What is The Career Happiness Formula?

The Career Happiness Formula is a simple way to illustrate what it takes to achieve career happiness. While the formula is simple, the elements which make up the two key components of the formula are more complex. Let’s start by looking at the formula:

The Career Happiness Formula




As you can see, the two key components of The Career Happiness Formula are: Job Satisfaction and Positive Well-being. 

Job Satisfaction

There are many ways we can define and measure job satisfaction. Organisational psychologists have provided a number of theories as to what constitutes job satisfaction. Hackman & Oldham’s Job Characteristics Theory was developed in the 70s which identified 5 core job characteristics (skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, and feedback) linked to three psychological states of experienced meaningfulness, experienced responsibility, and knowledge of results. These were found to have an affect on employee motivation, satisfaction, performance and absenteeism. Numerous contemporary theories have evolved around job satisfaction since.

When exploring job satisfaction, it’s important to consider an individual’s own perimeters for job satisfaction. While our jobs or careers typically make up a large part of our lives, they are not the only consideration in the pursuit of career happiness. Contemporary career development theories take into account an individual’s whole life experience. It encompasses all aspects of life not just our career roles. This is due to the interplay between life and career roles.

If you are a parent for example, you don’t stop being a parent when carrying out your role as an Accountant. While you (hopefully!) don’t have to care for your children at the same time as performing your accounting role, you remain a parent who happens to be an Accountant. Likewise, you are an Accountant who is also a parent. When considering how to achieve job satisfaction and positive well-being, you bring your whole self to the situation, not just your professional self. As a parent who is also an Accountant you might place a high value on things like flexible working, family health insurance and job security. A fellow Accountant who is not a parent might instead place a higher value on opportunities to travel internationally for work or gym membership for example.

As individuals, we place varying values on things like task variety, autonomy or task significance. What is important to one person can be less important to another. This is where defining values helps to measure and improve job satisfaction. 

Job satisfaction isn’t just about being happy at work though. It’s about doing work you love and work that plays to your unique talents including your skills and strengths. Not everyone thrives in an office environment nor in a salaried role working for someone else. The rise in entrepreneurship is a good indicator of many people’s preference for self-employment. 

Positive Well-being

Positive subjective well-being (SWB) is described as experiencing a high level of positive affect, a low level of negative affect, and a high degree of satisfaction with one’s life (Deci & Ryan, 2008).

From a positive psychology perspective, positive well-being can be described as flourishing. Martin Seligman, a co-founder of positive psychology, the newest branch of psychological science,  devised his own well-being theory (WBT). In Seligman’s WBT, he provides his ‘PERMA’ model for well-being which consists of:

  • Positive emotion 
  • Engagement
  • Relationships
  • Meaning and purpose
  • Accomplishment

While Seligman asserts that no one element defines well-being, each of these elements has its part to play in contributing to overall well-being. There are many ways in which we can boost the five pillars that make up PERMA. Hundreds of positive psychology interventions (PPIs) exist to help boost positive emotion. From practising gratitude to taking time each day to do things that bring you joy, PPIs have been scientifically proven to boost positive emotions.

Engagement can be increased in many ways at work and in life generally. One of the ways in which we can increase engagement at work is by setting ourselves up to experience flow. Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi came up with the concept of flow when he studied artists and athletes who were totally immersed in their activities that they lost all track of time. Flow occurs not only when we have an interest but when we are challenged enough in an activity that we use our highest skills and strengths. 

Relationships are just important in our work lives as they are in our personal lives. If your relationships aren’t flourishing or if you lack deep connectedness to others, it can lead to negative emotions which in turn affects our levels of happiness. There are lots of strategies that can be used to build and maintain quality relationships to enhance your life. From joining work-groups, professional associations and learning to communicate better, to widening your social circle and keeping in touch with friends and family. Relationships do take effort to nurture but the payoffs are well worth it. 

Meaning and purpose is vitally important in our careers. In the careers field there’s a lot of talk about ‘finding your passion’ which is a difficult concept for many to embrace. Rather than trying to find a passion, meaning and purpose is more about tapping in to your own values. What’s important to you? What do you care about? That doesn’t have to be feeding starving children or rescuing abused animals (while I agree, these are amazing causes), it’s about understanding what you believe in. To one of the examples I just gave, if you believe in doing something about feeding starving children perhaps your meaning or purpose lies in working in an organisation working towards alleviating food poverty. You don’t necessarily need to be at the forefront feeding malnourished children, you could work in the HR department of an organisation that does. 

Accomplishment is a need we all have in life. It gives us a sense of fulfilment, that our efforts have not been in vain. A sense of accomplishment can be had when we do a job well or work hard to achieve a goal. We derive great satisfaction from accomplishment not just in our careers but in our personal lives too.

As you can see, while the formula itself appears simple, there are many factors to consider as we strive for career happiness. 

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