Google the term “happiness studies” and you’ll find a wealth of information on everything from the strength of our social networks to the number of parks within walking distance of our homes. But the simple fact is, most of us don’t spend the better part of our days communing with friends or ambling through the neighborhood, however much we’d like to. We spend our days at work.
It stands to reason, then, that whether or not we are happy at work plays a huge role in the overall quality of our lives. And unlike social networks or open space, work is an arena where different things really do make different people happy.
Through my years as business and career coach, I’ve drawn upon the deep body of research associated with human behavior, which shows that we’re happiest when we’re engaged in activities that draw upon our natural skills. And over and over again, I’ve seen even slight shifts in this arena make a huge difference in the lives of my clients (and, incidentally, in the success of business teams).
Determining whether a particular skill you possess is natural or acquired is an important step to doing more of what you do best.
A “skill,” as we’re using it here means a behavior or ability you’ve developed through training or experience. And while all skills are behaviors, not all behaviors are skills. For example, telling a joke is a skill; laughing at a joke is a behavior.
Some of your skills are natural, meaning that you were born with the potential to develop them easily. You usually have a strong affinity for those skills which are natural to you, which is the key to this whole happiness equation.
It’s worth noting here that this kind of focus goes far beyond the idea that if you have a natural affinity for math, you should go into engineering. Engineering is a broad field—some areas of the field are collaborative, while others are solo; some involve client interaction, while others do not. Getting down to the level of what makes us really happy at work acknowledging what we actually do on a daily basis, and how much we actually enjoy it.
Inevitably, some of the skills you use at work are acquired, meaning you had to put more effort into developing them than you did your natural skills. But some of the skills you use on a day-to-day basis are likely to be natural as well.
You may be able to perform both with equal ease, but the skills that are acquired will cost you more in terms of psychological, emotional, and physical effort. The skills that are natural to you will tend to keep you engaged, stimulated, and – on the whole – more happy.
Take 10 minutes to reflect on the behaviors you perform every day.
- Which of them are skills?
- Which of these do you find easy, look forward to using, or gain great satisfaction from?
- Which do you find more challenging to use, and find yourself putting off or postponing?
It may be possible to use more of your natural skills in the course of your day-to-day work life, and less of your acquired ones. Or you might need to make a shift in your career. Either way, being truly happy at work means getting clear on what skills actually come naturally to you—and what skills don’t.