Would you say that you are happy at work and in general? Let’s learn how to measure the level of our happiness and why a job plays a huge role.
Can you say how happy you are, right now? Do you know whether you’re happier today than you were yesterday? Are you happier at work or at home? Are you happier in the mornings or after lunch?
Measuring your happiness is the first step towards increasing your contentment and well-being.
On a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means ‘desperately unhappy‘, 5 is ‘so-so’ and 10 is ‘blissful euphoria’, how do you rate your emotional state at this precise moment?
With this method — used by psychologists to chart their patients’ progress — you don’t compare yourself with anyone else. Your own emotions are the yardstick.
Get into the habit of evaluating your happiness level regularly — perhaps daily, or better still, every hour or so. Record the results for a couple of weeks, and you may discover patterns.
My Measurement of Happiness
I found that I’m happiest whenever I’m outdoors and the sun is shining. When I spent days cooped up indoors, either because I had so much to do or because of abysmal weather, my mood level dropped.
Once I saw the pattern, it was like scales falling from my eyes. Why had I not seen this before? Why had I spent the first thirty years of my life ignorant of this?
Of course, I spent every available minute in the sun whenever it was practical, and soon reaped the rewards of more optimism, energy, and joy. What happiness patterns might you discover?
Perhaps you’re happier when you travel by train than when you drive a car, happier when you clean your kitchen than when you answer emails, happier when you get ready for a date than on it?
I knew I hated meetings and felt mostly impatience and frustration while enduring them. But some meetings gave me an energizing buzz. What was the difference?
My observation records revealed that sitting passively made me feel low (3 or 4), participating actively lifted my mood to so-so (5 or 6), giving a presentation brought a 7, and chairing the meeting hit an 8 or even 9.
With this insight, I pushed myself to contribute actively to meetings, even (and especially) the boring ones, and as often as possible, I volunteered to give presentations or to take the chair.
I simply felt good being in charge, and my enthusiasm infected others. Before long, I was elected chairperson of the local writers’ group, the mental self-help group, the neighborhood give & take swap group, the online small business forum, and more.
Although this meant I had to attend more meetings than before, I enjoyed every minute.
Looking at our past experiences is worthwhile.
Get out old photo albums, and recall how you felt in those situations. Which situations made you happy, and which got you down? Does your heart fill with happy memories when you see those photos with Uncle Giorgi, but shrivel when you see yourself in Aunt Agneta’s home?
When people asked me what I liked to do on my holidays, I used to say that I was a ‘culture vulture’, happiest in museums, historical buildings, and art galleries. But when I recalled my emotions and graded them, I discovered that those culture visits left me emotionally unaffected.
What made me happy were the moments when I sat on a park bench, eating a picnic lunch, watching the flowers and feeding the birds before dashing off to another museum.
From that moment on, I planned my holidays so I spent more time relaxing in the parks. I still visit museums and monuments, but only the few that interest me the most.
Look at your ratings for work hours and leisure time: do you feel equally happy or do they differ greatly?
For many people, the happiness level is lower while they’re at work. It’s normal to be less happy at work than on holidays. As well as our time and skill, we’re selling some of our happiness to our employers in order to earn money.
But if the gap is large, or if you never find yourself happy at work, you need to ask yourself if you’re sacrificing too much of your happiness for your employment. You may need to change the way you work, and in the long term get a new job or even switch your career.
Yet, for others, work is the time when they feel happiest. Having a rewarding job and fulfilling career is what makes you happy at work. But if the difference between work and free time happiness is big, it can indicate that your home life and leisure need more attention.
Perhaps it’s time to ditch that cheating boyfriend, get marriage counseling, move to a nicer neighborhood or take up a new hobby.
For me personally, work was invariably the time when I felt the most or the least happy, with seldom anything in between. In four decades, I’ve held a variety of jobs, and I’m one of those people who identify with their work.
I didn’t just work as a journalist, I was a journalist. I also was a museum guide (my holiday job during my college years), a belly dancer (part-time, entertaining at weddings, at Women’s Institute meetings and in Persian restaurants), a tarot reader (mostly for fun at weekends, but the money came in handy), a bilingual secretary, a translator, an adult education teacher, a care home administrator (for a few weeks only), a publishing consultant and a freelance author.
Although I identified 100% with each of those job roles, I was deeply unhappy in some and brimming with happiness in others. What was the difference between being un/happy at work?
I considered all the factors that might have influenced whether my work made me happy or not. Could it be the location, the payment, the workspace, the work schedule, colleagues or the amount of appreciation bestowed by the employers?
All those played a role, but they could not explain everything.
When I rated each job systematically on a 1-10 scale and grouped the ‘unhappy‘ (2-4) and the ‘happy‘ (7-9) ones, the difference jumped out at me:
All the ‘happy‘ jobs involved a large amount of autonomy and creativity.
I adored being a bellydancer, adult education teacher, tarot reader, publishing consultant, freelance author. Each of these allowed — and indeed required — a huge amount of creativity, and I was in control.
The jobs with the greatest creativity and autonomy (bellydancer, tarot reader, freelance author) made me happiest.
The ‘unhappy‘ jobs, on the other hand, allowed little room for creativity, and practically no autonomy.
The translator was the dream job that I had worked hard to attain by studying as a mature student. But when I got there, it didn’t satisfy me at all. A translator’s work, like a secretary’s, is more derivative than creative, and it serves to enhance someone else’s work instead of standing on its own.
For other people, this is no problem at all — but the measures of my personal happiness revealed that it was a problem for me.
Now I’m working as a freelance author, writing books and articles, teaching the occasional adult education class, and I bask in the creativity and autonomy that feed my happiness.
Not all happiness-inducing factors are big issues.
Sometimes it’s the small things — a pretty wildflower at the roadside, the smile of a child, the twittering of a bird in the branches — that send a smile into our hearts.
When I was suffering from clinical depression, I was unable to feel happiness. The messed-up chemistry in my brain simply couldn’t produce joyful feelings. For a long time, all I could feel were sadness, frustration, worry, fear, anger, hopelessness and despair.
My emotional gauge was permanently stuck at 2, with occasional downward spikes of suicidal desperation.
My psychotherapist encouraged me to observe and rate my emotions and to keep a record. I tried everything, and nothing worked. Well, almost nothing. I experimented with essential oils, and thanks to my detailed record-keeping, I found that sweet orange oil lifted my mood by one notch.
It didn’t make me feel good — nothing could do that — but it made me feel less terrible. When you’re in that situation, the smallest improvement is incredibly precious.
Using the same method, I discovered that I also felt a little better (or, a little less bad) whenever I showered with fragrant soap. Such a small thing… and yet, such a precious effect, an improvement that neither therapy nor medication could achieve!
Once this insight took hold, I went out and bought a whole bag of fragrant soaps with different scents.
When studying the patterns of your happiness chart, be aware that some beneficial effects may not kick in immediately.
I notice this, especially with physical exercise. Working out at the gym, I’ve never experienced particular happiness. But after each session, and the following day, any activity I tackle rates a notch or two higher than it usually does.
Attending a qigong class lifts my mood only one notch, perhaps from 5 to 6… but for a couple of hours afterward, my happiness level is elevated to 7 or 8.
Spiritual practices often have this ‘delayed benefit’, too. Meditation, guided visualization, a quiet prayer in the synagogue or attending a church service may not immediately make you feel better, but fill your heart with serene happiness afterward.
Now it’s your turn. Chart your happiness, observe the patterns, find out what works for you, and aim to get more of this.
Are you happy at work? What makes you happy? Have you already observed patterns?
Perhaps you can leave a comment and share your insights.