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How to be happy at work – 4 key ingredients to help you thrive in your work and prevent burnout

What do you enjoy about your work? The idea of the sole purpose of our work being the exchange of our time and skills for a monthly paycheck is increasingly becoming less and less common. And the race to the “top” is no longer the only way to feed our ambition – more of us than ever are crafting careers that are curated more laterally and diversely than a simple climb from the bottom to the top.

We want more from our careers – the past few years has clearly show that more than ever we want our work to make a difference in the world. We want creativity, innovation and flexibility. Of course, we all want to be well financially remunerated for this – but salary and security are not the only consideration for many of us. With burnout ever increasing, more of us than ever are looking for more work-life balance, wellbeing and purpose – and to ultimately enjoy and be fulfilled by what we do.

Is it possible to be happy at work?

Is it possible to actually be happy in your work? Some would say that looking for happiness at work is a myth and will only end in disappointment. I say it depends on what your definition of happiness is. If you’re hoping for very little actual work, exciting opportunities and a huge bonus every month then I’m afraid to say that you will be disappointed.

But if happiness for you is making a difference, learning new things, overcoming challenges, following your purpose and developing meaningful relationships, and being able to look after your wellbeing, then you are far more likely to find happiness and fulfilment in your work.


how to be happy at work 4 key ingredients Purpose&Potential life and career coach for ambitious high achievers


What are the ingredients to being happy in your work?

The author Daniel Pink argues that there are 3 key factors in our motivation and enjoyment of our work. These are autonomy, mastery and purpose. I add my own contribution to this – relationship.


Autonomy in our work looks like being able to choose when and where you work, it looks like being able to have choice over the projects you work on and the way that you approach tasks and challenges. It’s about stepping away from the culture of micromanagement and instead embracing choice and voice. Of course, the ability to achieve shared goals is essential to success of the organisation – but having individual autonomy has been shown to achieve far better results (contrary to what many organisations believe)


Mastery is all about the ability to learn, grow and develop our skills and ourselves through our work. It’s not about perfection and achievement of a finite result – it’s about continually practising and refining to be the best that we can be – and is an ongoing process. The idea of “mastery” is part of Carol Dweck’s work around “growth mindsets”. The pursual of mastery requires effort and challenge – we need to encounter this regularly in our work if we are going to experience fulfilment in what we do – without mastery we end up bored, unchallenged and lacking innovation. And if all that matters is the results that we achieve, without any value placed on development and growth, then this is a sure fire route to decreased motivation and ultimately burnout.


Purpose in our work is about having a positive impact on the world around us. It is about leaving the world a better place through what we do – whether that is directly through working with individuals or on a larger scale. Purpose is about far more than profit. Without it being at the core of what we do, it can be harder to feel deeply motivated in relation to our work and our careers.


Even if we work alone relationships are key to long term happiness in our work. As humans we are innately social creatures (even the most introverted of us require human connection!) and having a supportive and collaborative network is essential for our wellbeing and happiness in our work. If we work as part of a team, feeling connected to our colleagues and having a sense of belonging is key. This doesn’t mean being best friends or always agreeing with our co-workers – it means that there is an environment of trust and a culture of working towards shared goals.

What’s missing?

Money. I’ve not mentioned money here because as Daniel Pink describes in his book, Drive, a higher salary does NOT equal greater motivation or happiness in our work. Yes, we deserve and want to be paid well for what we do, and assuming that we receive a salary that is average for our industry and the same as our co-workers doing the same job (not necessarily the case – the gender pay gap is very much still in existence!) then money becomes much less relevant in our quest for happiness in our work compared with autonomy, mastery, purpose and relationship.

(Whether this will remain the case as we enter the cost of living crisis, I don’t know – I’m aware of the huge privilege that exists for those who are able to say that salary is less relevant, as these are the people who are by default less affected by financial stressors.

Your thoughts and time for reflection

How would you rate your autonomy, mastery, purpose and relationships in your work?

Is there anything you can do to improve these areas even further?

Is one of these more important to you than the others?

What role does salary/income play for you?

Is there anything else that is vital for your happiness and wellbeing at work?