• Andrew Wien

When the Good Becomes the Norm—how to find lasting fulfillment at work

Three years ago, I was single, living with roommates and fending for myself when it came to food. My meals balanced taste, health and time investment. Time investment usually took priority.

Now, I am married to an incredibly talented chef. Lucky me! Dinners are healthy, fresh and delicious. There is almost always something in the fridge for breakfast or lunch. I’ve won the food lottery.

So why am I not radically happier?

The problem is that I’ve acclimated to eating delicious and healthy food—it’s now the new normal. I’m extremely grateful for my wife’s cooking, but it hasn’t raised my baseline happiness.

Which got me thinking—how does this relate to happiness and fulfillment at work?

Martin Seligman, a thought-leader in positive psychology, says that people typically pursue three strategies for a happy and fulfilled life:

  1. The pleasant life—eat good food, drive a nice car, maximize the good things while minimizing the bad things

  2. The engaged life—find the activities that bring you into flow, and do those as much as possible

  3. The meaningful life—identify how your strengths are best suited to help those in the world around you and use your strengths to make a difference

In his research, Seligman finds that #2 and #3 are effective strategies, while #1 leaves folks unfulfilled. He says humans acclimate to pleasant things too quickly for them to make a sustainable difference.

In the workplace, some companies offer a casual dress code, office snacks or flexible hours. I don’t advocate taking any of those benefits away. But just as delicious food wore off when it became my new norm, pleasant workplaces won’t generate long-term fulfillment because we’re all too inclined to acclimate.

Pleasant becomes the norm, not a source of happiness.

Finding happiness at work, for individuals:

Focus on Seligman’s Strategies #2 and #3. What work engages you so thoroughly that you track of time? Do more of that. What are your strengths, and how do you want to use them to improve the world around you? Chat with your manager about shifting your work to align more closely with those things.

Generating happiness at work, for managers:

Get your team to focus on Strategies #2 and #3. What work do they love? What are individual people’s strengths, and how can you give them work that aligns? Not only will this help your team perform better, it will lead to longer talent retention and higher employee satisfaction.

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