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11 Tips to Find a Job That Makes You Happy (and Fulfilled)

by Silvia

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Finding work that makes you happy can seem as elusive as finding true love. Indeed, there are many parallels between the two. You want a job you can stick with over the long term – one that will fulfill you, that you will look forward to every day, and that will support you through both good and bad times. 

But though love is still a mystery, a happy job doesn’t have to be. You can indeed find a position meeting all the criteria above where you can work happily ever after. Science points out nearly a dozen aspects that work together to create this dream job. These include more obvious things like a high salary and a good boss, but also more abstract concepts like autonomy, variety, and meaning. 

In this article, we’ll lay all these factors out for you one by one. You’ll have practical examples as well as concrete tips for how to figure out if the job you have your eye on fits the bill. 

11 tips to find a job that makes you happy

So how can you increase your chances of finding a job that makes you happy? Without any further delay, let’s get right started and dive into the 11 tips.

1. Humanity over perks

Aside from the rise of teleworking, the Covid era has brought another radical change to the work environment. Namely, it has torn down the façade of perks many companies put up to convince workers they prioritize their happiness. 

Without office spaces, companies are no longer able to entice workers with things such as free lunches, ping-pong tables, or gym memberships. 

It’s just as well according to CEO Jenn Lim of Delivering Happiness, a business consultancy for workplace happiness. 

Lim explains that these perks can indeed make the work environment more enjoyable, but only on a surface level. What workers should look for instead – and what employers should offer – is being treated as a human being:

If we think about retention, we think about people wanting to be productive and engaged. The more they’re treated as a human being, the more they’ll show up. Look at treating people as a holistic person – not just their skill set or their role and responsibility.

Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness

This, more than any amount of free lattes or coupons, is the very foundation of being happy at work. 

What exactly to look for

It can be difficult to gauge something as abstract as a company mindset. Don’t focus on trying to calculate anything specific, but try to get a general sense from the company’s marketing, offices, and employees. During the interview, you might also get an idea of underlying attitudes. 

In particular, look for hints that the company views its employees as assets and builds strategies to support them. If they want to know more about where you are mentally, physically, and relationally, it’s a sign they are considering your bigger picture. 

It’s also good if they want to know how you relate to the values and purpose of the company and put in an effort to help you build that connection. 

2. Find some form of meaning in your work

One of the most crucial aspects of finding a job that makes you happy is meaning

This is the degree to which you see your job as a calling. If your job has meaning, it serves a bigger cause and provides a benefit to others. 

Jobs like alleviating poverty and curing cancer might pop into mind first – but they aren’t the only ones that matter. As long as you’re contributing something of value to something that’s important to you, your work has meaning. Here are some examples by Harvard Business Review:

  • Making a useful and high-quality product for a customer.
  • Providing a genuine service to a community.
  • Supporting a colleague.
  • Boosting an organization’s profits by reducing inefficiencies in the production process.

Will meaning make you happy?

Research shows that finding meaning brings many powerful benefits:

  • Life satisfaction.
  • Happiness.
  • Positive emotions.
  • A sense of coherence.
  • Gratitude.

But even without all these benefits, pursuing meaning at work would still be worth it for its own sake. As Jim Collins said, “It is impossible to have a great life unless it is a meaningful life. And it is very difficult to have a meaningful life without meaningful work.”

What exactly to look for

Finding work that has meaning has to start from within, with an examination of what really matters to you. Consider the impact you’d like to have on the world and the society around you.

Afterward, it’s simply a matter of finding work whose goals align with your own. Do research on the company, its vision, and its mission. Don’t forget to prepare some questions to clarify anything during the interview. 

3. A high (enough) salary

We’ve all heard by now that money doesn’t buy happiness. Or does it?

In its work section, the World Happiness Report found that people “in well-paying jobs are happier and more satisfied with their lives and jobs than those in the lower-income brackets.” 

But this is only true up to a certain point. It’s been shown that money only makes people happier up to an income of $75,000 per year. Earning more than that doesn’t increase happiness further. 

What exactly to look for

Calculate the minimum you would need to earn in order to make a good living where you live. Look for work that offers at least this amount – but keep in mind going significantly higher won’t make you that much happier.

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4. A competent boss

You’ve surely already thought carefully about what kind of boss you want in your new job. 

You might have thought about communication skills, leadership style, or personality type. But if you want to find a job to make you happy, you should also take a peek at their resume.  

A study found that “having a highly competent boss is easily the largest positive influence on a typical worker’s level of job satisfaction.”

The key here is technical competence – do they have deep knowledge and expertise in the organization’s field? 

This is in part what lets your boss be a resource to the team. But of course, they also need managerial skills. A Harvard Business Review article highlights these components of good managers:

  • They give clear strategic goals but respect members’ ideas about how to meet them.
  • They don’t assign personal blame when problems arise.
  • They help analyze problems and even help get things back on track.
  • They don’t hoard information as a secret weapon but share it readily with the team.

What exactly to look for

Ideally, your boss should be someone with direct experience in the field and not just someone with a title. Consider their history in previous jobs and the company at hand, and what kind of tasks they do as part of it.

It’s probably not a good idea to ask them about their qualifications directly. But you may be able to get an idea of their managerial style by asking about the dynamic and workflow between them and their team. 

5. A sufficient level of autonomy

We all crave freedom. So it’ll come as no surprise that another part of finding work that makes you happy is autonomy. 

Many studies, including the World Happiness Report, have shown that it’s one of the main drivers of a happy workplace environment. In particular, employees with autonomy are shown to be

  • More satisfied with their jobs.
  • Less likely to quit.
  • Healthier.

So what exactly does autonomy at work look like?

You can think of it as the flipside of micromanagement. In other words, having the power to make your own decisions. In practical terms, this means:

  • Making decisions without having to run them by someone else.
  • Being trusted to accomplish your tasks without being constantly supervised.
  • Choosing your own schedule, such as deadlines and breaks.
  • Having some choice over your responsibilities, such as delegating or prioritizing.

What exactly to look for

Keep in mind that autonomy can mean different things to different people. A study found that generally speaking, women appreciate scheduling and location flexibility, while men look more to task allocation and pace of work. There are also big differences in preference across professions.

Take a moment to consider what kind of autonomy is most important to you. If you don’t know where to start, think about what you appreciated most in your previous jobs. 

6. Enough variety (but in moderation)

How happy would you be in a job where you do the same mundane task over and over again, day in and day out?

Probably not very much. But I bet you wouldn’t be any happier in a job where your tasks are constantly changing.

As a study shows, happiness at work means having variety – but more important is the type of variety. Switching too quickly between tasks over a short period of time can undo the increased happiness and cause stress. 

The happy middle is to do a variety of tasks over a longer period. This is the kind of variety that leads to happiness and satisfaction. 

The study authors believe the different effects come down to a feeling of productivity. Multitasking doesn’t let you feel like you’re accomplishing much, because you’re constantly jumping back and forth on your to-do list. But sticking to the same task for too long leads to boredom. 

Work that has both focus and variety gives you the best of both worlds. 

What exactly to look for

Understanding the company’s workflow is key to gauging variety. Ask how frequently new tasks are allocated and how often they change. 

7. Not having to fake happiness

They say fake it till you make it but this definitely doesn’t go for happiness at work. At work, you shouldn’t have to fake your happiness.

Being forced to look happy at work can cause a whole host of health problems, ranging from depression to cardiovascular conditions. 

In an experiment, students acted as staff at a fake customer complaints call center. Half were told they could verbally defend themselves against rude customers, and the other half to stay friendly and polite at all times. 

The group that could defend themselves had only slightly raised heart rates after the unpleasant interactions. But the group who had to stay polite had extremely elevated heart rates even long after the phone calls ended. 

Many of us would agree with the study author’s comments on these results:

It’s about time we did away with the concept that the customer is always right and showed more respect for those in customer service jobs.

Of course, very few jobs will give you the green light to openly be a grouch. The study found that short bursts of “faking it” are manageable for most people – the biggest problem is having to sustain it over a long time, such as being a flight steward. 

What exactly to look for

Avoid work where you have to constantly spend time with customers – especially if you are forced to look like the star of a toothpaste commercial. 

If the job has a customer service component, having the choice to take a short break when you need one can help offset the negative effects.

8. A steady sense of progress

Look for a job where you can have a steady sense of progress.

Research has found that good days at work are characterized by 3 things:

  • Progress (by you or your team).
  • Catalysts – actions that directly support work, including help from someone else.
  • Nourishers – shows of respect or words of encouragement.

On the other hand, bad days are almost a mirror image, characterized by:

  • Setbacks.
  • Inhibitors – actions that fail to support or actively hinder work.
  • Toxins – discouraging or undermining events.

This shows a clear relationship between progress and happiness. However, the study also points out that progress must go hand in hand with meaning. If you have a project you feel is useless or irrelevant, you can make all the progress in the world. You still won’t feel very fulfilled, or happy. 

Of course, “constant progress” or “no setbacks” is not something you can reasonably expect to be promised in any job. Issues will arise, no matter what your field, position, or experience may be. 

What you can have, though, is a team that works together to foster and celebrate progress. In particular, the last two items on both lists above are key tools. They have an enormous impact on your perception of your job and even yourself. 

For example, if your manager makes sure you have the resources you need (a catalyst), they’re signaling to you that what you’re doing is important and valuable. When they recognize your work (a nourisher), they’re signaling that you’re important to the organization. 

In this way, a manager both helps you make progress and also supports the meaningfulness of your work – two important aspects of being happy at work.

What exactly to look for

Ideally, your work should be divided into small milestones. This lets you take frequent steps forward and gain motivation through momentum. 

Second, it is important for your manager and team to help minimize hassles. Try to find out how the dynamic works – does everyone pull together to find solutions? If a problem arises, can you turn to someone for help or are you expected to deal with it all alone? 

9. Good relationships with colleagues

One of the absolute most important things to look for in a new job is good coworkers. 

A three-year study found that relationships are the leading contributor to workplace well-being – even more than meaning, accomplishments, and engagement. A massive survey by the Society for Human Resource Management confirms the same findings. 

More specifically, lots of research shows that helping people, be it close friends or strangers, increases happiness. Naturally, this goes for work environments as well. In particular, people who believe helping their coworkers is important are much happier with their lives 30 years later. 

The key is to make this part of your regular routine. Once you get started, it’ll probably be easy to keep it going: happier people help their coworkers 33% more.

What exactly to look for

You often don’t get a say in who you’ll be working alongside, or even the chance to meet them before your first day. But if you find work where people share similar core values, your chances of getting along with them will be significantly higher. 

Also, look for environments where you can collaborate with a team. This will offer you the chance to build a bond and give a happiness-boosting hand on a regular basis.

10. Effective feedback

Feedback is one of the most hated aspects of work. Too often, it seems unfair, off base, or poorly delivered. But when done correctly, it’s a powerful happiness booster.

You probably don’t need a study to tell you workers feel happier after they receive positive feedback. 

It also creates a sense of accomplishment and motivation. IBM’s WorkTrends survey found that employees who receive recognition are:

  • Much less likely to quit.
  • Happier at work overall.
  • More productive.

It’s important for managers to leverage this and regularly give positive feedback. At the same time, they need to give constructive criticism too.

This is what motivates employees by giving essential information on where they stand and how they can improve. 

What exactly to look for

This is one of the aspects of work you do have some level of control over. If you don’t receive feedback in your job, you can simply ask for it!

But it’s also good to find work where managers are both used to and skilled at giving feedback. Studies show that the way feedback is given does matter – in particular, positive feedback must come before constructive criticism, and it should be delivered face-to-face with positive emotional signals like smiles and nods. 

So, unfortunately, your run-of-the-mill 360-report doesn’t count for very much. Try to find out more about how and how often employees can expect to receive feedback, and from who. 

11. A healthy work-life balance

As explained above, finding work that has meaning, a competent boss, autonomy, variety, and a collaborative team will make you happy. But nothing beats having a job that lets you shut your laptop and stop working

The World Happiness Report found that work-life balance is possibly the biggest factor contributing to employee happiness. This has been confirmed from nearly every possible angle.

The world’s happiest countries are also the ones who work the least amount of hours – and the unhappiest, the most. The American Psychological Association found that overworking negatively impacts both emotional and physical health, and many other studies confirm this too. 

Add to that the findings of another researcher, and the notion of overtime starts to lose all meaning. She conducted a study at a top consulting firm and found that some employees were reporting 80-hour workweeks. She also found that there was very little difference in productivity between those who actually worked 80 hours and those who only said they did. 

The bottom line? Nobody can be productive for that long, and trying will only make you miserable. 

What exactly to look for

It’s important to find out the company’s work-hour expectations and how rigidly they adhere to them. Check how work time is tracked and compensated, and if overtime is a regular occurrence. See if you can also find out if workers are still expected to do work tasks, such as answering emails, outside of work hours. 

Good teams help each other out, so it’s not a problem if you jump in to give a hand outside work hours once in a while. But there needs to be a system to keep track of your time and limits on how much of it you can give. 

How to check if a job fits the bill?

You may be able to guess many of these factors about a job just based on its location and industry. But don’t forget you have a powerful tool at your disposal: the interview. 

This may sometimes feel like an unpleasant cross-examination, but in fact, it’s a useful tool for both employee and employer to determine if they’d be a good fit. Use it to your advantage!

What to ask about during the interview to make sure your job will make you happy

Based on the tips I just laid out for you, here are some questions you can ask during an interview. These questions will help you determine whether or not your potential job will make you happy or not.

  • What are the company’s goals? Do they align with your own?
  • Who you would be working with? Do team members act autonomously or support each other?
  • How feedback works between employer and employee. How often does it happen and how?
  • How check-ins are done between employees and managers. How do employees communicate progress and setbacks to employers? How do employers react? (remember it’s not always a bad thing to have employers checking in, as long as they react the right way)
  • What the workflow is like. How long do you work on the same task? How many tasks are you given at a certain time?
  • How are work hours and breaks considered? Are they strict or is there a degree of flexibility?
  • How tasks are divided and communicated. Do employees have a choice in what to do and prioritize?
  • What portion of the day is spent with customers, and what is the company’s attitude towards dealing with rude customers? 

You might consider arranging a coffee with someone already on the team and having a chat about how it all works. Just be careful not to ask pointed questions to make them feel uncomfortable or like you’re criticizing the company.

Focus first and foremost on understanding the office dynamic and seeing if you could get along with this potential colleague.  

If you’re really having trouble assessing a job’s happiness potential, consider how it works with your idea of meaning and base your decision on that. Worst case scenario, you could always change your mind and quit down the line if it doesn’t turn out to be a good fit.

💡 By the way: If you want to start feeling better and more productive, I’ve condensed the information of 100’s of our articles into a 10-step mental health cheat sheet here. 👇

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Wrapping up

Hopefully, these tips will help you choose a job to maximize your happiness at work. If you follow the tips above, you’ll be sure to find a job that will fill you up with workplace bliss. But don’t consider the matter settled when you sign that contract! There are plenty of things you can continue to do right from your very first day at work to be happier at work.

Are you happy at work? Did you find it hard to find a job that made you happy? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Silvia Adamyova AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Born in Slovakia, raised in Canada. Online English teacher, editor, copywriter, and translator. You’ll find me holed up in a bookstore, typing in a cafe, or immersed in a philosophical debate.

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