Not many people are happy with their jobs. The jobs I've worked in the past usually make it on the "Top ten worst jobs" lists.
I've worked filling stock at a discount grocery store, bussing tables at restaurants, and the holy grail of all terrible jobs: Door to door and telemarketing sales.
Even though this seems like a recipe for a depressing life, I've always enjoyed my work and derived great meaning from it.
Most people work jobs that don't fulfill them, then at home they laze around until the next shift—which isn't very fulfilling either.
So why are we leading lives that have left us so unfulfilled?
We've Completely Separated Work And Play.
We're not having any fun at work, and we're not seeking any challenge at home.
One thing I've learned throughout my study of happiness is that finding meaning or purpose in your daily activities is an absolutely necessary ingredient for a long lasting sense of fulfillment.
If you don't derive meaning from your work, and your free time is devoid of any effort or challenge, then you may be on your way to a crisis.
Finding Meaning At Crappy Jobs.
I've always enjoyed myself at work because I didn't see my job as meaningless. I tried to somehow fit my work into the bigger picture or gain whatever meaning I could from those menial tasks.
When I was doing door to door I worked with a lot of miserable people. They only saw the negatives.
"It's so hot out and we've been walking for hours!" "There is too much pressure, if I don't get commission my cheques are so small!" "We have to work every Saturday and I never go out anymore!"
Don't get me wrong, those points are valid. The job sucked sometimes.
But I chose to focus on something different. I would focus on my interactions with the people I was talking to. Every time someone opened a door I saw it as an opportunity to share a connection with someone new.
We joked, we laughed, we complimented each other, we even ended up talking about life over tea.
You would seriously be surprised how many people invited me into their homes and shared a real connection with me once I stopped focusing on the negatives, and started to find the meaning in my work.
Crafting Your Job To Cultivate Fulfillment.
Dr. Amy Wrzesniewski has done a lot of research into figuring out how people derive meaning from their work. She found that you can become happier with your job whether you are a CEO, a sales rep, or even a janitor at a hospital through what she calls "job crafting."
In one study she observed a group of hospital cleaners who found their jobs boring and meaningless, and another that found their work to be engaging and fulfilling.
The second group would 'craft' their job in creative ways. They would engage more with nurses, patients and doctors, taking it upon themselves to uplift the mood of the people around them.
In general, the second group crafted a perception of their job that saw themselves as an indispensable cog in a well oiled machine. They weren't just cleaning garbage, they were helping their hospitals run smoothly and contributing to a cause that saved lives.
In this mindset, these hospital janitors could find more fulfillment in their jobs than some of the doctors who might just be looking for a paycheque.
But finding fulfillment at work is only one half of the problem. We have to find fulfillment at home as well.
All Play And No Work Makes Jack An Unfulfilled Boy.
After a long day at work it is understandable that we want to relax, but it is possible to relax too much.
When we separate work from play, avoiding all effort and challenge in our free time, we are robbing ourselves of a fulfilling personal life.
In the book "Happier" by Tal Ben Shahar, Ph.D. he examines many interesting studies that look into the relationship between challenge, happiness and fulfillment.
One study in particular run by Donald Hebb jumped out at me.
In 1930 six hundred students between the ages of six and fifteen were told that they no longer needed to do any school work. If they misbehaved, their punishment was more recess. If they behaved, their reward was more schoolwork.
Hebb quickly discovered that "In these circumstances, all of the pupils discovered within a day or two that, within limits, they preferred work to no work (and incidentally learned more arithmetic and so forth than in previous years)."
Even children—who are notoriously opposed to work and love to play—realize very quickly that they would not enjoy a life devoid of challenge.
Without challenge we don't grow, without growth we feel stuck.
Challenging Yourself At Home.
If you're job isn't providing you with the growth and challenge that you need for long term happiness, you have to find it at home.
That is why I learned drums, why I study self development and write these articles.
The good thing about challenging yourself in your free time is that you get to do everything on your terms.
You can pick something that you truly enjoy, even if it is just playing video games. Just be sure that you are challenging yourself, learning, and gaining some sense of meaning and fulfillment from your activities.
Breaking down the barrier between work and play is the key to fulfillment. When you are at work, have fun with with it, share connections and find meaning. When you are at home don't just relax all the time, challenge yourself and learn something new.
It's a challenge in itself to break down this deep rooted barrier, but if we can accomplish this, we can lead truly fulfilling lives at work and at home.