For the majority of Australians, the idea that work is just work or a means to end- and cannot be a source of happiness and enjoyment – is a myth that has been perpetuated for years. The source of this mentality towards our work has developed across the society we live in, and it shapes our feelings towards our jobs and work. Each individual has the freedom to shape their own individual career as they desired, however the majority feel as if they are snared in a trap.
Hating your job is a surefire recipe for a miserable life and if you continue to wallow in this attitude, which is underpinned by self-pity, you will only ingrained your hatred of work, so I ask why go there?
You can only break out of the ‘unhappiness’ trap if you recognise what is really holding you back in the first place. Is it your attitude? Is it your preconceived notions? Is it the pressure of others? Whatever it may be, it is possible that if you recognise the source of your unhappiness and deal with it you can move towards being happy at work. However, you are the only person who can fix it, no one else will do it for you
Research has identified that there are three main happiness traps which we discuss below and provide advice on how to handle each.
The ambition trap
You are ambitious and want to get ahead and spend every moment thinking about your next promotion, a potential new job, or how you are going to use your bonus or pay rise to purchase a material thing that you have craved. Each new goal is a challenge, an opportunity to prove ourselves, and is a step towards achieving your ambition, but the enjoyment or reward is only feeling because unfortunately year in and year out, being ambitious, we set lofty new goals to chase that will be satisfying for a moment, until we move onto the next ambition. If the feeling you get after achieving what you thought you wanted is an empty one, you are probably in the ambition trap.
It is human nature to want more whether it be money, time, attention, a flashy house, new car or to climb the corporate ladder. The premise is simple – supposedly life gets better, the more you have, unfortunately it is not as the more you have the more you want and life just gets faster trying to achieve everything. It’s why lottery winners are so often miserable and why there is little correlation between the wealthiest countries and those countries that have the happiest and most contented citizens. A ‘what’s next mentality’ is draining. We can become so focused on the next big thing that we lose sight of the impact our choices have on us and the people around us and don’t ever stop to celebrate and enjoy what we do have. .
To break free from the ambition trap, you need a strong level of self-awareness. The greater self-awareness you have, the easier it is to distinguish between what you think you want and what you actually want or even need. By celebrating each goal, no matter how small by taking the time to contemplate the achievement of a goal or delivery of a project. This enables you to develop a sense of how you have developed and how far you have come, overcoming the constant ambition circle.
The overwork trap
The ‘I’m busy’ badge is one that people often wear with pride. It gives a sense of importance, offering short-term rewards but in the long-term it can be debilitating and leads to an overdeveloped sense of duty that becomes extremely difficult to walk away from.
Too many of us are in denial about the impact of stress on our effectiveness, our well being, and our happiness. But feeling overworked is common, with research showing that over 57% of Australians see their work as the biggest source of stress in their lives.
The overwork trap does not happen overnight. It slowly creeps in with every late-night, each time you read your emails at home or answer your phone to take that work call out of hours. You ignore your inner feeling of needing a break and working overtime becomes your accepted norm.
The good news is that you can break this cycle through small incremental changes. Changes that are simple in reality, but hard in practice because they require self discipline and a commitment to it. Small incremental changes such as turning your phone off when you leave the office, reviewing your calendar and assessing what you want and need to do and create self time in your busy life, actually taking a lunch break instead of working through and not constantly putting your hand for every task are all minor steps in the greater scheme of life, but they help overcome overworking. Learning to say No is at the crux of stepping away from the overwork trap and whilst it might be hard at first, it is liberating once you do it. As well as learning to recognise what is really important and has to be done now and what can wait for later.
The ‘should’ trap
Do you ever feel as if the life you are living is not your own? Are you craving your own path in life, or are you doing what others want you to do or even worse you think you are supposed to do. If you find your work meaningless and you are not passionate about it, stop and ask yourself is this because I am doing what is ‘expected’ of me or what is most ‘practical’, rather than what I want to do?
According to Business Insider Australia, two-thirds of Australians value happiness at work. Yet they stay in jobs in which they are unhappy because of pressures such as financial or social and therefore fall into the “should” trap.
This is the most dangerous trap of them all. When you feel disempowered, and a victim of circumstances, it is often very hard to take the bold steps you need to overcome this trap.
You have to accept your critical part in what has gone wrong, blaming others does not allow you to move forward, it just makes you more cynical. Be bold, as often stated by a mentor “ step off the precipice, and see what you are truly capable of.”
To make change here, you have to realise it is time for you to take charge of your life and map out the life that you want to live versus the one that you are currently living because it makes your parents or spouse happy.
Look at your work-life decisions and ask ‘Why did I choose A over B?’ and do those circumstances still apply to me now, if not take the leap, you will be surprised where you land.
How to start overcoming being trapped
To break free from the jaws of any of the “unhappiness” traps, first, you must accept that you do deserve happiness at work and actually desire it. It begins with a mixture of introspection, soul searching, and reflection.
Remember you cannot find happiness outside of yourself. A new role or even a promotion will not ultimately overcome the core of a bad mindset. People who are truly happy in their jobs don’t just have a reason to be happy, they made one and are very self-contented with all aspects of their life.