Happiness in your career is not as elusive as it might seem. In fact, there is plenty of research to tell you exactly how to find happiness, yet most people ignore the advice. Most people think they are the exception to the rule, but the truth is, you are no different than everyone else, and the research does apply to you.
Here is a short list of things people should do to find happiness in a career, which people generally do not do. This advice is backed by years of research and it is not particularly controversial among the researchers.
1. Observe people. Find the people who look happy to you and do what they do. Don't ask people if they are happy in their career. Most people will tell you they are happy because they have a vested interest in validating their own choices. So decide for yourself who is happy. This means getting to know a bunch of people. Interview them about what their life is like. Watch them at work. Trust your instinct.
2. Put passion before money. Research shows that once you can feed yourself and keep your electricity turned on, more money will not make your happier; no matter how much money someone makes they think they need 20% more to be happy. On top of that, research shows that people who choose careers they are passionate about make more money than people who choose a career for money. So stay away from jobs that won't pay enough for you to eat. But beyond that, choosing a career based on how much money you'll earn is one of the worst decisions you can make.
3. Go to the gym. You will do better in your career if you workout. It's a fact. Maybe it's that working out clears your head for thinking. Maybe it's that if you workout you look better and good looking people make more money. Or maybe it's that people who work out have a lot of self-discipline and that is what it takes to succeed at work, also. Whatever the reason, you are better off spending the last hour of your day at the gym than the office.
4. Have consistent sex. When it comes to happiness, personal relationships have significantly more impact than your job does. The best way to measure if you are maximizing your happiness from social relationships is by looking at your sex life. Research shows that sex once a week with a regular, committed partner will increase your happiness. Consider this research when deciding to move 500 miles away from your partner for a high paying job.
These four pieces of advice are not particularly difficult to follow. You don't have to be a genius. You don't need to live in a particular city. You don't need to have a good body or a good track record. So why are people so unhappy in their jobs? Because they don't follow the advice. Everyone thinks they are special, the exception to the rule, the complicated one for whom statistical research does not apply.
This is where Daniel Gilbert's research becomes important. He is a psychology professor at Harvard who studies happiness and he's noticed that no one takes the advice that research supports. He found that the reason people do not take steps that will make them happy is that they think they do not fit the mold. But he is adamant that people are not exceptional. When it comes to research about how to find happiness, humans are basically the same.
First, it's a logical impossibility that most people are the exception to the rule, yet most people believe they are. Ninety percent of drivers think they are better than average. Most football players think they are better than average. Most people believe they are worse at juggling than the average person. Statistically speaking, almost all these people have to be wrong.
Our perception of peoples' differences is exaggerated because we spend our lives finding differences between people to choose teachers, band mates and spouses. Gilbert recommends you think of grapes: “If you spend seven years studying the differences between grapes, no two will look the same to you, but really a grape is a grape.”
So, the truth is, the odds are overwhelming that you are average, and the things that set you apart are negligible when it comes to research about career happiness. So start running your life according to what people have already discovered works for the average person. Otherwise, the real barrier to your career happiness is you.