danielscareers-healthhappinessHappiness comes from within. You have probably heard this adage before, writing it off as an overused maxim. Its truth, however, can be realized in your job search or future career. Taking responsibility for your own happiness in your career can make a huge difference in how you feel about your job, your stress levels at your job, and make you feel purposeful and valued in your career. Exploring what makes work meaningful and purposeful, can help guide you to a happier life and more fulfilling career.

College students who feel that their future careers are driven by meaningful work, which is defined as experiencing or finding a sense of purpose in their careers (Dik, Duffy, & Eldridge, 2009) demonstrate high levels of comfort, self-clarity, adaptive qualities, and confidence in their career decisions (Duffy & Sedlacek, 2007).Likewise, adults who find their work meaningful feel more satisfied on the job and with life in general. These are pretty powerful statements that should make you think twice about the concept of meaningful work.

No particular quality makes certain careers inherently more meaningful than others. It may be hard to believe but working on a factory assembly line can be just as meaningful and satisfying as being a professional baseball player. The key is to remember that happiness comes from within. Meaningful work has little to do with the amount of money you make in your job. Making more money than you need to live does not contribute to job satisfaction (Goudreau, 2013). On the contrary, not finding meaningful work can be devastating.  Here are some tips for finding a meaningful career path and making sure that every day feels productive and meaningful.

People feel they do meaningful work when their job aligns with their personal philosophy on life. When you are choosing a career ask yourself: 

  1. What ultimately is most important to you in life?
  2. How would you describe your overall life purpose?
  3. Where do you turn for answers to questions of meaning and purpose in your life?

These large scale questions can help you orient your career path and job search. Jobs that align with your answers to these questions will position you best to experience meaningful work.

It is also important to remember that you can cultivate meaningful work in any job. In fact, when you feel your work is meaningful, you will perform better, which may help move you toward a job where you can cultivate meaning with even less effort. In any job, you can do this by taking an “other-oriented approach” to work (Dik, Duffy, & Eldridge, 2009). This means considering how your work impacts society or even those around you in your office community in a positive way. Focusing on how you serve others in your career, any career, can help improve health and increase feelings of meaningful work.

To compliment this you can make an effort to use your signature strengths and talents to serve something you believe in that is larger than yourself on a day-to-day basis (Dik, Duffy, & Eldridge, 2009). To use your talents every day, you must first know what they are. Consider taking one of the personality/strengths inventories offered by Daniels Career Services to help you find your signature strengths. Once you know your strengths you can begin leveraging them in your job search by finding jobs that require your talents and also communicating to future employers what you need to cultivate a meaningful career. Everyone is happier when they are able to do their job well!

Check out this TED Talk for more about meaningful work: 



Dik, B.J. Duffy, R.D. & Eldridge, B.M. (2009). Calling and vocation in career counsling: Recommendations promoting meaningful work. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 40(6), 625-632.

Duffy, R. D., & Sedlacek, W. E. (2007). The presence of and search for a calling: Connections to career development. Journal of Vocational Behavior,70, 590–601.

Goudreau, J. (2013). Meaningful work—not money—makes people happy. Business Insider. Retrieved from: http://www.businessinsider.com/work-makes-people-happy-2013-12

Keeley M. B. Hunter is a Project Coordinator for the Taylor Family Undergraduate Career Center  [Updated: Keeley Hunter no longer works for Daniels College of Business.]

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