How Bringing Joy to Work Can Improve Your Life (and Save You From Burnout)

Professional success and entrepreneurship can be rewarding, but they have their limitations. Joy and ultimate meaning are too often viewed as byproducts of landing that dream job or reaching a certain income. But instead of expecting our work life to dictate our outlook, we need to flip the script. By choosing to begin each workday with a sense of joy, we are setting ourselves up to do more than merely survive the 90,000 hours we’ll spend at work over our lifetime. We’re positioning ourselves to thrive.

We all want to experience fulfillment in our work. Even if our job doesn’t include finding a cure for cancer or making food out of carbon dioxide, with the right outlook, our work can be fulfilling. Japanese entrepreneur Marie Kondo quickly became an American household name with the premiere of her Netflix series Tidying Up. Her business is built on the seemingly mundane chore of decluttering your house. By helping others find joy through such a basic task, Kondo exemplifies what it means to bring purpose and meaning to work.

The beauty of free enterprise is that you’re able to joyfully pursue things you care about, whether it’s raising chickens on your homestead or exploring new economic frontiers with blockchain technology. Maybe you haven’t saved a life, but perhaps your work has made someone else’s life a little better. We can all take a lesson from Marie Kondo, choosing to bring joy to our homes, workplaces, and communities.

What does bringing joy and meaning to work mean for the professional climbing in the ranks or the entrepreneur launching his startup? It will look like a buoyant determination, a gritty resilience, and a hopefulness about the future. Joy is a proactive mindset that resists the temptation to view oneself and their work solely based on external events and circumstances. This does not mean giving yourself the, “I am good enough, smart enough, and doggone it people like me” pep talk. Rather, it’s realizing that the day will bring hard work and struggles, but with the right outlook, you know you have the grit to persevere.

Undoubtedly, work is an important part of who we are, and for the successful professional or entrepreneur, it can be immensely rewarding. For those who find their vocation, or what some refer to as a “calling,” fulfillment at work may feel as natural as breathing. But the truth is we don’t need to wait for our dream job—or the perfect business idea—in order to practice cheerfulness, resilience, and goodwill. We can find joy each day, even when it’s filled with tasks that seem extremely ordinary or mundane, like tidying up. Cooking up family dinners at your restaurant, participating in the deceptively complicated manufacture of a pencil, or building modern conveniences that make people’s lives more comfortable can all be approached from a place of joy.

One way to develop this joy is by refining your professional skills. The confidence that comes from greater proficiency brings its own kind of satisfaction and joy. By choosing to continually learn, you are reminding yourself that there is something to look forward to—something to hope for. When we lose sight of the long-term goals we once held, we can quickly find ourselves discouraged and dejected. Continual learning is immunization against professional atrophy and can serve as a defense against joylessness.

Another way to lay the groundwork for joy, both professionally and personally, is by building a network of friends and allies. Business is relational, and most professionals understand the need to build a network of customers. However, it’s also important to build a community of peers that can offer support, mentorship, wisdom, and camaraderie. Friends at work will make your day more enjoyable and office politics more bearable. And your relationships outside of work, such as with your family, friends, and those you volunteer with, aren’t only a bulwark against loneliness, but they also enable you to live a healthier life. Meaningful relationships with others contribute to joy in a way that wealth and recognition simply can’t.

Joy can also keep us going during periods of fatigue and burnout. Bringing joy to work reduces the risk of professional paralysis that sometimes accompanies seasons of difficulty. Once you have learned how to flip the script and take joy to work, protect it.

The hopefulness and proper perspective that joy offers remind us that our careers sometimes follow a rhythm of tilling, planting, and harvesting. Certainly, there are times when workplace difficulties are an invitation for us to assess whether we’re on the right track. However, disillusionment can also stem from buying into the workaholic’s idea that we should find ultimate meaning and fulfillment solely in our work. That mindset can lead us to think that we always have to be “on,” never content to rest or recharge. Sooner or later that perspective will rob us of joy.

Once you have learned how to flip the script and take joy to work, protect it. Mark Twain once wrote, “Comparison is the death of joy.” Competition within an industry is necessary for businesses. However, at a personal level, we don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Too often, we measure ourselves against the success of others. But we would do well to mind our own business (really, we should tend to our own businesses). We often don’t know where others have started from or what their path to success has been like. By focusing on our own affairs rather than comparing ourselves to social peers, we can be more productive and avoid the destructiveness of envy.

In our career and business endeavors, there are many things beyond our control. But we are free to define success for ourselves (whether in monetary terms or by social impact), and we are free to choose our perspective on our work and workplace. By intentionally embracing joy rather than reacting to daily events, we position ourselves to exert control over our lives and careers. In so doing, we will be more resilient in the face of challenges and more grateful for the ordinary successes. So, bring your joy to work today. By the time your head hits the pillow tonight, you’ll be glad you did.

 Brooke Medina

Brooke Medina

Brooke Medina serves as director of communications for Civitas Institute, a state-based public policy organization dedicated to the ideas of limited government and liberty. She sits on the board of ReCity Network, a non-profit committed to helping social entrepreneurs and community organizations tackle issues related to poverty. Brooke’s writing has been published in outlets such as The Hill, Entrepreneur, Washington Examiner, Daily Signal, FEE, and Intellectual Takeout.

Doug McCullough
Doug McCullough

Doug McCullough is a corporate attorney at the Texas law firm, McCullough Sudan, and is a director of the Lone Star Policy Institute. Doug is a co-host of The Urbane Cowboys, a podcast on policy, society, and innovation. He is a National Review Institute Regional Fellow and Better Cities Project Fellow. He is a regular contributor to Foundation for Economic Education, and has been published in Entrepreneur, The Hill, Washington Examiner, Arc Digital, Houston Chronicle, and San Antonio Express.

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