By Eric Barker
June 3, 2014

Sometimes your job can really be a grind — but quitting isn’t always a realistic option.

So what can you do to become happier with the job you have?

Here are four stories from the latest research that can make your job more meaningful and make you happier at the office.

 

Change Your Job Description

Cleaning the floors in a hospital isn’t anyone’s dream job. Emptying trash cans in patient rooms doesn’t feel special or important.

But what if you had the same responsibilities and chose to see your work in a broader context?

I’m helping this hospital run better and my work allows these patients to heal and return to their families.

A study did just that — comparing workers who saw their jobs as merely a paycheck versus seeing it as something deeper.

And those who saw their cleaning duties as contributing to the health of the patients felt their jobs were more meaningful.

Via Choose the Life You Want: The Mindful Way to Happiness:

How do you see your job? Is there a better — but still honest — lens to see it through that would make you happier?

(More on meaning in life here.)

 

See The Results

Working in a call center can be thankless and tedious. What does it take to make people feel good about endless dialing and frequent hang-ups?

Wharton professor Adam Grant did research trying to motivate employees at a university call center.

He was able to create a dramatic increase in motivation without giving raises, promotions, bonuses or spending a dime.

How?

He showed them letters written by grateful students who had received scholarships due to the efforts of the call center team.

What pushed their motivation even higher? Speaking with those students.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Are you in a cube cut off from the results of your labor? Is there any way you could better see how your work helps customers?

(More on motivation here.)

 

Use Your Strengths

You probably do a range of activities at work and some of those duties might be shared with other team members.

Do you have some flexibility over which tasks you handle and which your co-workers cover? If so, you can dramatically improve your happiness.

Don’t pick the tasks that are quick or easy. Offer to do all the things you’re good at.

The research is conclusive: doing what you’re good at is the key to happiness:

A dictionary update is just a list of words. It's also a testament to who English-speakers are and how we see ourselves

A job that lets you use your talents makes you consistently happier at the office:

Using your strengths daily can make you significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

What responsibilities that you’re weak at could someone else handle? What could you do that leverages your strengths?

(More on “signature strengths” here.)

Invest Yourself

You can learn a lot about loving your job by looking at IKEA furniture. Seriously.

Why is IKEA furniture so popular? Research shows we love things more when we invest ourselves in them.

You built that Lovbacken side table with your own two hands. It’s your creation.

Behold the mind-bending Svengali power of Swedish furniture.

In my interview with Duke professor Dan Ariely author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions he explained:

If I put a random child in your house and told you to support it, you’d say “No way.”

If it was your kid, you’d support it and more — your happiness would be tied to the child’s well-being.

Being invested in something makes us care more and, as Dan explained, research shows it doesn’t take all that much to get us caring:

Invest your time and energy in building that Karlskoga sofa bed and you come away loving it.

The more you do for your kids, the more you want to do for them.

Invest more in your career and you can find yourself loving that too.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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