How Can I Find a Job that Makes Me Happy?

According to Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, there are three simple questions you can ask yourself to help you find happiness in your work:

  • What’s important to me? (Think about what you care about and what has meaning to you.)
  • What is pleasurable to me? (Think about what you could enjoy doing on daily basis.)
  • What am I good at?

He then suggests you make a list for each set of answers and look at the areas of overlap. It’s these areas of overlap that will most likely lead you to find work that you can truly feel good about.

Dr. Ben-Shahar teaches Positive Psychology at Harvard and has one the most popular classes there. His book is appropriately entitled Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment.

While reading this book isn’t going to solve every workplace problem, it’s a good way of checking where you are and what you really want. And, of course, Dr. Ben-Shahar also talks about what you bring to the mix. Your own attitude and way of looking at things can make all the difference. Even if you find the perfect career, if you come into it with a rotten attitude, you’ll never be happy.

With that in mind, he suggests finding ways to focus more often on the positive than the negative. This is not some new-agey gimmick. There’s a lot of unhappy people out there. And if a lot of our time is spent thinking about all that’s wrong in our lives, not only are we depressing ourselves more, but we aren’t spending that same time focusing on stuff that could make us happy – or at least happier.

The good news is, once we finally catch on and see how much we’re adding to our own unhappiness, we can choose to do something about it. First we can just notice our habit of mulling over hurts and failings ad nauseum. Then choose to replace those wasted moments – slowly at first, it takes time to break a habit – with more things we actually enjoy.

Not that we shouldn’t think about our problems and look for solutions. Not that we shouldn’t give ourselves permission to feel sadness and hurt. That’s just being human. But it can’t be our whole day! We also deserve to be happy. And with just a few small changes that we ourselves can decide to make, we can aim ourselves toward a happier life. And that includes a job we love. We deserve it!


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Speechie Keen says:

    Great post.. and it is all about your attitude. Thanks for the tip for focusing more on the positives at work. I will certainly make more of an effort to do that as I head off to work today!


  2. Thanks Speechie Keen! Appreciate the kind words. Great moniker, by the way.

    For me even a slight re-balancing of the negative to positive ratio helps. I mean…we all need to complain sometimes, but it just doesn’t get us anywhere different unless we take action to make things better for ourselves.

    Good luck at work today!

  3. I don’t know what makes me happy???

  4. You are not alone, Mandy! Many people struggle with this…but the good news is that once you start looking you eventually get there. I think I’ll have to write a post about that soon. In the meantime, one of the best ways to find out what makes you happy is by thinking about things you enjoy doing or reading about and then actually trying things on for size. Maybe a trip to the bookstore just to see what types of books call to you. Or think about where you might like to volunteer. Sometimes these things are hiding, so we need to help them come out. You might try one of those assessment tests you find in career section of a book store.

    Then again, for some people happiness at work is more about the environment or how the type of job itself fits your personality. For instance, some programmers do that because they like to mostly work alone and solve puzzles of sorts. Salespeople are usually extroverts who enjoy jobs that offer public contact. Other extroverts might teach. Some people enjoy working with their hands or building things. Some people love to design. Others love to research. Or work with nature. Or work with food. Or books. Only you can find this out for yourself. I wish you much luck. It’s an adventure well worth taking!

  5. Cafe Patron says:

    [Although this post is four years old, I hope that you are still accepting and reading responses to it.]

    Shortly after I read this post, I turned off my radio and began writing responses to Dr. Ben-Shahar’s three questions. I was amazed at the thoughts that I generated from answering such seemingly simple questions. This exercise makes me feel that I am making progress in discovering what kind of job makes me happy. Having a variety of work, volunteer, academic, and life experiences on which to base my answers also helps.

    Ben-Shahar’s three questions seem to be a generalization of Richard Bolles’ “flower” exercises. Ten years ago, I completed the flower in the Parachute workbook but could not derive any clear answers from the exercises. (Though I still would recommend that job seekers at least consider What Color is Your Parachute.)

    As Thomas Jefferson did, I take an interest in a variety of subjects. This clashes with the expectation of specialization that seems to characterize the job market. However, I am confident that after I identify my favorite activities, my strongest skills, and a field on which to focus, I will succeed in finding a career that I love.

  6. Hi Cafe Patron!

    So glad to get your comment. Made me go back and do the exercises again myself! And I agree about the Richard Bolles connection.

    I’ve often thought how much easier it is when you have just one burning passion or interest – at least easier to figure out what you want to do. But with a variety of interests it’s worth exploring – and tasting and testing – since the answer may come from a combination of experiences. Mine have led me to worlds I never could have seen otherwise.

    Good luck finding a career you truly love…even if you have to create it yourself!

  7. Oh…and if you want a cool free companion for your exploration, you might want to try this:

    The Career Explorer’s Journal

    A friend of mine who is a career coach in the UK wrote it and refuses to charge. 😉

  8. Thanks for posting Ronnie Ann! Great points pointing out the three simple questions you can ask yourself to help you find happiness in your work. As I finished reading your post, I can’t help but also share the key to success in moving to the life and work we love. And that is Passion. Passion PULLS us forward. It leads us, drives us, and inspires us. Passion makes us feel alive! Find your passion, and you’ll likely find your purpose and calling in life. Discovering you passion may not be magically done overnight. It takes time, effort, willingness and engagement. Just make sure that you have to embrace the attitude that no matter how long it takes or how hard it is, you are going to figure this out and you are going to make it!

    Thanks again and looking forward to read more of your posts. 🙂

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