Finding Joy: at Work and Outside

Finding Joy: at Work and Outside


“Mojo” by Marshall Goldsmith, 2013, 280 pages


At one point or other in our lives most of us have probably found ourselves feeling that we do not seem to be able to achieve the satisfaction and/or recognition we look for at work and/or in our private lives. Most of us probably also know people (colleagues, friends, family) who do not seem to be able to find much joy at work or at home.

We may love our work and our home life, but not be very good at showing it to other people. We may then wonder why we do not receive the expected appreciation and affection. We may dislike work and aspects of our private lives, but put on a happy face. Faking happiness can work, but it puts a strain on us that wears us down and it keeps us in situations that bring us no joy. Then, of course, we may dislike work and aspects of our private lives and be quite open and frank about it. Most of us will not be too surprised at the negative reactions that gets us. What is also worth noting: lack of joy and appreciation in one area tends to “infect” other areas of our lives; unhappiness at work affects our private lives and vice versa.

So how can we move the joy lever toward “Full Speed”? We have two things we can work on: one is ourselves, the other is the circumstances.

Key Factors for Joy at Work and Outside

We give ourselves a very big helping hand if we can come to clarity about who we are and who we want to become in the future. It may be difficult to make very concrete plans regarding the future. However, if we do not set a course for ourselves, we can be pretty sure than someone else will based on the past or their particular needs. We may well not find much joy in a course we have not defined ourselves. By setting our desired direction and by changing ourselves and our behavior to fit that course, we can in fact help the future we desire come into existence.

Achievements are key to feelings of joy. Achievements do not need to be grand business strategies or major deals. It can be solving a problem or getting a meaningful task done. In order for us to feel satisfaction on a personal level, what we do needs to be purposeful and meaningful to us.

To achieve satisfaction in the work context many of us will also crave the recognition by others of our efforts and skills in carrying out tasks. Especially this latter aspect may sometimes be hard to achieve, as not all people at work will define achievement, effort and skill the same way that we do. What is a great achievement to us may be seen as a minor detail by our coworkers. We may want to either adjust to the common understanding of achievement (changing ourselves) or by communicating and influencing others to see achievement more our way (change circumstances).

Knowing how we stand with others is important but oftentimes difficult to do. Generally what we do repeatedly and consistently will become our reputation. If we are consistently inconsistent, then inconsistency will become our reputation. Consistently putting other people down in order to be seen as the smartest person around will give us a reputation, not of being the smartest, but of somebody with an excessive need to be the center of attention. On the other hand, consistently delivering on time, budget and quality builds the reputation of a skilled, effective and dependable person.

In order to experience joy at work and outside, it is very important to recognize the difference between what we can change and what is outside our realm of influence. Change what we need regarding things in the former arena, make peace with the things in the latter arena. Confusing the two will bring nothing but frustration, grief and loss of joy inside ourselves and outside, visible to others.

Lever Settings

Joy at work and outside relies on short-term satisfaction and long-term benefits: how well we can apply our knowledge and skills to the task in hand and how much purpose and meaning we derive from the task. Ideally, we experience both short-term satisfaction in good use of our skills and knowledge and long-term benefits in the fact that what we do leads to some worthwhile and meaningful goal. However, that is only one of several possible outcomes, and with the current levels of disengagement in the workplace, some will argue not the most common outcome. We may be caught up in one of the other possible outcomes.

We may have accepted both low short-term satisfaction and low long-term benefits, because we need to make a living in a situation where other options are not (yet) available to us. Needless to say, this outcome is not something to strive towards and drags down any kind of joy at work and at home.

We may also have chosen to forego short-term satisfaction, because the situation promises us long-term benefits. So we may have accepted a job below our skill-set and without meaning to us, because we can expect to be promoted to a job that carries both better usage of our skill-set and meaning for us. We are sacrificing the present for a future we hope but do now know will be better. We live in hope rather than in joy.

Another outcome that is not uncommon is to go for tasks that bring us satisfaction short-term, but do not hold any meaning or possible future benefits for us. The task/activity may be very fun, stimulating and bring monetary rewards, however, the task leads nowhere, to nothing grander or deeper. We sacrifice long-term thinking and joy and goals for addictive short-term “highs”. 

For many of us, a balance has been struck. We have a fair amount of satisfaction in the here and now and our tasks do lead to at least some long-term purpose and meaning. We can be satisfied with our situation and carry on from day to day without any large degree of frustration, but without any pronounced experience of joy, too. We have a decent enough job and private life, that has potential to remain so in the future. We settle for good enough, but not great.


Many of us find ourselves in situations where we either sacrifice short-term satisfaction and/or long-term meaning and purpose – or work out a compromise to get to a decent amount of short-term and long-term satisfaction while never reaching true satisfaction in either area. While these trade-offs and compromises may work out for a period, the question remains whether it is sustainable over time for us and for the companies and people we interact with.

Companies do not get access to our full potential. We do not get to bring all our faculties to bear on tasks in hand and may come to feel under-stimulated and uncommitted. Our semi-commitment to work may well also spill over into how we live our private lives. We can either change ourselves or change our circumstances at work and at home to achieve greater short-term satisfaction and long-term meaning and purpose. Which change we make depends on the nature of our circle of influence. No doubt, we can all benefit from taking a close look at what we can change to move towards more joy at work and at home.

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