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How can one be really happy at work? A topic I research when I offered a workshop with that exact title to my colleagues at the beginning of the year.

One story I found, while preparing, really stuck to my mind. Zack Friedman, a leadership coach shared a personal experience. In his first job out of college at an investment bank, a new colleague joined the company. Almost at the end of the working day, the big boss came to the new colleague called Ryan. He asked him to prepare a presentation for the next day and to deliver it to the bosses house not later than eight in the morning. Zack as the mentor of Ryan did not want to let him go through this alone and offered his support. They both worked through the night and finished the presentation at seven. When they arrive at the big boss’s property Ryan asked Zack if there will be coffee and pancakes waiting for them inside the building since they had worked so hard and finished on time. Zack could tell him from experience that this was definitely not going to happen. They would leave the documents right at the entrance and then would have exactly 15 seconds until they would be chased off the property by the guard dogs. Ryan's response to all that - which Zack stressed he would never forget and possibly encouraged him to becoming a leadership coach - was the following question: ‘Where is the happiness?’.

I guess many of us know similar situations, where we worked hard or at our best intention and felt exhausted and bad afterward. But, is there a way to avoid such suffering? I would like to introduce you to my five findings which I learned from personal experience and research on the topic. Let’s start with the first step.


Perceiving that something is missing or odd is the basis. In order to make it visible you have to pause and get space for your observations and therewith enter another perspective. In the story above, Ryan pointed out to Zack what he is missing. He has the power of a beginner’s mindset as he just started at the firm. If we do not have the advantage of being new somewhere or having someone who we trust, the change of perspective can still be done. Taking regular times off to step out of the treadmill and autopilot is crucial. I could hardly believe at the beginning that short mindful breaks would make such a difference. When I take the time and really practice it, I am feeling much better. For short breaks, while working, I use Current, an add-on application to Google Chrome. There are many other ways and it does not need to be called mindfulness to be mindful. With this little exercises, you start a journey of finding more and more what really suits you. It takes time and can be compared to mastering a skill like learning to play an instrument. Important on this path is to stop all kind of multitasking whenever possible. It sounds trivial, but it makes a big difference when you start focusing on what you are doing in each moment. One thing at a time and one focus at a time.

To understand what is the best way forward, you need to get a good overview and how you are equipped to get from A to B. Driving with a Porsche is different from cycling with your three-speed bike. Without judgment what is the better way of transportation, we must realise that each type of locomotion requires a different kind of energy and effort. And energy leads us to the next step.

You Have One Job

It is your first and foremost job to make sure that you get what you need to obtain your strength and health. No one benefits if you overwork yourself and suffer from that. And remember, nothing is for free in life - neither the ride with the Porsche nor the one with the three-speed bike.

The energy you give into something, even the bad energy needed for vining and being unhappy, comes out of your life energy account and this account is not infinite. We are constantly running to some kind of achievement and satisfaction. However, who is too much outside and in an active mode burns. Ask yourself, what you need so that your “fire” keeps burning in a healthy way? Where do you get the firewood from and the water in case the fire gets a bit too high? It is all about balance. Not too much and not too little activity on the outside. Basic human needs are safety, food, recognition, attachment at an emotional level, spiritual and psychological engagement and creative activity, connectedness as well as personal fulfilment. Ask yourself if your job conflicts having a healthy balance of these.

Rescuer You

We all(most all) like to be saved. It is not the elimination of seemingly old-fashioned and rigorous bosses or problematic colleagues. It starts with yourself. Radical self-responsibility is the only way to freedom and happiness. You are a grown-up and there is no one to blame for your misery and emotions and there is also no one to save you. Learn to set boundaries by communicating non-violently. This avoids drama. It is important to be clear about what you want and what you don't want and to communicate that in an appropriate way. This not only gives you focus and clarity but also teaches your environment how to deal with you and what to expect from you.

All Is Here

You don't always have to take the hardest and most difficult path in life. Follow what feels good and right for you - even if your environment may find it strange. It is your right and your duty. No one can make decisions for you, because no one knows how it feels for you. That's why you should always look at good advice from othes with healthy skepticism. Both advice and criticism can be listened to but you don't have to accept or agree. If you are constantly seeking advice from others, you can try to listen more to yourself. Every answer is already in you. You don't need anything from outside. It may sound a little strange - but it's really true.

Be a Role-model: Do You

Find a boss who leads with encouragement and enthusiasm rather than with fear. If there is currently none at hand go and lead by example wherever you can. Be the role model you wish for. Stop trying to change others and rather understand what triggers you and why. If everyone would be able to manage and know themselves this would benefit all of us. You can do it, go and do you.

My MBSR teacher shared the following sentences with us. MBSR - Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is by the way a fantastic way to get balanced, increase your happiness and deal with all kinds of stress. 

As long as you are trying to impress others, you are not convinced of yourself.

As long as you strive to be better than others, you doubt your own worth.

As long as you try to make yourself bigger by making others smaller, you doubt your own greatness.

Who is satisfied with oneself has nothing to prove to anyone.

Who knows one’s worth does not need confirmation.

Who knows one’s greatness lets others have theirs.

Voluntary Challenges:

  • Physical: Plan a trip to the countryside and go on the trip.

  • Sustainability: How can you make sure to sustain your good health till when you are 80 or 90 years old?

  • Mental: Write down how your ideal workday looks like.


Original text on my blog: