated with happiness than the points above, social connection in general has a positive impact on our mental wellbeing, so it makes sense that we make the most of the people around us at work and engage with our colleagues to boost our wellbeing in the day to day.

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