10 Ways to Get (and Stay) Happy at Work

UPDATED: May 27, 2024
PUBLISHED: August 4, 2016

When I was a child, I loved going to the park and getting on the seesaw with a friend. I was so happy, without a care in the world. Many years later, in the latter stages of a successful career in human resources, I began to think about that seesaw from my childhood—but in a very different context. As I struggled mightily with my feelings of discontent in the workplace, it became clear to me that just the smallest thing can cause one person on that seesaw to soar high while the other sinks lower, sometimes hitting their butt hard on the ground.

Related: What to Do If You’re Unhappy at Work

It only takes a moment to slide from engagement into disengagement, but it will take a whole lot more time and effort to re-engage and find your passion and happiness again. The first step toward happiness at work is to become a “Chief Engagement Officer” and to take ownership of your own life and career.

Here are my top 10 life lessons for how you can get (and stay) happy at work:

1. It’s always your choice.

You are the only person who can make the conscious decision to be happy at work. Even in the face of negative aspects of the workplace, you need to think positively. You can do this by looking for those things that are good and not dwell only on the bad. Stay away from negative people and associate with those who are happy at work; it will rub off on you.

2. Take charge of your own development.

No one cares about this more than you. Today’s careers are all about moving from one role to another, gathering experiences for your portfolio along the way. Lateral moves and stretch assignments are more important than following a straight line up. Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for something more.

3. Don’t be shy; ask for feedback.

For most people, the annual performance review is the only time they get feedback, and it’s the most anxiety-producing process. Millennials and Gen Xers have turned this process on its head by asking their managers for constant feedback. They want to know early and often how they are doing. For some people, it’s the only time they get any acknowledgement of what they are doing well. For others, it’s the chance to fix something that might not be working well before it becomes an insurmountable problem. If we believe (as I do) that each of us is responsible for our own development, then getting feedback is a key part of the equation.

4. Gather your support system.

Find a group of supportive people who share similar backgrounds, experiences and lifestyles as you. This can help to take some of the pressure off of you at work, having your “team” to safely voice your feelings to.

5. Don’t try to change others.

You can’t change anyone else, only the way you react to him or her. Don’t let other people’s actions impact your journey. There will be colleagues who rub you the wrong way at some point, and if you let them get to you, they will have control over your engagement at work.

6. Avoid negativity.

Making the decision to be happy at work means avoiding gossip, negative conversations and the unhappy people you can’t change. No matter how positive you might be personally, negative people can have an impact on how you feel. They tend to suck up all the oxygen in the air, leaving you out of breath and frustrated.

7. Keep personal problems out of the workplace.

When you are overwhelmed by personal problems, it’s really hard to be happy and productive at work. Also, your colleagues don’t want to drown in your problems, even if they seem interested. Trust me when I say they aren’t!

8. Focus on the positive.

Even though you might not love your job, there is always some aspect of it that you do like. Find that nugget and focus on it, along with ways to incorporate it into other aspects of your day.

9. Make friends.

Most people laugh at the notion of having a “work best friend,” but truthfully it is important. Given the number of hours we spend on the job, it is important to have a small group of people you can really count on for support, resources, sharing and caring.

10. Have a “get out of jail” fund at the ready.

Sometimes you just need to leave a job; there is no other right answer. There is nothing worse than realizing this and not having the ability to do so because of money worries. You need to put aside resources to give you the freedom to walk away on your own terms.

You can absolutely be healthier and happier in all aspects of your life because you have the control. No one else has the power to disengage and disrupt your life but you. Don’t let anyone else take the reins of responsibility for your engagement.

Tomorrow is the first day of the rest of your re-engaged life and career.

Related: Laugh Your Way to a Happy Workplace

Ruth Ross

Ruth K. Ross is a speaker, author and engagement evangelist. After a successful 30-year career as a strategic human resources executive with top Fortune 100 companies, Ruth Ross started her own company in San Francisco to focus on the critical intersection where people and process fuse together in organizations. The outpouring of requests from C-suite executives, middle management and service professionals for her thought leadership on engagement validated her belief that disengagement is robbing people of their passions and cutting deeply into corporate profitability. Her recent book, Coming Alive: The Journey to Reengage Your Life and Career, is based on Ross’s own experiences and research, exploring the epidemic of employee disengagement in Corporate America. She also is frequently invited to speak at industry conferences and organizations on this topic. Learn more about her book, speaking topics, consulting services, upcoming events and blog at ruthkross.com. Follow her on Twitter, @ruthkross.