How To Be Happier At Work, According To Science

Most of us spend the majority of our day there out of necessity, so if we can figure out how to be happier at work, it stands to reason that our overall happiness and quality of life will improve too. My parents (like so many of the Baby Boomer generation) often thought I was being a little too idealistic, but I've always believed in the old aphorism, "Find a job you love and you'll never have to work a day in your life." After all, work hardly feels like work if it's something you actually want to be doing, right?

My parents, however, may have been right: New research suggests that actually, most of us aren't lucky enough to create a career that has has leaping out of bed each morning in anticipation. In fact, when ranked among person feels about over 40 different activities, work is one of the least happiness-provoking activities we could do, according to a UK study published this month in The Economic Journal.

Personally, I've found that freelance writing has afforded me the ability to work and travel, thus creating a happy medium whereby I can both enjoy my life and make enough money to support myself. Not everyone is that fortunate, though — so how can we the average person be happier at work? Let's take a look at the research below and explore some of the simple changes we could introduce to make it at least feel as if we're working to live — and not the other way around.

The Research

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Scientists Alex Bryson of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and George MacKerron of the University of Sussex used innovative technology to analyze how participants really felt about work and other tasks while they were actually doing them they were doing them, recording instant reactions via a smartphone app called "Mappiness" (which McKerron developed) as they happened. Mic reports this was method was notable as previous studies used traditional survey methods to track respondents' happiness on various tasks — which meant they weren't as instantaneous, or accurate.

Researchers examined thousands of UK respondents who downloaded the Mappiness app in 2010; users were asked to rate their happiness, as well as other details about their daily tasks and locations, via notifications sent through the app. And unsurprisingly, researchers found that that it was the task of work which induced the most stress among respondents. "It is very rare for any work episode to achieve the level of happiness individuals experience in the absence of work, even when work is combined with other more pleasurable activities," authors wrote in the paper. "Paid work is ranked lower than any of the other 39 activities individuals can report engaging in, with the exception of being sick in bed".

Yep, going to work is about as enjoyable as being ill, folks. Of course these findings won't be relatable to all of us; many people have careers that are, luckily, far more enjoyable than being stuck in bed all day — but the study is worth noting, as it's the first of its kind to analyze the immediate responses of people during the day. The results suggest that, even if we like or are fulfilled by our jobs overall, many of us really do detest the day-to-day grind. And if you're a boss, you should pay attention to the research because studies show that not only are happy employees are more productive, they also help boost profits.

So, How Can We Be Happier At Work?

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There are a number of little things we can do to help us maintain a better mood at work all day long, but unsurprisingly, it all starts off with one thing: Waking up happy. Researchers of one study found that getting up on the right side of the bed creates something called an "affective prime" — a situation which encourages a positive reaction to the rest of the day.

Banishing boredom at work is also thought to be another effective way to keep your mood up at your desk. W 2015 Gallup poll found that only 32 percent of American workers are “actively engaged” in their role at work — meaning that most weren't engaged at all. Forbes reckons that the problem is down to boredom: "If you’re bored at work, seek out the chance to learn something new or take on a new responsibility," they advise.

What's more, another study found that being helpful at work alleviates dissatisfaction; happier workers help their colleagues 33 percent more than those who aren’t happy.

And if all that doesn't work? Well, it might be a good time to re-train, consider a career change, or quit. It's your life, after all.