The percentage of total salary that people would sacrifice to have more meaning in their jobs is 23%. This was the average across income brackets from $40,000 to $200,000, according to Gabriella Rosen Kellerman and Martin Seligman in their book TomorrowMind.
But how do you find more meaningful work?
According to Amy Wrzesniewski, a Yale University researcher, meaningful work is a result of mindset. She found that a person is happier if he or she sees their work as a “calling” – not just a job. And the meaning is perceived by the person, not by the actual work.
According to Adam Grant, psychologist and author of Give and Take, “At the heart of meaningful work is the belief that your job makes other people’s lives better. When that belief gets shaken, ask, ‘Who would be worse off if my job didn’t exist?’ The names you generate are the reason your work matters.”
If you want to make the shift from seeing your career as just work to seeing it as a calling, making a difference in the world, or just more meaningful (in whatever way you define it), here are steps you can practice – try them all and see what works for you!
A Job to a Calling
Growing up, I vividly recall my mother’s frequent reminders for me to get an “Attitude Adjustment.” Looking back, I must begrudgingly admit that her words still hold true. As an adult and someone who loves brain science, I’ve come to understand the significance of this advice in a world dominated by negativity. Our brains possess a peculiar bias, inclined to focus on and retain negative experiences over positive or neutral ones. While this bias once ensured our survival, it now often leaves us with a feeling of discontent, or worse, misery.
Reprogramming Our Mind
Fortunately, we have the capacity to rewire our brains, forging new pathways that lead to joy, happiness, and fulfillment. It begins with recognizing negative self-talk and the stories we tell ourselves, stories that no longer serve us. By building awareness, you can then choose a different story to believe, one that is empowering or uplifting. Write down your desired positive story or belief and recite it daily, reinforcing the change you seek. If you are struggling with writing a new story, ask a friend to help.
Initially, it may feel fake or challenging to believe the new story or belief entirely at first. But here is the trick: your brain starts seeking evidence for the belief it’s told. It also likes the familiar. So, by repeatedly telling yourself the new belief, your brain will start looking for evidence to support it and get comfortable with the new idea. Remember, this takes time and patience, you’re building new pathways!
Savor the Positive
Another practice is to savor the positive. Often, we rush through life, focused on what we need to do and what’s not going right, barely acknowledging the good stuff that comes our way, only to later struggle to recall them.
To counteract this tendency, it’s vital to practice savoring positive experiences, no matter how small they may seem. When something good happens, pause, and fully immerse yourself in that moment. Feel the sensations it evokes within your body and prolong its presence. By doing so, you allow your brain to create more room for joyful experiences, reinforcing the formation of positive pathways.
Connect to the Big Picture
Wrzesniewski suggests that making the shift towards seeing your work as a calling starts with seeing how your work connects to the bigger picture. You need to re-frame how you see your work so that it has a greater emphasis on service and craftsmanship.
Have you ever considered how your specific job fits into the grand scheme of things? Do you realize that your role is just as vital as any other? Do you see what you do and how it offers service to others?
Remember: You Impact Others
As social beings, we are wired for connection. Service to others forms a vital component of meaningful work. Remember, service doesn’t necessarily have to be directly tied to your job responsibilities. Seize every opportunity to offer kindness and support. A simple act of compassion can create deeper connections with others, leading to increased happiness and enhanced performance (Gallup).
Since our society is interconnected, no occupation is more or less legitimate than another occupation. We rely on each other to contribute to the functioning of society.
A sanitation worker is just as important as an artist and just as important as a banker. Trash needs to be hauled away, especially if you live in a crowded city. Art (in all forms) needs to be created because it gives us awe, inspiration, entertainment, and joy. Bankers help us with our money, so we don’t have to carry it around or jeopardize it being stolen from under our mattress. While these are overly simplistic overviews of these roles, you get the point– all work is important.
We need to value each other’s work and value our own work.
Develop Your Craft
The feeling of mastery is truly magical. When you excel at something, confidence, pride, and a sense of accomplishment arise within you. One of the keys to infusing joy and meaning into your work is to focus on developing your craft. By honing your strengths and dedicating time to personal growth, you cultivate confidence and momentum, which in turn enhances your positive feelings toward work.
You might not know what your craft is, potentially because you take your ability for granted. Maybe you don’t notice your gift since it comes so easy. Or perhaps it just hasn’t been developed quite yet. Regardless of the reason, it’s important to know your strengths, play to them and develop them deeply.
If you’re uncertain about your strengths, I recommend exploring the steps outlined in my blog post Feeling Maxed Out? 5 Tips to Maximize Yourself Instead.
Life Beyond Work
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,
All play and no work makes Jack a mere toy.”
– Maria Edgeworth, writer
Even if you view your work as a calling, it’s essential to take breaks and engage in activities outside of work for the sake of sustainability.
Play is incredibly beneficial for our well-being. It relieves stress and enhances our overall quality of life. By allowing yourself time to rest and participate in enjoyable activities, you improve your work performance when you return to your job.
Moreover, laughter releases endorphins, the natural “happy chemical” that boosts your immune system and strengthens your resistance to disease. Play truly becomes a version of the fountain of youth!
While we were taught from an early age to work first and then be rewarded with play, the reality is that the more we work without prioritizing play, the less time we have for it. No one is going to come rescue you with recess (I miss those), so you must take charge and make play a priority for yourself.
If you still think your current job stinks, ask yourself these five questions. The work you do might have more meaning than you think.
- Do you like the people with whom you work?
- Do you enjoy the actual work you do?
- Do you see how your job connects to the bigger picture, and does that big picture hold personal meaning for you?
- Do you have the ability to bring ease or a smile to someone else through your work?
- Does your work support a family or lifestyle that holds greater value for you than the impact your work has on you?
Reflect on these questions and explore how you can shift your mindset about work. Focus on what is within your control and take one step closer to answering “yes” to any of the questions.
If you don’t feel like any of it is in your control and you’re simply miserable, it may be a sign that a job change is necessary. Remember, it is crucial to align your work with your personality, values, and preferences. Keep in mind, however, that starting a new job without a fresh and positive perspective may result in encountering similar challenges. As Confucius wisely stated, “And remember, no matter where you go, there you are.”
In a nutshell, if you want more meaningful work, it’s time for a mindset makeover. Rewire your brain, connect the dots, be kind to others, develop your craft, and don’t forget to play. If your current job still stinks, consider a fresh start with a fresh perspective. Meaningful work is within reach, let’s make that career transformation happen!