In our world today, we are overwhelmed with promises to quit our jobs and chase our dreams. We are told that we deserve to be happy and that if we buy enough things that it will eventually happen. We are told to work for the weekend and plan that next vacation. But why can’t we be happy with the life we have right now?
We live in a culture that prizes leisure over labor and longs for a “four-hour work week.” Sadly, like many things in our culture, this promise is an illusion. The truth is you don’t have to hate your job. Work can become a source of fulfillment for you if you choose to see it that way.
For my recent book The Art of Work, I interviewed hundreds of people who had discovered their purpose in life. And as I spoke with these people who had found their callings I learned several lessons. Here are three of them.
1. Hating your job won’t make you any happier.
We don’t have to hate the work we do even if that work isn’t ideally suited to us. Everyone I met who found their calling in life ended up doing something that surprised them. Which means that connecting to your purpose is more about perspective than circumstance.
During World War II, Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Frankl discovered an important lesson about human happiness: “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
Frankl learned this from living for years in a Nazi concentration camp. Everything was taken from him. His family. His work. His well-being. And yet he realized there was one freedom he could never lose: his.
If you choose to change your perspective, how things look will begin to change. You don’t need to win the lottery to find contentment. In fact, sometimes the very things we think will liberate us will actually only further prison us.
The easiest way to do work you love is to start loving what you do. This is a choice we all have. So let’s stop making work the enemy.
2. Do better work and the work will become more enjoyable.
One way to enjoy your work is to become better at it. It should be no surprise that we find greater fulfillment in activities that we are skilled at doing. But how much this is true is startling.
Laura Carstensen is a psychologist and the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity where they study what makes people live longer and happier lives. What they found was that people who continue to learn enjoy their work more and actually live longer.
Education, according to this study, is the single greatest predictor of lifespan. So you want to live longer? Be happier? Learn a new skill or get better at the one you have. And why not start with the place where you probably already spend eight hours a day?
Once we reach a basic level or proficiency, work that was once tedious may now be enjoyable. As Daniel Pink writes in his book Drive, mastering any skill makes the activity intrinsically more motivating. So if you are struggling to want to go to work in the first place, try doing better work.
3. Realize your whole life is a form of work.
Whether or not you have a day job, you go to work every day. You watch the kids or clean up the house. You mow the lawn or go grocery shopping. Every day, you are working, whether it’s at an office or at home. Whether you are retired or just beginning your career.
We all have important work to do. And that work is our life. Your magnum opus is not just one great thing you did. It is more like a body of work that you are constantly contributing to every day.
In that respect, we all get to decide what kind of job we have and how much we enjoy it. Of course, there are some things that are within our control, like our perspective, and some things that are not, like our circumstances. Your job is to learn to let go of what you can’t control and embrace what you can.
One important lesson about being happier with your life and work is learning to make trade-offs. It’s the dream of many people to want more of everything. More money. More stuff. More time. But you can’t have all three of those all at once.
So decide what’s most important to you. You can do almost anything you want in life but not everything. If you’re not doing what you want, you can quit. But that choice has consequences. You can stay where you are and there is a cost to that as well. One choice isn’t necessarily better than the other, so long as you realize you can’t have it all right now.
There is, however, something beautiful about not getting everything you thought you wanted. Constraints create contentment. Because in those constraints you realize what’s really important.
Jeff Goins is the author of four books including the national best seller, The Art of Work, which you can get for $2.99 this week only. You can find him on Twitter or follow his award-winning writing blog.