EU Business School

International Day of Happiness Special: What Really Makes Us Happy at Work?

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Scientists have spent years exploring human happiness. Yet despite decades of research, we still struggle to make choices that lead to genuine happiness. Studies show, for example, that Americans are getting more and more miserable as the years roll by.  

We think we know what’s going to make us happy. But we’re often wrong. And this truth applies as much to our work as to any other part of our lives.  

Popular sentiments that encourage you to find your passion or work hard, make a fortune and retire in luxury are unhelpful at best. At worst, they’re demonstrably wrong.  

So, on this International Day of Happiness, we look to science to answer the question, what really makes for a happy career?

1. Work-Life Balance 

Is work-life balance just about not working long hours, or is there more to it?  The 2017 World Happiness Report showed that work-life balance is one of the strongest predictors of happiness across all careers and countries.  

But work-life balance isn’t just about escaping the cubicle. It means prioritizing other areas of life alongside work, including family, well-being, friends, travel, and more. Having the freedom and flexibility that allows you to devote time to these things is equally as important as the number of hours you spend working .

2. Progress and Learning

The “progress principle” is the idea that satisfaction at work derives from making progress towards meaningful goals.  

Research by Professor Teresa Amabile of the Harvard Business School shows that happiness at work derives in large part from a sense of accomplishment.  The beauty of this discovery is that it’s incredibly practical. Setting milestones in relation to work and reminding yourself of your purpose, whether it’s to make a positive contribution, develop your skills, or anything else, can suffuse your daily tasks with satisfaction and meaning.  

3. Autonomy

Research shows that human beings crave the ability to make their own decisions. We need to feel that we’re autonomous.  

And big companies are starting to understand this. Google, for example, lets people spend 20% of their time on side projectsMore businesses than ever before are experimenting with remote work and “flexitime”, thereby allowing employees to exercise control over their schedules. 

4. Good Working Relationships

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the largest ever research project into human happiness, concluded that personal relationships are the key to a joyful life.  

work relationships

When you consider that the average person will spend thirteen years and two months of their life at work, the need for positive connections with colleagues becomes apparent.  

Strong workplace bonds and friendships have been linked to higher productivity and overall well-being. This makes it more important for people to seek careers with companies that foster a supportive community ethos. 

5. Security  

Think that money isn’t important? Think again. Research shows that financial security is vital to happiness.  But that’s not the whole picture. Once a salary exceeds $75,000 per year, it’s been shown that there’s no further link between income and emotional wellbeing.  

The science suggests that people are happiest when they don’t have to worry about money, rather than when they have billions in the bank. 

Employees are most satisfied at companies that pay them enough (so that money isn’t a concern), after which autonomy, enjoyment, and great personal relationships become far more important as determiners of our happiness.  

Prepare Yourself for a Fulfilling Career  

At EU Business School (EU) we equip students for a fulfilling and meaningful career. Our programs will provide you with the tools you need to not only to find a job that you’ll enjoy, but to find security, autonomy, opportunities for personal development and progression.  

Whether you’re looking to specialize or kick start your career, we have a course for you. At EU we offer a broad range of Bachelors, Masters and MBA programs on-campus and online. Our faculty are working professionals who complement academic learning with practical tips and case studies from their own experience, so that you will gain the insight and guidance you need to find happiness in your career. 

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