6 Ways to Find Happiness at Work

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” ~Dalai Lama

A few years back, I worked in a medical practice.

I’d always been fascinated with medicine, and the position allowed me virtually free reign within the practice. I was able to sit in at the operating room during procedures, learn about the medical billing process, chat with patients in the physical therapy unit, and much more.

Basically, the position was a great fit for me, but I still wasn’t happy at work.

Even though I had exposure to many areas, I was rarely given the responsibility I thought I deserved. My opinions seemed to count for very little, and I only had a few friends within the practice—if you could call them that.

Even though I was in a good job in the field that I loved, I still left each day feeling a little less happy with my decision to work there. I didn’t hate my job, but was this really what I was hoping for? I would think things like, “Is this as good as it’s going to get for me?” Or “Is this job going to make me happy, or am I going to be stuck in neutral forever?”

It’s easy to fall into this trap of mediocrity. In the beginning, you might be excited to start something new. But pretty soon you fall into a routine, and then one day you wake up and feel like you’re sleep walking through each work day.

The good news is that life doesn’t have to be perfect for you to find happiness at work. Here are six ways that I turned the sadness ship around and found joy at my job.

1. Develop a social circle.

One of the key indicators of happiness is having a strong social network.

It’s easy to hate your job when you don’t know your co-workers. And it’s even easier to keep hating it if you continue to avoid them. The situation isn’t going to change if your actions stay the same.

In my case, when I came in, I was training with one person for the first week. They were nice, but they didn’t introduce me to anyone else. After that week, everyone was used to seeing me walking the halls, but they were also used to not talking with me. Before I knew it, I had been there two months and barely knew anyone.

When I finally broke the silence, I found out that many of my co-workers were great.

Don’t let another day go by without learning about your co-workers. Friends don’t just fall into people’s laps. You have to make an effort and get to know them. Reach out to your co-workers and be curious about their lives. Two people have never become friends without one of them starting the conversation.

2. Look for opportunities for growth instead of failure.

So often, we worry about protecting ourselves at work. We look at situations not as opportunities to grow but as a chance to fail. We view new ideas with skepticism. The thought that is always in the back of our minds is, “Will this make me look bad?”

The result is that we seldom take advantage of the opportunities before us.

If you feel like you’re always on the defensive on your job, then take a deep breath and look for an opportunity instead. Take joy in the fact that there is always a new project to start in the workplace. It doesn’t matter what you do or where you work, there is always something new that could be done.

Instead of punching the clock and settling in to the same routine, take some time to search for new opportunities. Constantly defending yourself is draining for everyone involved. You’ll find it much easier—and pleasant—to look for opportunities to grow instead of trying to protect yourself.

3. Help someone solve a problem.

When you’re feeling down, there are few actions that can help lift your spirits as much as helping someone else.

When I felt stuck, I reached out to a doctor in the practice who was working on some exciting new research. His study was interesting, but he was too busy (and thought he was too important) to do some of the grunt work.

I offered to do it for him. As a result, I worked on groundbreaking research and helped the doctor move forward with his project. After that, he became one of my biggest advocates.

Help someone else solve a problem and you just might solve some of your own.

4. Take on additional responsibility.

Becoming a more important piece of the puzzle is a sure fire way to improve your attitude at work.

It’s easier to feel excited when you know that your opinion counts. Taking on additional responsibilities will make you feel more respected and valued in the workplace.

If you don’t know where to start, ask your supervisor for suggestions on projects where you can help out.

5. Have enough courage to ask.

If you hate something about your job, then have the courage to ask if you can change it.

If you sit around and expect someone else to change your situation, then you’re going to be sitting for a long time. People are too busy with their own jobs to worry about whether or not you’re satisfied with your role.

Want to get away from a co-worker who annoys you? Ask if you can move to a different department. Want to work on a different project? Ask if you can help out with something new. Want a promotion? Ask your boss what you can do to start working towards it. Want a raise? Ask if you can take on more responsibility and prove that you’re worth more.

You can’t be overbearing or nagging, of course, but you’ll be surprised by how easily you can get what you want if you start asking for it.

6. Take actions that increase good will.

Most of us are happy when people say good things about us. When you do good things for other people, you create happiness for them and set the stage to receive it in return.

For example, compliments are so simple that we often forget about them, but they are so powerful that we should never take them for granted.

If you want to gain the respect of your co-worker, then send them a note about the great presentation they gave last week. If you want to receive the praise of your boss, then praise him first. If you want to catch the eye of the new CEO, then compliment her on the job she has done so far.

You can take this strategy a step further by not being as picky as well. For example, if you’re giving a presentation and your co-worker gets their part 80% right, then don’t worry about correcting them. In the vast majority of situations, it’s far more important to remain a united team than it is to correct every detail.

Try spending a day giving out compliments instead of criticizing people. Gaining respect and happiness in the workplace is easy when good will is abundant.

Finding happiness is as much about the decisions and actions you take as it is about having good things happen to you. And remember, if you don’t enjoy your life, change it! Doing the same thing today will create the same results tomorrow. Try some of these strategies and put yourself in a position for happiness.

Photo by Glen_Wright.

About James Clear

James Clear writes at, where he shares science-based ideas for building habits that stick and mastering your craft. To get more ideas for boosting your mental and physical performance by 10x, join his free newsletter.

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  • I really enjoyed this post, some really good tips. There’s a clear theme of taking responsibility for our happiness rather than waiting passively for it to arrive – something which is so important!

  • Be

    Lovely post and shows it really is important to be pro active when it comes to our happiness.  Happiness is in the looking…not in a one off find 🙂

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  • Awesome post! I especially like #3. Having many years of experience in leadership and management roles, I can greatly appreciate when someone in the workplace steps up and helps out the team without asking.

    Even better if you can have a leader that can foster an environment like that without saying a word.

    Love youf post.


  • James Clear

    Thanks Sirena! I’m glad you enjoyed it. 

    And you’re right — stepping up and helping out is a win-win for everybody.

  • James Clear

    Yep. It’s rare that we just stumble onto it. Happiness is usually a conscious choice coupled with deliberate action.

  • James Clear

    Thank you! I’m glad you found it useful. 🙂

  • jrice

    So if you’re already doing all this stuff at work and still have trouble feeling happiness at the job, is it time to move on? 

  • Hi James.

    A line that really caught my attention — “I was rarely given the responsibility I thought I deserved . . .” is one I hear so many times even though an employee is just showing up for the job. He hasn’t extended the extra step to do more work, perform high quality work, or work efficiently and yet carries these rather false expectations. I often see newcomers to the workplace holding this attitude a bit more than is healthy for them or the workplace.

    This framework makes the rest of your post so helpful. I enjoyed how proactive you were in your job and your encouragement in the post to extend oneself to connect with others, to take on more responsibility, and be clear and tactful in one’s requests. All such powerful tactics to feel more authentically connected to ourselves and the workplace.

    With #6, goodwill is a key point and unnecessary criticism is truly unneeded. However, one complexity of the workplace is that sometimes individuals do need correction and it needs to be authentic, direct, and tactful. I try to practice believing the best about my colleagues/reports and yet I know as a leader I also do them a disservice and live out an inauthentic connection when I do not step up to provide honest, helpful feedback delivered with kindness. That said, genuine goodwill truly does breed more goodwill and can reshape the workplace.

    Thanks so much.

  • James Clear

    Thanks for the kind words, Susie. There are — of course — no perfect solutions, but I’m glad that you found the article pertinent and helpful overall.

  • James Clear

    Hmm… I’m hesitant to say yes, simply because I don’t know the details of your situation. 

    That said, I think the typical suggestion would be “do you know what would make you happy?” And then we could go on and tell you to do that — or to take the advice of #5 and ask for that.


    I think the “do you know what would make you happy” question is actually misleading. The assumption in that question is that “something” will make you happy. It doesn’t really work that way. Happiness is a decision, not an event. It’s a choice to look at the opportunities in front of you. A choice to enjoy what is going well instead of focusing on what is going wrong. 

    My advice would be to do what you can to get into a better environment (whether that is in your current job or at a different one) and along the way, do your best to express gratitude for what is going well in your life. 

    I’m not a life coach, but I’m sure that you can choose to be happy about some of the things in your life — the mere fact that you have a job, access to clean water, shelter, and food is a reason to rejoice in happiness. Don’t dismiss the small things like that. Sometimes they are the best things we have.

  • It’s great how you’ve focused on ways for anyone to take control & be proactive about their future.  I know many times those who are not in leadership/executive positions can feel like their options are few within a workplace, but these steps are very helpful.  Using what’s within our control to help ourselves move towards our bigger goals can only create oppourtunities for future growth.  Thanks for a great article, James!

  • Wonderful post! How true — and yet how counter-intuitive — some of these tips are — like when you’re feeling unhappy, asking for MORE responsibility. I find that, with so many of life’s little challenges, if you can change your lens and see a task not as a chore, but as an experience, you can spend far less time being unhappy. 

  • James Clear

    You’re welcome! I’m glad you found it useful. 🙂

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  • Hi James cracking angle and vibe here, great stuff. For me true happiness at work is discovering work, a job, a role, that you feel helps you really contribute to the world. Most people don’t just sell their skills for a paycheck, they offer themselves and their skills for benefits for all of us. We don’t work, we give!

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  • Career Hearted Consulting

    These are simple ways to ways to change ones attitude about their job. Sometimes we can not always wait for something to change, we have to make the change ourselves! 

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  • loulou

    Sometimes, even if we try to make some changes or do differents things from what we usually do, the colleagues and the boss do not like because they think that we are going to take others position.
    personnally, I really hate most of what I am doing, but I do not have choice because I do not find another job. 9 years of sufferings. my boss does not want to change my position. when there is no change, we are not motivated but when she gives me to do something to love I do it perfectly. the problem is her assistant who is blocking everything, she wants to do everything important and us no.

  • iK way