You’re going to spend most of your life working, so you may as well do something that makes you happy. Positive Psychologists and top motivational speakers like Anthony Robbins and Steven Covey agree that using your strengths, and making meaningful contributions with your work, result in long term gains in your happiness portfolio.
Think about your greatest projects, accomplishments, and jobs. In other words, think about achievements that you consider great successes and continue to make you happy whenever you think about them. If you have a minute, jot a few down. Now, think about what made each of those achievements so special.
Here are a few of my great successes:
Growing up with my mother and father who were a doctor and a nurse with a passion for helping others allowed me the opportunity to make mission trips out of country. My very first trip out of the country was to Haiti, where my younger sisters and I were able to tag along and contribute to our parents’ effort through helping wherever we could. Even though we were young, we were able to help out with smaller tasks and benefit from the gift of giving.
As an artist, I’ve found fulfillment through teaching art to both kids and adults through amazing opportunities with the Guggenheim Museum in Las Vegas and MOCA in La. Opening night at art shows always give me a chance to relish the work I’ve done with these institutions.
Starting the social enterprise, Howhap is just my latest achievement that continues to give me those feelings of joy and accomplishment.
As you can imagine, these accomplishments have great meaning in my life and very much required the use of my strengths. Of course, figuring out how to create meaning and use your strengths at work isn’t the easiest goal on the planet.
How Did You End Up in the Job You’re in Now?
Most people wind up in a career field because it’s what they went to school, they knew someone in that industry or any number of reasons that don’t include, “it was a perfect fit for my strengths.” So, if you’re in a job where you aren’t using your strengths, you are not alone!
Why Not Focus on Your Strengths?
The description for the book “Go Put Your Strengths to Work” states, “Research data show that most people do not come close to making full use of their assets at work — in fact, only 17 percent of the workforce believe they use all of their strengths on the job.” In fact, lots of people choose to focus on their weaknesses instead of their strengths.
While it is true that you will gain happiness from accomplishing goals, such as overcoming weaknesses, this is a long, hard, uphill battle. One that will leave you with mediocre skills when you could have been working on your strengths and building a reputation for yourself as one of the best at what you do.
Ideas to Help You Get There:
Begin by putting a focus on using your strengths in small tasks every day, even if they aren’t part of your main job requirements. Create small challenges for yourself and help others in the process and you will be capitalizing on two additional happiness factors at the same time. If you need help figuring out what your strengths are, there are tons of articles and books on the subject, or you can take the following tests. Underneath each test, I put my results from that test.
Clifton Strengths Finder
VIA Character Strengths Profile – Free
Love of learning
Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence
Fulfillment Starts When You Work Your Strengths into Your Work
I am constantly considering how my strengths will fit into the career that I am building for myself. And to me it seems much more exciting to build a lifestyle and career on a foundation of things that come naturally for me, and that I can really excel at, rather than trying to make up for deficiencies. So, build your strengths into your future work goals. And while you’re thinking about the future, it’s also a good time to think about the legacy that you want to leave behind.
Leaving Behind a Legacy
An excellent thought exercise is to think about what your obituary will say. I know, it’s a little dark… But just imagine for a moment what you hope people will say about you after you die. This is just a guess, but I bet it boils down to loving relationships, good character and meaningful contributions. These things will be your legacy. And since a good majority of your waking life is spent at work, doesn’t it make sense to create this legacy while you work?
Apparently, the grandfather of positive psychology, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi himself thinks so, for he has written his two most recent books on the subject of “finding fulfillment in your work”, “Good Business: Flow, Leadership and the Making of Meaning”, Viking, 2003 and “Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet”, Basic Books, 2001. And Steven Covey has a title with a similar premise; “Great Work, Great Career”, Franklin Covey, 2009. But again, this is easier said than done, you have bills to pay and mouths to feed (or if you’re like me, one mouth and some plants).
Find Your Meaning, Whatever it is
But meaning too is something that can be created in small tasks everyday even in the most fringe jobs around. In “The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt talks about hospital janitors in Amy Wrzniewski’s studies. These janitors loved their work because they were contributing to the healing of another human being. I am slightly embarrassed to say this, but as a Loader or Digital Utility (Camera Assistant), I have to get coffee or food for the DP, Camera Operator and other Camera Assistants who can’t leave the camera… But I love it. Delicious tasting food and drinks are among my favorite things in all the world and I love being able to create a little piece of artwork with the food I put on their plates. In a small way, I am contributing to their health and that makes me happy.
So, wherever you are in your quest of finding work that allows you to pursue your highest potential, you can create your own happiness. But the best is yet to come, so aim to find work that utilizes your strengths and creates meaning in your life.
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