Happiness should include the workplace

Warning: May be slightly cheesy

This time last year I was working in a job I felt uninspired by and didn’t mean to end up in. I wasn’t excited to get out of bed in the morning, and felt no value in what I was doing once I got to the office. Now, I’ve started a new role in an industry I feel passionately about for a company I admire. I’m in a position where I enjoy the nature of my role and take a keen interest in the work, as well as using my skillset. Taking a leap of faith by changing careers completely paid off. The whole experience got me thinking about our attitudes toward work and how that squares with our overall well-being.

Coming from a degree in Human Geography, I’ve studied happiness maps before and have always been fixated with our wellbeing in the different arenas of our lives. Happiness is notoriously difficult to measure as it includes so many different factors. However, the Happy Planet Index came up with a measurable way of gaining insight into just happiness itself as a variable (excluding other factors such as life expectancy, wellbeing etc). Looking at a recent map (2016), it’s evident the happiest countries aren’t in fact the ones we might expect, given rates of development.

It shows some of the most developed countries (most notably the US) have some of the lowest rates of happiness. In fact, many studies show poor mental health and anti-depressant abuse as an increasing issue in the world’s most prosperous countries — in particular the USA, UK and Japan. These are perhaps the most capitalist societies ever created, with the heaviest emphasis on work. Evidently, work isn’t making us happy and nor is the money we earn from it.

In developed countries we’ve seen an increase in mindfulness products in recent years, from colouring books to meditation apps. Perhaps it’s a way for us to soberly-self-medicate outside of working hours, which is the only time we seem to factor in happiness as a consideration — outside of working boundaries. We seem to simply accept work as a daily chore to struggle through. This ideology has been taken so far in Japan there’s even a phenomenon called ‘Karoshi’, meaning quite literally death by work. In Japanese society, work takes so much priority that relationships become irrelevant, sex becomes mechanical and cuddles become commoditised.

We spend our lives looking forward to the weekend, the next holiday, getting drunk on Friday nights. All forms of escapism. I sometimes wonder if, perhaps the emphasis on work leads us to forget the more important things we can draw happiness from — relationships, self-growth, nature, helping others etc. The seemingly simple things that we forget to enjoy.

On the job hunt I interviewed for a fantastic company dealing with people analytics for employers. Their app allows the employer to gauge their employees’ levels wellbeing and productivity (see PSYT). Employees happiness should be important to the employer. Why? Because happy employees = more productivity. A study of 700 individuals found productivity increases by 12% when people are happy (Sgroi, 2015).

So, yes, we can put all of this effort into managing our happiness in our spare time in a bid to manage our work-driven lives. We can go to the gym at lunch to produce some endorphins and maybe have a more productive afternoon. We can spend hours meditating, going to yoga classes, trying to drown out the noise of sprawling, uncaring cities. But what if the actual work we were doing was producing happiness? I believe we should shift the focus from managing our happiness outside of the workplace to finding jobs which actually make us happy and fulfilled. After all, we spend about 1/3 of our lives at work. We shouldn’t spend 1/3 of our lives waiting for the weekend.

Basically, don’t be scared to break out of your everyday routine and make changes. It’s easy to plod along in a job you don’t like, be a cog in the machine, and collect the money. It’s hard to quit and move into a place of uncertainty; it’s hard to ignore pressure and others’ opinions, and perhaps hardest of all is to face the prospect of rejection and failure. But, in the end, if you care enough and work hard enough, it’ll pay off. I’ve seen this during my course in UX Design at General Assembly. It’s been amazing to watch people from so many different illustrious professions (lawyers, architects, you name it) making a change for the better. In a society so focused on work, it’s time we factored in happiness as our main job priority, and let everything else follow.

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Charlie Phillips

Charlie Phillips

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UX Designer with a background in Social Sciences and Human Research. Currently working in Just Eat’s global design team.