The Subversion of Satisfaction: Why Chasing Happiness at Work is a Dead End
Meaningful Work

The Subversion of Satisfaction: Why Chasing Happiness at Work is a Dead End

Being not happy at work isn’t something to be ashamed about. 

Particularly, if you choose serenity over happiness at work.

Or you are wiser than you think if you believe happiness lasts a while, while serenity lasts career miles.

During the 20+ years of my career with the 15+ years of entrepreneurship journey, I have seen many smiling faces in the meeting rooms; which had already turned to exhausted and indifferent after you stepped away from the meeting room. 

Give it a try. 

Forget (un)intentionally your USB stick in the room; you have been using for the presentation.

After you leave the room; grasp your AHA-Moment: You’ve forgotten all your data inside; and hustle the room back after 1-2 minutes.

Compare the faces you have seen before and right now. 

My (educated) guess:

Conventional black-and-white negative film-type faces. Just the opposite of the dental clinic ads.

Let me give you a clue why this observation is more important than you think:

The desire to reach serenity at work is more important than knowing how to reach workplace happiness because the person with the deepest desire will find a way to impact co-workers or clients positively instead of a moment of own satisfaction, no matter the cost.

Let’s dive deep and let me give you my memories and thoughts showing why chasing happiness at work is a dead end (in my experience).

Chasing Happiness at Work Twitter Post

What is Happiness at Work?

Unhappiness at work is a lack of clarity about the purpose of your career, in the first place. 

No shiny paycheck, C-Suite Promotion, or signed multi-million deal makes meaningless work the only other option.

You don’t need to stop being happy at work, you need to choose to look for meaning in what you do for a living.

So what is happiness at work, then?

Happiness at work is the combination of

  • Knowing deeply what a job means for you
  • Setting your expectations based on the meaning that you gave to your career
  • Measuring success not based on monetary or power-based units but on how socially impactful your career journey has been.

My Experience – Patterns of Happy Employees & Happy Entrepreneurs

I hear you: You claim that happiness is subjective and personal. Indeed, it is…

This fact doesn’t prevent me from observing when I visit a workplace.

It shouldn’t prevent you, either… (for your sake)

I observed a lot…

…during HR Consulting Projects, sales meetings, strategic plan advisory meetings, etc.

And the Oscar goes to the….

Patterns I’ve noticed in happy employees:

  • Feeling appreciated and mattering 
  • Positive attitudes toward coworkers
  • Hanging out with teammates after work 
  • Refusing in involved in (poisonous) chit-chats, no matter what
  • Being surrounded by coworkers who are not obsessed with getting a promotion. (including you)
  • Doing every small task with a kind of sense indicating it matters (unintentionally most of the time) 
  • Respected as an individual; prospected ( and trusted) as the One who will take the shutters down on the night shift

Patterns of Unhappy Employees

Patterns I’ve noticed in unhappy employees:

  • Solid supporters of the “Money is everything” Manifesto
  • Workaholics as they run away from the disputes at home.
  • Contenting themselves with what their efforts take them to. No way!
  • Over-achievers who gallop full speed ahead without taking a single self-care breath 
  • Perfectionists who strive to omid any small defect at work but fail to do it at the mental level. 
  • Followers of the social media myth of the “Perfect Life” and copycats of their rich or powerful idols
  • No goal, no soul, no intention (Call out Modern Talking’s Greatest Hit: “No name, no face, no number”)

My Experience – Patterns of Purposeful Employees 

Let’s have a brainstorming session together!

What if we change the wording:

Let us put “Purposeful” instead of “Happy” and see whether the sun shines brighter or not…

Patterns I’ve noticed in purposeful employees:

  • Living by principles
  • Humble most of the time
  • Practicing gratitude publicly and privately 
  • Showcasing clarity in the direction they head to.
  • Getting not distracted from different requirements of life
  • Staying calm no matter how hard the work task pushes you down
  • Giving back to their community in some way( Reminds me of my beloved university club Engineering Society a.k.a. ENSO founded in 1914 which has the motto “Giving back what the society has invested in us” in 2000’s. We were really paying back to society with many community organizations. Time for honesty; well; we were also partying a lot!!)

Which one do you prefer?

Why Chasing Happiness at Work is a Dead End

The best decisions I’ve made are the most opposed ones.

Exited all of my startups in a few months Running after meaningful work and life and ceasing to jump around like a Kangaroo from 7 seven-figure business ownership to entrepreneurship power. 

Choosing serenity over “happiness”, meaningful work over a growth-at-all-costs mindset, and focused high performance over over-achievement.

I was forced to make it work or be crushed mentally.

Do what you are born to do, not what your sugar-coated “happiness tales” tell you.

Don’t forget: You are supposed to do what you are born to do, not what your sugar-coated “happiness tales” tell you.

When I was a Senior Mechanical Engineering student, I chose to work simultaneously.

I applied for the PEP (Professional Experience Program) Framework of the Mercedes Benz.

Pretty competitive area. The best of the best nearly fresh graduates were competing to reach a position for the world’s most respected brand and company.

Therefore, hiring was not an interview-based process. Much more sophisticated: Assessment center type. Like a triathlon.

Many parallel sessions. Role-playing tasks with observing managers at your back. Team-work challenges. Full day long.

One of the gamified challenges was to compete for an Executive Assistant to GM Position ( Well, this is a technical, engineering-background-demanding position for Mercedes, not a PA position as expected )

I believe I performed better than my desk colleagues and defended my arguments more vividly.

I refused one thing only. To be interested in becoming Executive Assistant. 

After the session, one of the high-ranking managers questioned me personally: He was shocked to see how I didn’t fight for such a position. According to him, this position was such a gem that it would make me happy for my entire work life. Close to the peak, many travels, well paid.

To be honest, I was not lured at all. My answer was unexpected: “ I’m not looking for power; I just feel I will not be helpful in that position; and personally fulfilled either.”

Finally, I was chosen for another position in Production Planning with a powerful handshake and the welcome message “Welcome to the gang” 

Fast forward 21 years, and I have still many friends and coworkers who are still enjoying the Mercedes corporate life. They are successful and occupying management positions already. 

Many complain about the boring daily tasks, overwork, and nonetheless posing happy, smiley faces at beaches or while snowboarding at the mountain. 

The truth is, most of them are chasing happiness at work; because they are not happy at home or in family life. 

But you know what? 

Where does happiness at work come from?

Happiness comes from the rate of how much of your expectations have come true. The more expectations come true, the more you create new ones. Hence; you just live moments of happiness (or pleasure) and whooop it vanishes.

That’s why chasing happiness at work is a dead end.

As a human being; you can not ban yourself from expecting more. 

The more you raise your expectations, the more unhappiness will chase you.

  • You don’t need happiness in your work life.
  • You don’t need to say yes to every comment of your manager.
  • You don’t need to break your own brain glass into pieces just to figure out happiness at work is just the glassiness of a cork. 
  • You need social impact.
  • You need to look for a purpose at work.
  • You need to find your G-spot of meaningful work just to deliver your best version. 

Final Thoughts

If I could go back in time to my career start, I would learn

  • Journaling
  • Storytelling 
  • Healthy Living
  • How to take notes
  • How to ask questions
  • How to connect meaningfully

Then start recording everything I’ve thought, observed, listened to, or heard.

I would have compiled a ready-to-implement, unique information pile as comprehensive as “Library of Congress”

This is what I call mirror-learning: You learn, unlearn, and mirror-learn from your reflection and connections of your image. 

My problem was that I quit volunteering, maintaining meaningful relationships with my friends, and building up observations in the hope of advancing in my career and succeeding.

Ironically; succeeding didn’t fill the void; the void forced me to look for a purpose at work & life.

Found mine.

If you can spend 20 years getting a monthly paycheck to mortgage a small home you don’t even fit in, you can spend 1 year looking into your soul and finding your meaning at work.

Stop chasing happiness.

Go for purposefulness!

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