“Happiness happens when you get a promotion, your team wins the Super Bowl. It’s the expansion of self. Joy happens when the barrier between you and something you really care about disappears. So there’s joy when you’re with your kids and you’re just playing. Sometimes there’s joy in work, where you totally lose yourself in your work and you experience flow.”
This insight came from social commentator David Brooks. Perhaps we should stop asking “How can I be happy at my job?” but rather “How can I find joy in whatever I do at work?” Following Brooks, the first question focuses on what I will be getting, such as a promotion or a bonus, whereas the second connects us to something beyond ourselves.
We are wired to be delighted in different ways. Grandparents dote on their grandkids. Nature lovers revel in the sight of the mountains. Bookworms like me lose ourselves in a well-written novel.
That delight can come from our innate altruism. Social workers endure a thankless job as long as they impart wholeness to people and families. Medical representatives do their never-ending rounds as long as they see how their products will save lives. L&D spend twenty hours preparing for a two-hour talk as long as they see people grow into better versions of themselves.
And in each case, I bet they find joy.
So what about you? What turns you on? What makes you angry? What is the one thing that you will sacrifice everything on? If you have the power, like a reverse-Thanos, to change society for the better, what would that new state look like? Is it to see people in vibrant health? Financial security? Deep relationships? Toxic-free environment?
After identifying your innate altruism, see how your career can help you carry it out. Look beyond your job description and realize what you are really contributing. Your impact doesn’t have to be direct. An accountant in a hospital may not be in the front line of saving lives. Her happiness can come from an error-free spreadsheet, but joy arise as she tells the hospital that it can save even more lives because its mission remains financially sustainable.
But wait, here’s even better. If joy is living a purpose beyond yourself, what can be more “beyond” than God Himself? Why not center your whole life not on your career, but on Him? Your work becomes a service and offering to our Lord. Brother Lawrence in the famous book The Practice of the Presence of God was a monk, but he found joy in the monastery kitchen cleaning pots and pans. He saw no barrier between the Divine Presence and his washing duties, which filled him with exquisite delight.
So don’t just be happy at work. Be joyful by merging your profession, passion and purpose. When that happens, you won’t be wishing that you would rather be somewhere else or doing something else. Make your career the vehicle to a higher calling for God. Each day will become incredibly delicious.