What You Really Want from Work (Besides Money)

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There's nothing wrong with a day job — in fact, it's pretty healthy for work to just be something that you do for a paycheck. Given the state of capitalism and generational inequality, though, lots of us in the under-40 set want something more from our careers. After all, we give up enough time, energy, and flexibility for our jobs. In exchange for that, shouldn't one-third plus of our waking hours be happy ones?


It's a losing game to look for fulfillment solely through work, however. Career coach Susan Peppercorn has a better suggestion that will leave you less tied in knots over your job, with more space in your life for what matters. Writing for Harvard Business Review, she recommends finding meaning in your career, rather than happiness. "This is because happiness (like all emotions) is a fleeting state, not a permanent one," Peppercorn explains.

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This isn't just a bunch of pop psychology. Not only does Peppercorn cite studies undergirding this assertion, but she outlines some ways to unify your day-to-day and your overall search for meaning. These include:


  • Keep a journal of activities and projects that feel most satisfying to you.
  • Prioritize aligning your values and your actions.
  • Focus on relationships, not just deliverables.
  • Get your coworkers in on the project by sharing "best-self" narratives.

While happy employees are the most productive, businesses can create happiness simply with salary in many instances. Happiness that has staying power is the kind we work for, and it's a lot easier to chase when you're already seeking it out.