From burnout rates to stories of high-flying executives leaving everything behind to pursue alternative lifestyles, you’ve probably come across many reminders that success doesn’t always equal happiness.
Finding career satisfaction might seem like a tall order when living in uncertain times and needing to pay the bills, but it’s possible. There are professionals who manage to experience joy throughout their careers — despite the ups and downs of life and all the external events they can’t control — because of their mindset and habits.
So what exactly have these people understood that the majority of the world hasn’t? Besides being intentional about their personal growth, career trajectories and goals, there are specific guiding principles that allow them to find joy and fulfillment at work. Here are four things the happiest professionals do differently to inspire you to craft your own definition of happiness and success.
They follow their bliss
Have you ever found yourself so immersed in a project and hours just flew by without you even realizing it? Psychologist Dr. Anastasia Sitka says that focusing on discovering your zone of genius and following the trail of ease and bliss is a key component of professional happiness: “If you are in the game because of the result you will never be sustainably happy. It’s that concept of flow that has become popular recently in psychology. The sense of losing yourself in a task. A sense of being exactly where you are supposed to be.”
Whatever your role or industry, make it a point to spend at least a little bit of time every day exploring the things that you’re naturally good at and that feel the most rewarding in your work. Your level of satisfaction will soar.
They don’t compare themselves to others
The happiest professionals never fall into the comparison trap. They know that it’s a waste of energy and that everyone has unique capabilities and trajectories. They don’t try to imitate others or beat themselves up for not living up to externally imposed standards. “Happiness lies outside of comparison. Happiness is achieved in being aware of who you are, who you are not, and staying vigilantly faithful to that. No matter what others are doing or demanding. No matter what is fashionable, expected or implied,” says Sitka.
When your inner green-eyed monster shows up after you find out about a colleague’s promotion, remember that the right opportunities for you will happen in due time and that life is not a zero-sum game — when others win, it doesn’t mean that you lose. Another powerful mindset shift is to replace envy with inspiration: If it’s possible for another person, it means it’s also possible for you.
They practice self-awareness
It’s impossible to be truly happy if you’re not in tune with yourself. You need to know what makes you happy in the first place, especially given the fact that things constantly fluctuate. Self-awareness is one of the most critical pillars of the approach of the happiest professionals.
“The habit of self-awareness and self-scans is probably the single tool everyone needs. To be aware of what fills you up and what depletes you, what excites you and what dulls the colors around you, what threatens you, and what empowers you. Awareness of when you are at your best, and when you need rest. Awareness of how certain people make you feel. Awareness of subtle intuitive inklings that this is not your time, not your place, not your person,” says Sitka.
They don’t jump on the hustle bandwagon
“As a recovered hustler and a psychologist to successful but troubled hustlers, I’m absolutely certain that ‘push’ and aggressive go-go-go strategies are the worst possible tactic one can choose,” says Sitka, who recommends thinking about career creation in the same way one would think about birthing a child — a process that takes time and requires wellness.
“You need to nourish and look after yourself and your child for nine whole months before the actual birth happens. You are not idle during this time. You are preparing, learning, planning. But calmly, at your own pace, listening to your body. And yes, you do need to give it a push eventually, but you push for a short time only,” she says. “Why don’t we do the same with our work children — our projects? We are not robots that can be programmed, we are a thing of nature. So sustainable happiness lies in recognizing and honoring that.”