Why you can’t afford not to love your work

What if it were the law that you could only do what you love for a living? Wouldn’t it transform the workplace, and make for a world in which people were infinitely more pleasant?

How do you feel when you wake up in the morning? Do you mourn the night’s end and pray for it to be Sunday again, or do you spring out of bed, full enthusiasm for the day ahead?

The answer’s probably a combination of the two, depending on what day of the week it is, how many times the kids woke you up, or whether you polished off the Prosecco last night or stuck to those ‘dry January’ good intentions.

But I’m going to wager that if you love the work you do, it’s probably pretty rare that wake up in a bad frame of mind. I’m basing this on nothing more than conjecture and my own privileged experience of getting to do what I love for a living.

But a 2010 study suggests I’m not that far off the mark. The New York Times reports:

“In a 2010 study, James K. Harter and colleagues found that lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance. Gallup estimates the cost of America’s disengagement crisis at a staggering $300 billion in lost productivity annually. When people don’t care about their jobs or their employers, they don’t show up consistently, they produce less, or their work quality suffers.”

In other words, whether or not you like your job matters. A lot. And it should matter to your employer too, because your happiness at work affects your productivity, which in turn affects their profit margin.

That’s certainly true for me. I love my job as a freelance writer more than I ever knew it was possible to love something you ultimately do because it pays the bills. I’d want to do my job even if my bills were taken care of. My work makes me feel purposeful, inspired, and connected to the world beyond my role as a mother of three. It’s rarely glamorous and not always fun, and the hours are long, but I’ve never got up on a day when I was due in the office and wished I didn’t have to show up at my desk. Heck, I’ve shown up there even when I didn’t need to, just because it’s a place where I feel creative, happy and fulfilled.

To quote a Guardian article, being happy at work makes us better people:

“Nic Marks, director of Happiness Works, writes that if we were happier at work we would inevitably be happier in our whole lives: we'd be better partners, better parents, and better people. He believes the important things for our happiness are rarely even physical things, but instead the quality of our relationships and feeling of purpose we get from our home and working lives.”

As a case in point, I’m writing this at 22.43 on a Saturday night. I’ve forgone the bottle of wine that has been chilling in the fridge all day, in favour of being clear-headed enough to write this. And it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice. (That’s surely the litmus test for happiness in any job; if you’d ditch a cold glass of something that gives you the warm fuzzies in order to work, without feeling in any way short-changed, then you must be in the right job. If, by contrast, you feel short-changed? Well, you probably are.)

So why don’t more employers go to greater lengths to make staff happy?

And more to the point, why do we tolerate spending our days in jobs that don’t light us up inside, or make us feel glad to be at work?

What if it were the law that you could only do what you love for a living? Wouldn’t it transform the workplace, and make for a world in which people were infinitely more pleasant?

I’m not suggesting I’ve got the recipe for Utopia - which is over-rated anyway… surely perpetual happiness makes it impossible to appreciate degrees of happiness? But I don’t think we should settle for jobs that don’t make us happy.

I’m not sure why, when so many of my friends have high expectations of their personal relationships, they seem so prepared to settle for something deeply disengaging or disappointing when it comes to work. Why accommodate that? Why not expect to be happy at work? Because after all, it’s not self-centred to prioritise your own happiness at work. Indeed, it seems it might be one of the most altruistic things you could do.

So, when you open your eyes tomorrow morning, do me a favour. Take the temperature of your soul, and gauge whether your working day makes you glad to be alive, or elicits a less favourable reaction in your guts.

If it’s the latter, make yourself one promise. That you’ll seek out some way this year to do what you love and call it work. That means different things to different people; of course. Maybe you’ll retrain, or volunteer, or push into a creative pursuit outside of your 9-5. You might resign, apply for the job you know would make you happy but which seems beyond your grasp, or finally take that sabbatical.

Whatever you do, remember that being happy at work really matters, and has the power to change the place you work.

Now, I’m ready to drink to that...