The simple 2-part recipe to extreme happiness at work

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Maybe you’re a freelancer or an entrepreneur.

Maybe you work in a cubicle.

Maybe you run an agency.

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Or maybe you’re a billionaire CEO.

Whoever you are, I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess you have the same desire as the rest of us:

You want to be happy at work.

Are you happy when you’re working?

So, are you happy at work? I mean, not the kind of happy where you’re “just glad to have a job in this economy.”

That’s not true happiness.

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I’m talking about the kind of happiness at work that makes it hard to sleep Sunday night because you can’t wait to get started Monday morning.

The kind of happiness at work where you can’t imagine doing anything else professionally that would make you happier in this moment.

True happiness at work.

Are you?

Here’s a two-part recipe to being happy at your job

Recently, I’ve been reading the book Happier, by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, and it has really opened my mind to a lot of amazing things.

Despite mocking from fellow faculty and administration, Professor Ben-Shahar started teaching a class on happiness at Harvard University.

The first semester, he had only a handful of people sign up for the class.

By the third semester, word had spread so quickly about the effectiveness of this class, that he had hundreds of students enroll.

Today, the class is the most popular at Harvard, with 1/5 of enrolled students taking the course. Amazing!

Professor Ben-Shahar teaches that, at the base of all happiness, there are two fundamental needs that must be fulfilled.

As human beings, to reach the highest level of happiness, we must achieve both pleasure and meaning.

To break it down a little more, he explains we must do work that we enjoy today PLUS that offers future meaning to us in some way.

That’s the two-part recipe: equal parts pleasure and meaning in your work.

That’s why most of the world is unhappy at work

If you think about it, the Professor’s statement seems to pan out truthfully in the work place.

Why are many people unhappy at work? Because they’re “putting up” with something they dislike in order to climb the corporate ladder, save for retirement, or wait out some other future event.

All they are focused on is the future. There’s no present pleasure in their work.

On the other hand, there’s the employee who gets burned out because their day-to-day work is exciting, energetic, and challenging.

But they’re working for someone else. They’re building something for someone else. They’ve got no investment in the future.

For a while, their work is fun, but after a while, they also need to know how they’re contributing to the bigger picture.

Which are you?

If you’ve found yourself less happy than you’d like to be lately at work, maybe you’re deficient in either pleasure or meaning.

Are you working on projects that provide you with the excitement and energy you need to get up every morning? And are you pairing that with meaningful work that will mean something to you in the future?

Which of the two ingredients of this key recipe are you deficient in? And how are you going to bring balance back to your universe?

Here are a few ideas:

For pleasure-deficient jobs

  • Volunteer to take on more of the kinds of projects you enjoy and thrive with.
  • Delegate or farm out the work you don’t enjoy or are not very good at.
  • Find work that keeps you up at night (in a good way) or makes you pop out of bed in the morning and find a way to incorporate that into your daily routine.

For meaning-deficient jobs

  • Ask yourself, “Where will this project be in 10 years? Is this something I will be proud of then?”
  • Take on jobs that mean something to you. Do they add value to the world? Do they make your world and that of others a better place?
  • Make sure your “meaning” is more than just “future success,” a bigger paycheck in the future, or some other superficial sign of “success.” True meaning comes from adding value to the universe.

Most important of all, remember: having a highly pleasurable job or a job packed with meaning will only last so long. It’s not sustainable. To have a perfect happiness balance, you must discover what it means to you to find both pleasure and meaning in your work.

What do you think + are you happy?

What do you think of Doctor Ben-Shahar’s theory? Is he right? Will this recipe for happiness work for you?

How are you going to be more happy while working?

Comments are here. Let’s talk about it!

PS: As usual, the link to Happier in this post is an amazon affiliate link. If you click through and buy it, I will get a very small percentage of the bill. But I never, ever recommend books I haven’t personally read. At the time of writing this post, I am nearly halfway finished with the book and it is completely changing the way I think about things. I highly recommend it. If you do click through and buy it, thank you. Please send me a twitter message and let’s talk together about the book!

PPS: This post was originally written a couple of years ago. I was recently thinking on this theme and was reminded of the post. Since many of you have joined the Millo community since this was published, I thought it would be valuable to post it again. Thanks for reading!

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About Preston D Lee

Preston is an entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, and the founder of this blog. You can contact him via twitter at @prestondlee.

Leave a Comment



  1. Samantha Goh says:

    I absolutely agree this “happiness formula” works across many professions. Right now I am at a pleasure-deficient job, but I do freelance on the side to keep my day exciting. This combination helps me feel great about what I do everyday, and hopefully I can transition out of this current job so I can find both pleasure and meaning in my freelance work.

  2. With graphic design it seems that the work should almost always have some benefit to the artist in the future, in the sense that it can be added to a portfolio. I suppose the biggest enemy of the “two-part” type of thinking can be that you don’t always have control over the work, which can lead to unhappiness with the projects. Aside from the basics like enjoying your colleagues and boss, the work is the most important aspect of a job. Most of us want to work in an agency because the work is the best, which brings all sorts of benefits.

  3. I agree with the theory that some people lack one of hte ingradient and don’t even understand why they are not happy at work. At the same time I would add that to be happy at work you still need proper ballance between work and rest to have energy to do even the most interesting work – in this case you are happy both at work and in life

  4. I love my job, but it wasn’t always that way, but thankfully there was a light at the end of the tunnel. I’m a big believer that if your job makes you miserable you HAVE to find something else to do.

  5. You have given a lot of think about. I agree with the two prongs to happiness at work. Fortunately, I have both, in large part because I am self-employed and able to take charge of my work life. It can be more problematic if I were working for someone else. That’s why I particularly like the suggestions for correction that you have come up with. Very empowering!

  6. I’ve always freelanced, but recently made it into my full-time gig after I was fired from a major media company as an ad designer. Even though I was working within the design industry, which I am extremely passionate about, I still wasn’t happy. Working on someone else’s schedule, going by someone else’s rules – it just wasn’t working for me and it was showing in my attitude at work. Now, even though I have had to move back to my hometown and am currently not making any money, I feel a great sense of relief and happiness. I’ve been networking like a madman and it’s paying off with a number of leads, plus I’m apparently the only legit professional designer in town and businesses are starting to take notice. Joining the local COC has helped too. I guess what I’m trying to get at is even though I don’t have the “security” of working for a typical employer, I am the happiest and most fulfilled I have felt in years!

  7. I absolutely agree. I absolutely enjoy the mechanics of what I do for a living, but when the project I am working on doesn’t fulfill my need to have purpose or meaning, I could just jump off a cliff immediately.

    Money just isn’t enough to make getting out of bed worth it.

  8. My title at work at Pioneer Publishing is “Happiness Agent” and clients love it. Maybe I should use it on my design site as well. This article is very true but some folks really do have to do what they don’t like until they can find what they do like but happiness is mostly a choice daily no matter what your job.

  9. Sharon Pettis McElwee says:

    I agree with the recipe completely. I struggle with finding meaning at work because I’m not told how the projects I complete impact the company, even though I love what I do. I do think that at times there has to be a serious shift in attitude to enjoy any job; I’ve been unhappy at jobs people would kill for because I was too focused on the negative aspects of my job.

  10. I knew I was happy with my work (and life in generally), since it really “keeps me up at night (in a good way) and makes me pop out of bed in the morning”!
    This post came to explain why. I totally agree with the recipe.
    If we are happy and enjoy our life, then we can make other people happy too.
    Friends, family and clients. I’ve seen that happening.
    After all, I’m “Designing for Happiness”, how could I be unhappy? (that’s my blog’s name).


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