What makes us happy at work?


“When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"
"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"
"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.
Pooh nodded thoughtfully. "It's the same thing," he said.” 


Happiness at Work

Click on any of the boxes in the chart above to take you to the relevant part of this page or click here for a larger version of the chart.


Boredom and Happiness at Work

Results of a PCP poll for the TDA on 2113 graduates aged 21 to 45.

Boredom Rating for Graduates (out of 10):

Administrative/Secretarial jobs 10
Manufacturing jobs 8.1
Sales jobs 7.8
Marketing/Advertising 7.7
IT/Telecommunications 7.5
Science Research & Development 7.3
Media 7.1
Law 6.9
Engineering 6.9
Banking/Finance 6.6
Human Resources 6.6
Accountancy 6.3
Hospitality/Travel 5.3
Healthcare 5.1
Teaching 4.0

This survey was commissioned by a teaching agency!

  • Teachers were the least bored. 81 per cent of teachers questioned said it is the challenge of the role, 81% because no two days are the same, and 86% said they enjoy the interaction with people.  64% also rate the opportunity to use their creativity.
  • Employees surveyed say they are mainly bored because of the lack of challenge in their jobs (61%), not using their skills or their knowledge 60% and doing the same things every day (50%)

The Happiest Professions

According to the City & Guilds Happiness at Work Index some of the happiest graduate jobs were (in order):
  • doctor
  • dentist
  • armed forces
  • teachers
  • leisure & tourism jobs
  • journalists
  • accountants
  • lawyers
  • marketing
  • PR & advertising staff
  • nurses
  • HR staff
  • architects,
  • computing staff
  • bankers

Some of the least happy professions were apparently:

  • social workers
  • civil servants
  • estate agents
  • secretaries
  • administrators

I'm not sure how reliable this survey is but I'd suspect that some of the factors at work here would be people contact, money, job security & autonomy.

So what do we make of the apparent contradictions here? Of course, such surveys are never particularly accurate, and boredom and happiness are different measures. Teachers may be the least bored, but this doesn't necessarily mean that they are particularly happy in their jobs!


A UK Cabinet Office survey in 2014 has assessed the relationship between jobs and levels of life satisfaction.

A moderate link was found between earnings and wellbeing. Some well-paid jobs had low levels of wellbeing and vice versa. For example, despite a typical salary of £39,000, quantity surveyors were the 41st most unhappy occupation out of 274 categories. Farmers earn only £24,500 on average, but had the 8th highest life satisfaction.

People in outdoor jobs tend to be happier. As well as farmers, agricultural and horticultural managers and farm workers are in the top 25.

(1) Clergy 20,568
(2) Chief executives and senior officials 117,700
(3) Managers and proprietors in agriculture and horticulture 31,721
(4) Company secretaries 18,176
(5) Quality assurance and regulatory professionals 42,898
(6) Health care practice managers 31,267
(7) Medical practitioners 70,648
(8) Farmers 24,520
(9) Hotel and accommodation managers and proprietors 32,470

For the full survey results of all 274 occupations see here

Don't become a lumberjack!

A survey by CareerCast found that lumberjack is the worst job in America due to low pay, high danger and dwindling job opportunities. Journalist was second worst due to closures in the print industry. The best jobs in the US in order were found to be: mathematician, professor, statistician, actuary, audiologist, dental hygienist, software engineer, systems analyst, occupational therapist and speech therapist.


An excellent survey on the well-being of Plymouth University students and graduates by Dr. Glen Crust and Dr. Helen Hicks found that students with the highest well-being were those on medical, nursing, pharmacy and teaching courses whereas students with the lowest well-being were those on finance, law, management and economics courses. You can find the full survey results here. Well-being was measured by amalgamating scores for: "how satisfied you are with your life"; "the extent you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile"; "how happy you felt yesterday" and how anxious you felt yesterday (inverse).

Occupations with the highest well-being included health professionals such as physiotherapists, nurses, midwives, podiatrists and paramedics, further education teachers, surveyors, accountants and management consultants. As you might expect, graduates who got the type of work they wanted were happier than those who only had one job offer which they had to accept.

Graduates with first class degrees have on average a higher well-being than those with 2:1s, who have a higher well-being than those with 2:2s and thirds. This may well be because graduates with higher degree classes tend to be in better or more appropriate jobs. Women graduates report slightly higher levels of well-being on average and white graduates were found to have higher well-being scores than Black/African/Caribbean/Black British respondents.

Are employees of small businesses and the self-employed more or less satisfied?

A survey by the TUC found that employees in small businesses are more satisfied at work. They were also found to be the most committed and loyal to their organisations. They also felt most engaged by their employer and had the most freedom to choose their working patterns. There were far fewer reports of bullying, lower stress levels and less complaints about long working hours.

The Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said "In terms of the way they treat their staff, small businesses consistently out perform their bigger competitors. Small business owners know that the greatest asset is their staff and they are more likely to treat them as individuals and recognise their needs. By having a committed and loyal workforce that has a say in how the organisation is run, the smallest business has a bigger advantage."

Having said this larger organisations do tend to offer higher initial salaries, better training and more chance to specialise. See our page on Working in smaller organisations

People who have set up their own business tend to be happier. They take responsibility for their own future, and take control of their own destiny. Self employed people are happier about their work-life balance even though they work the longest hours - because they have more control over their time. See our self employment page for more about this.

THe happiness quotient

Research by Sonya Lyubomirsky (University of California) using data for over 250,000 people found that being happy lead to higher incomes, greater productivity and quality of work, more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions, more activity, energy, and flow, and better physical health.

A study in 2007 by Nattavudh Powdthavee found that meeting regularly with friends, relatives and neighbours had the same effect on your happiness as a large increase in salary. Being married or living together was also highly beneficial.


Some new research by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).has found that people who spend between an hour and 90 minutes getting to work each day are more miserable than their colleagues. and people travelling by bus are even more unhappy.

Commuters have on average lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that daily activities are worthwhile, lower levels of happiness and higher anxiety than non-commuters. People who worked from home had higher personal well-being even compared to those who commute for less than a quarter of an hour.

A study at the University of East Anglia found that most commuters prefer taking public transport to driving due to the stress caused from driving to work. ‘Active commuters’ who switch from driving to work to walking or cycling are under less strain, and therefore perform better in the workplace reinforcing the idea that there are positive psychological effects of exercise, plus the physical health benefits. Lead researcher Adam Martin said: “Commuters reported feeling better when travelling by public transport, compared to driving. You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress. But as buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialise, and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station, it appears to cheer people up.”

Also see the HR Grapevine article: Commuters want to cry by the time they get to work

Other factors reducing happiness at work include:


Green spaces

Researchers at the European Centre for Environment and Human Health found that living in an urban area with green spaces has a long term positive impact on people's mental well-being. Moving to an area with green spaces had a sustained positive effect, whereas pay rises or promotions, only gave a short-term boost to happiness. People living in greener urban areas show less signs of depression or stress.

Research at the University of Queensland found that office plants made staff happier and increased productivity by 15%

How important is money?

The Easterlin Paradox

The economist Richard Easterlin found a paradox: high incomes do correlate with happiness, but long term, increased income doesn’t correlate with increased happiness.

Researchers examined 37 countries over the long term (measurements were made over 22 years) and found that happiness ratings within a country didn't increase with income. In China, S. Korea, and Chile, per capita income doubled is less than two decades yet all these countries showed slight declines in happiness. Easterlin said "We may need to focus policy on urgent personal concerns such as health and family life, rather than on the mere escalation of material goods."


Income vs happiness in developed countries






Money is surprisingly not particularly important once you have enough to meet all your basic requirements. Extra money doesn't make you much happier. A pay rise does make you happy but only for a short while as you quickly become adapted to it. This is because we rapidly get used to what we have (see the hedonic treadmill below).

In the UK, life satisfaction has decreased since the 1970’s despite a 60% rise in Gross Domestic Product in that time, again showing that buying and THe value of somethingowning consumer goods makes no difference to well being. In 1998 Bhutan allowed in television and the Internet into the country for the first time (previously they had been banned). This lead to an almost immediately increased craving for a Western lifestyle and products and an increased dissatisfaction with life - see the hedonic treadmill below.


A new job, house or car gives a short term boost, but quickly get accustomed to it. Having your finances under control (e.g. not being in debt) is more important than a large wage, although earning less than most of the people you know also affects your happiness (keeping up with the Joneses). There is a higher occurrence of depression in those who think happiness comes via money, fame, and beauty. People are more motivated by the fear of losing something than the hope of gaining something.


After several years lottery winners revert to their previous levels of happiness.happiness at work

Winning £1M doesn't add to self esteem, in fact, after a short term boost in happiness most lottery winners go back to their old levels of happiness and sometimes even lower as they no longer have their old goals to aim for. They feel a sense of hollowness that may make them want to work again.

Some recent research found that mice preferred treats that they had to work harder to get suggesting that the old adage; “The harder you work for something, the more you appreciate it.” is true for animals as well as humans!

The real value of money lies in it's power to buy you freedom and security. By saving money you also partially insulate yourself from stress.

Money DOES buy:


If however after reading this, you do still wish to become a millionaire, according to a survey by Spears and Wealth Insight the most common degrees to achieve this are, in order:
  1. Engineering
  2. MBA
  3. Economics
  4. Law
  5. Business Administration
  6. Commerce
  7. Accounting
  8. Computer Science
  9. Finance
  10. Politics

The best universities to attend to become a millionaire were in order: Harvard, Stanford, California, Columbia, Oxford, MIT, New York, Cambridge, Pennsylvania and Cornell. The universities which dominate are exactly the ones you’d expect, not just because of the quality of the education but because of the self-confidence they instill in their students. They also have strong alumni networks.

HR Grapevine Article: Pilots and engineers earn more than CEOs


Rewards such as bonuses provide a short term boost to performance but ultimately reduce long term motivation. Performance related pay and the carrot and stick approach have little or no long term value in motivating staff.

Research from the Institute of Leadership & Management found that few employees said that bonuses motivated them to work harder.

According to those surveyed the most important motivators were:


Getting regular feedback, allowing staff autonomy in their role, the opportunity to innovate and improved office environments also helped

Good managers are key motivators who can make a real difference to their teams. The ‘five fundamentals’ of good management: coaching, giving feedback, listening, rewarding and recognising success and performance management. Something as simple as hearing ‘you've done a really good job on ....’ can strongly boost to an employee’s confidence, deliver a sense of pride and satisfaction and encourage them to put more into their work.

Part-time workers are more motivated (76%) at work than full-time workers (68%), despite being paid less pro rata (£10,793 a year, less than half of the average salary for a full time employee at £22,328). They are more likely to have a higher level of respect for their manager (57%) than full time colleagues (52%) and a more positive attitude towards their employer (57%) than full time staff (49%).

Women were significantly more motivated than men. For women, enjoying their job is the most important motivator (64% chose it as one of their top three), followed by ‘how well I get on with people’ (44%) and base salary (41%), while men chose base salary and benefits (58%) as the most important factor, then enjoying their job (53%) and how well they get on with colleagues (41%).

Those under 30 are more financially motivated than their older colleagues, and are more likely to currently be in a job where they receive financial incentives for work. Some 55% of under 30’s indicated that money was either very or pretty important to them, compared to 43% of over 30’s. 12% of under 30s said that money is the root of all happiness compared to 9% of over 30s. 

Two thirds (61%) of employees said their workplace had an appraisal system, but a quarter of respondents (25%) think that appraisals are performed poorly by their manager. Appraisals are less effective at driving the performance and motivation among female employees.

Sensory pleasures

Many people confuse happiness with sensual or sensory pleasures: those obtained from alcohol, food, sex, drugs, money and sun drenched beaches! Sensual pleasures are highly enjoyable whilst they last but tend to be short lived. They are a quick hit. They produce a temporary, ephemeral lift: instant but transient and superficial gratification. The high doesn't last and eventually becomes unfulfilling: rather like eating chocolate but nothing else: wonderful at first, but ultimately unsustainable. It has also been called "Hollywood happiness".

A study by researchers at McGill University found that dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain

All the desirable things in life are either illegal, expensive or fattening or married to someone else.

Too many people buy things they don't need, with money they haven't got, to impress people they don't like.

responsible for good moods) is released when you listen to music you enjoy. Even when you have listened to it many times, it can still arouse feelings of euphoria and craving.

The Hedonic Treadmill Problem

“Well," said Pooh, "what I like best," and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn't know what it was called.

The problem with sensual pleasures is something called the Hedonic treadmill. The high you get via sensual pleasures is produced by dopamine; a brain neurotransmitter associated with addiction: the pleasure you get is rapid but unfortunately doesn't last long - you need more and bigger hits to achieve same effect: more alcohol, drugs or whatever. It's called this because it's similar to a treadmill where you have to keep running just to stay in the same place. If you experience a constant sound, smell or image it eventually disappears from your awareness. We quickly become familiar with new sources of pleasure and so the pleasure lessens: enjoyment quickly fades as we get same experience every day.

hedonic treadmill

This leads to a vicious circle of desire with a negative comedown afterwards: the bigger stomach you get or the increased bills can lead to you despising yourself. You therefore need to increase the dose or move to a new source.

Advertisers have a vested interest in keeping the treadmill in place. We are constantly bombarded with adverts telling us we can "save money" by buying something new, which is nonsensical if you think about it! Our consumer society constantly encourages us to spend leading to increased materialism and we have been turned into "desiring machines". We keep comparing ourselves with others to reinforce our identity.

A new study by researchers at McGill University found that dopamine is also released when you listen to music you enjoy. Even when you have listened to it many times, it can still arouse feelings of euphoria and craving!



The hole of wanting can never be filled, except momentarily, by the objects of its wanting.
As soon as an aspiration or object is gained, I learn quickly to discount its importance and another replaces it.
David Brandon


How to break the treadmillhedonic treadmill

  1. You've already made the first step: just understanding the treadmill and how it works is an important start.
  2. Try to avoid sources of temptation: turn off the adverts on TV for example, or watch them analytically to see how they work on you.
  3. Try to separate what you want (desire) from what you really need (essentials). You may find that well over half of the things you buy are in the first group!


Also see the BBC article Shopping: The new tactics to get you spending


Those three things - autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward - are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It's whether our work fulfills us.

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

What motivates us at work?

Happy people tend to be successful at work, but surprisingly it's not your success that causes you to be happy, conversely it's your being happy which tends to cause your success.

Research has identified the following factors which make us happy at work:



Autonomy means having some control over your work: managing your own time and making decisions on what you do when. Employees who have control over the tasks they have to do have greater job satisfaction and lead more fulfilling lives. People really dislike being told what to do!

Self employed people are happier about their work-life balance even though they work the longest hours - because they have more control over their time. They take responsibility for their own future, and take control of their own destiny.

People working for smaller organisations also tend to be happier.

Studies have suggested that autonomy is twenty times better at predicting happiness than income. People with high income but little autonomy are usually much less happy than people with a low income but control over what they do, so if you can find ways of controlling your life, you can be happy even on a low income. Autonomy is also related to health: the Whitehall Study study found that Civil Servants at lower grades had much poorer health than those at higher grades who had more control over their work.


Mastery means being able to use and improve the skills that you enjoy using: see our Strengths page for more about this.

This is related to being involved in "Flow" activities (see below) where we feel completely immersed in the activity.


Purpose involves making a difference, understanding that what you do has value and having goals that you believe in (see below).

Other factors which contribute to happiness and motivation

Purpose: pursuing a cause that contributes to the greater good.


“Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread" Studs Terkel

Setting yourself concrete goals to help others makes you happier!


A study by Bruce Headey ( University of Melbourne) found that people who placed a higher priority on altruistic behaviours and family goals had a long-term increase in life satisfaction. Those who prioritised career and material success, however, experienced a lasting decline.

People with partners who scored highly on tests for neuroticism were more likely to be and to stay unhappy as long as the relationship lasted.

People who attended church regularly were on average happier than people who were not religious. Women reported being significantly less happy if obese whereas being overweight had no effect on men's happiness!

Those only are happy who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way.
John Stuart Mill       

Researchers at Stanford University found that setting goals to help others that are achievable gives you a greater sense of satisfaction that having an abstract concept of helping others. Givers experience greater happiness if they have concrete, specific goals of benevolence: making someone smile or increasing recycling rather than similar but abstract goals such as like making someone happy or saving the environment. This is because when you pursue concrete goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be met. Jennifer Aaker, the lead researcher said: 'A prosocial act can not only boost the happiness of the recipient, but it can boost the happiness of the giver as well.' Pursuing happiness without clearly defined goals can actually make us more unhappy due to unrealistic expectations.

We want to feel that we matter and that we make a difference, that we are contributing to something worthwhile and doing what is "right". There is a direct brain-based link between helping others and happiness. Finding meaning in what you do gives long term inner satisfaction. When we think what we do matters we feel that we are being productive and useful.

Jobs which give you a strong sense of purpose include teacher, doctor, nurse, fire officer, careers adviser, priest and nature reserve warden.

Having a job or activity which embodies your values is important. There is a saying that :


People who pursue goals late in life (e.g. by continuing to work) tend to live longer than those who opt for a life of leisure.

Data from 11,000 US workers showed that the strongest predictor of meaningfulness at work was the belief that the job had a positive impact on others.

Doing something for those less well of than yourself is also an excellent cure for self pity. "By making someone else happy you secure your own happiness".

This could involve:


"Alfredo Moser is a modern-day Thomas Edison, whose invention is lighting up the world. In 2002, the Brazilian mechanic had his own light-bulb moment and came up with way of illuminating his house during the day without electricity - using nothing more than plastic bottles filled with water and a tiny bit of bleach. In the last two years his idea has spread throughout the world. It is expected to be in one million homes by early next year." See www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23536914 for the full story.

Flow activities

Flow is the state reached when we are so immersed in an activity that we cease to notice the passage of time and have deep, effortless involvement. Time seems to stop. Our happiness is greatest at such times. Sports people call this "being in the zone" and mystics as being in an ecstatic state. It is the full involvement in flow, rather than happiness achieved from sensory pleasures that makes for excellence in life. It produces deep, long lasting satisfaction, rather than temporary cheerfulness.

Activities where we use and improve our skills produce flow

This could involve acquiring a new skill or improving one you already have: learning a language, improving your computing skills or playing a musical instrument or sport, improving your cooking skills, successfully mending your car, DIY, creating art or craft works, learning to dance and successfully growing plants.
Hot Courses
www.hotcourses.com is a database of almost all courses in the UK which can be searched by location or type of course.

Enjoying doing something you are good at: you feel you are doing exactly what you most enjoy doing and don't want it to finish. Identifying your strengths and skills and then using and improving these in your work, relationships and leisure interests gives a deep and lasting source of satisfaction. It makes you forget all your worries, and gives you a great sense of control and the satisfaction of a job well done.

Activities where we set and achieve goals produce flowachieving goals

This involves becoming immersed in trying to reach a challenging goal. See our action planning page for tips on setting and achieving goals.

The secret is to have goals that are


It’s almost easier to come second because then you still have something to aim for. When you win, you suddenly feel lost. You buy a shiny car, only to glimpse it’s superficiality. You win a promotion, only to find the job was not all you dreamed of. Even Olympic winners fall victim to an echoing sense of anticlimax: they have nothing more to aim for. Evolution makes us feel miserable after triumph, so we can disengage and focus on the next challenge. If goal fulfillment induced indefinite periods of contentment, we would be robbed of all future motivation.

Taken from "Bounce", by Michael Syed

Surprisingly flow is more likely to occur at work than in your free time. A job that ticks the following boxes is usually called a Career!.

Research at Massachusetts Hospital found that an 8 week course of half an hour a day in mindfulness meditation led to structural changes in the brain. Mindfulness meditation focuses on non-judgmental awareness of sensations & feelings.

Brain scans were taken of 16 participants before & after the training. Increases in density in the hippocampus (responsible for learning and memory) were found & decreased density in the amygdala (responsible for anxiety & stress responses), showing that the way we feel (calm or anxious) can be correlated with real structural indicators in the brain.

Meditating doesn't just give a sense of peace & relaxation, but appears to give benefits in mental & emotional well-being, memory, sense of self, empathy & reduced stress that persist long term. Regular meditators have reduced levels of negative emotion, increased well being and contentment and improved immune responses. reductions in reactivity, anxiety and depressive symptoms. Mindfulness-based treatments appear to provide antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects, as well as decreases in psychological distress.

Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, & not bothering.

Winnie the Pooh!

There is more to life than increasing its speed.


Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency.

Natalie Goldberg


Flow is often experienced in games such as chess or football because they have goals and rules that make it possible for the player to act without questioning what should be done, and how. For the duration of the game the player lives in a self-contained universe where everything is black and white.

Flow is rarely experienced in passive leisure activities, such as watching television or relaxing. Reading books leads to a lot of flow experiences whereas watching television rarely produces flow.

Flow activities need an initial investment of effort before they start to become enjoyable. If you are tired, anxious, or lack the self discipline to overcome that hurdle, you may go for relaxation rather than flow activities. You need some time to do nothing; relax on a sunny beach reading a novel, or just watching TV but it should be in proportion.

Holidays can help to clear your mind & to look at your situation from a new perspective. Getting rid of all the unused junk in your home to produce a tidy, uncluttered environment, can also help.

Relationships can of course also have a profound effect on your happiness but this is dependent on the whims of your partner. Flow happiness is of our own making.

Flow can also be achieved via prayer or meditation - being in the moment. Flow can even be achieved when doing routine tasks: doing the washing up or peeling potatoes, if we approach these tasks with a state of mindfulness (total absorption in the task to do it as well as we possibly can). See the Zen saying "Chop wood, carry water!" (see box on right.)

Lower blood pressure which is related to your state of relaxation is also correlated with happiness. There is increasing evidence that Vitamin D helps to lower blood pressure. Average blood pressure is lower in Ireland, Holland, Denmark and Sweden than in Germany and Portugal and people have been found to be happier in the first group of countries than the latter.
Blanchflower and Oswald, Journal of Health Economics

Flow is not always positive. Gambling can put you into a flow state, and if not controlled it can have addictive tendencies: for example, a workaholic may neglect other aspects of their lives such as their families

For more on flow see the research done by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi


Flow usually occurs when you are doing your favorite things

  • playing team games or sports
  • games such as chess, tennis, or poker or computer games
  • playing a musical instrument or listening to music
  • painting, pottery, writing poetry, music or a computer program
  • collecting coins or stamps
  • making clothes
  • growing plants
  • inventing something
  • religious ritual
  • climbing a mountain
  • watching a sunset
  • cooking a nice meal
  • driving down a country lane
  • feeding birds or fish
  • talking to friends
  • reading a good book

Research in the US found that teenagers experienced flow in

  • sports & games 44% of time spent
  • hobbies 34%
  • watching television 13%

Yet these teenagers spent four times more of their free time watching TV than involved in hobbies or sports.
Similar ratios are true for adults.

What can you do if you can't change your job?

Sometimes you can't change your job, especially in the short term and with fewer jobs available due to the economy, so how do you make it more meaningful? Sometimes our jobs have an impact on others, but we’re too distant from the customers or end users to see this. For example when university telephone callers responsible for getting donations from alumni spent 10 minutes talking to just one beneficiary of their work they increased their weekly revenue by over 400%. When we see the direct consequences of our jobs for other people, we find more meaning in our work.

An exercise called job crafting can help to reenergise your work. It involves redefining your job to incorporate your motives, strengths, and passions. You to visualize the job, map its elements, and reorganize them to better suit you. You can put personal touches on how you see and do your job, and you’ll gain a greater sense of control at work becoming happier and more effective.

You can change the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, expanding or diminishing their scope, or changing how they are performed. A graduate in sales for example might take on additional event planning because he likes the challenge of organizing people and logistics. You can also change the nature or extent of your interactions with others, for example hospital cleaners who lacked patient contact provided emotional support to patients and their families and how you think about the purpose of certain aspects of your job. For more about job crafting, see "Turn the Job You Have into the Job You Want".

If you can't change your work in the above ways, another solution is to find meaning outside your work by volunteering in evenings or weekends or taking an evening or online course. I remember one drama graduate who wasn't talented enough to become an actress and eventually ended up in a rather boring job as an administrator for an airline, but she gained great satisfaction by becoming a leading light in her local amateur theatre company.

For further information see


Also see our pages on Coping with being unemployed/Maintaining your morale and Striving for excellence

A King was going to his palace after his rounds in the city when he met a beggar. He asked the beggar, “What would you like?”. The beggar laughed and said, “You are asking me as though you can fulfill my desire!”

The king was offended. He said, “Of course I can fulfil your desire. What is it? Just tell me.” And the beggar said, “Think twice before you promise anything.”

“I will fulfill anything you ask. I am a powerful king, what can you possibly desire that I can not give to you?” The beggar said, “It is a very simple desire. You see this begging bowl? Can you fill it with something?”

The king said, “Of course!” He called his vizier and told him, “Fill this man's begging bowl with money.” The vizier went and got some money and poured it into the bowl, and it disappeared. And he poured more and more, and the moment he would pour it, it would disappear. And the begging bowl remained always empty.

The whole palace gathered. By and by the rumour went throughout the city, and a huge crowd gathered. The prestige of the king was at stake. He said to his vizier, “If the whole kingdom is lost, I am ready to lose it, but I cannot be defeated by this beggar.”

Diamonds and pearls and emeralds, his treasuries were becoming empty. The begging bowl seemed to be bottomless. Everything that was put into it immediately disappeared, went out of existence. Finally it was the evening, and the people were standing there in utter silence. The king dropped at the feet of the beggar and admitted his defeat. He said, “Just tell me one thing. You are victorious – but before you leave, just fulfil my curiosity. What is the begging bowl made of?”

The beggar laughed and said, “There is no secret. It is simply made of human desire.”