Victoria Smith-Douglas
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Geographer, writer, educator.

We may not be able to count on our careers for our entire happiness, but a job that makes you content certainly helps. We spend such a large percentage of our lives working, it’s no wonder we all want jobs that are enjoyable and fulfilling. No longer are people content just to earn a living. Regrettably, for many of us, work too often becomes something to endure, rather than an opportunity for success and satisfaction. Yet there are plenty of people who seem to be happy in their jobs. What’s their secret? How can you find a job that makes you happy?

9 Steps for finding a job that makes you happy.

1. Focus on your next step, not the rest of your life.

Forget the idea that you’ll find one job that will keep you happy for the rest of your working life. That isn’t to say that this is impossible, but many of us are conditioned to think of careers as lifelong commitments, and that no longer matches reality for most of us. Be ready to adapt as your needs and wishes change. Once you’ve framed your career aims within a realistic picture of the 21st-century landscape, you’ll have a clearer view of how to proceed to your next career step.

2. Look at your whole life, not just your career.

Being happy in other areas of your life increases the chances of happiness at work and vice versa. Your career may seem like something you have more control over than certain other aspects of your life, such as relationships, family or health, but focusing on work and ignoring everything else isn’t a recipe for finding sustainable happiness in any part of your life. Consider what types of job or working conditions are compatible with your life right now and the foreseeable future. Once you’ve got the overall picture in perspective, you can proceed more effectively with finding a job that gives you what you want. 

3. Be honest with yourself about what you want.

This isn’t nearly as easy as it sounds. Most of us have multiple, possibly conflicting, wishes for our jobs, and priorities can shift. Figuring out what will really make you happy day to day in your job requires a great deal of self-awareness and usually a fair amount of work experience, too. But it’s worth keeping in mind that studies suggest certain elements are generally important for all of us, including the right level of challenge (neither too difficult nor too easy), a supportive environment, some variety of tasks and a degree of autonomy. 

4. Experiment and gain experience.

Much as we’d like to simply take an online quiz that magically gives us a list of jobs that are just right for us, in reality, it’s tough to know what we want and, just as importantly, don’t want from our work, just by thinking about it. If possible, try different jobs, whether internships, temporary positions, part-time roles or gig work. This will help you more than any amount of analysis to learn about what you like and what suits you. If you already have a wide range of work experience, look back and consider what elements of each job worked for you and which didn’t.

5. Stop trying to analyze your interests and passions.

This doesn’t mean giving up on your dreams. But you should focus on what you want to actually be doing in your role, rather than on finding anything that relates to an area of personal interest. Our interests change over time, and performing well in enjoyable work can lead to the development of a real passion. 

6. Find where your strengths intersect with the needs of others.

People who report feeling happiest in their jobs tend to do work that has a clear purpose and value to people. Another key factor is being good at what we do. Identify your areas of greatest strength, and research fields that are in demand to find out what possibilities are out there.

7. Make contact.

Connect with people in your desired field — not just those who can employ you but also people who can give advice, provide encouragement and maybe introduce you to a wider network. Respond to job advertisements, but use your aims to guide you so you don’t get lost in the mass of possibilities out there. If you have a good idea who you want to work for, apply directly to those companies on spec.

8. Persist, and don’t limit yourself.

Be determined but flexible. In other words, know what you’re looking for, but be prepared to follow alternate routes to get there. Narrowing your options may seem like a sensible strategy, but keep in mind that there are many jobs out there with the potential to bring you happiness.

9. Practice attitudes and habits that keep you happy.

In whatever job you’re in, there’ll be ups and downs, positives and negatives. While working toward your ultimate career aim, get into the habit of positive thinking that can help you feel happy with whatever you’re doing right now. Once you get your dream job, cultivate the attitudes that will keep it working for you.

What professions are the happiest?

So where are other people finding happiness in their careers? The answer to this question varies over time, but there are some jobs that have ranked highly on a number of recent studies. Most have a strong component of providing service to others.

  • Clergy
  • Firefighter
  • Guidance counselor
  • HR manager
  • Marketing consultant
  • Pediatrician
  • Physical therapist
  • Quality assurance analyst
  • Research or teaching assistant
  • Web developer

There’s no real secret to finding a job that makes you happy, but there are steps that will lead you in the right direction. It’s easy to get sidetracked into the rabbit hole of over-analysis, vacancy searches and desperate schemes. Keep level-headed and be prepared to put in the time and effort required. Above all, maintain the belief that you’ll find what you need and that you have the power to be happy in your job. Achieving job happiness is a two-way street. No matter how great the position itself, finding the role that suits you best is only one part of the equation. Your attitude and what you bring to your work is always an important factor in sustaining a job that makes you happy.

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