The Missing Link Between Work and Happiness


The other night, my wife Marta and I were having dinner, and we drew this question from our acrylic box of conversation starters:

“Does work contribute to your happiness or take away from it?”

As I thought about my answer, I realized – my work is indeed work. Some days it is hard . . . long . . . tiring. However, deep down, it is ultimately very satisfying because it enables me to live out my sense of personal purpose by helping leaders who want to be better. And not only do I help them, but they help grow me!

So my answer is this: My work DOES contribute to my happiness because it connects with a purpose in my life. Helping leaders is an attribute that resides at the core of who I am. This ‘core’ is what I call the Spiritual Dimension – which I write about in my book, Lead Like You Were Meant To.

But how about YOU?
Does your work contribute to your happiness or take away from it?

It’s okay to take some time to think this through. After all, we spend more of our lifetime working than any other activity. And while work is a necessary part of living and providing for ourselves, we deserve to at least find satisfaction in what we do.

The role of work and workers has been an increasingly popular topic lately. A Gallup study that was released (ironically) just before Labor Day last year found that 60% of employees reported being emotionally detached at work and 19% said they were downright miserable. So, this raises the question…

What is the link that can connect your work with your happiness?

I suggest, to be really happy with your work, there must be a connection with one or more parts of your Spiritual Dimension.

I identify these parts as: 

          Identity: Who I am

          Purpose: Why I am here

          Beliefs: What I believe

          Values: What I want

If one or more of these parts are not being satisfied in your work, and you have options, you probably are not long in your job as it is currently configured… 

I’m thinking of the leader who left a credit card company because his primary assignment was to convince people with low credit scores to get a high-interest credit card (Belief conflict). Or the leader who finally quit the consulting grind because it was taking over her life and marriage (Value conflict). Or the serial entrepreneur who sold his company to a much larger corporation but left after one year because, well, he was an entrepreneur and ready to build something from scratch again (Identity conflict).

All of these examples have one thing in common. There was a spiritual disconnect between their happiness and what they did for work. 

While I don’t think it’s realistic to be completely happy in your career when you first start out, with time you can move in a direction where your work becomes more aligned with who you truly are – your Identity, Purpose, Beliefs, and Values. 

Here are some prompts to help find your ‘missing link’.

I said before that our Spiritual Dimension is at our core. It’s deep inside of us – and it influences everything about us. And yet…it can be difficult to articulate. As a starting place, I certainly suggest reading Chapter 6, “The Spiritual Dimension” from my book. Additional exercises can be found online here.

For now, evaluate your day-to-day work against these parts of your core:

  • Identity: How does who I know myself to be align with my identity at work? Am I able to be me?
  • Purpose: Do I see opportunities in my work to manifest a purpose that is meaningful to me?
  • Beliefs: Does my work setting make room for what I believe is right and true? How does what I believe align with the work I do each day?
  • Values: How do the results of my efforts take me closer to getting what I really want in life?

Yes, work will always be ‘work’. But over time, there should be a strong connection between who we are and what we spend so much of our lives doing. How does your work contribute to your happiness?

If you’re looking to find a better connection between your happiness and your work, don’t hesitate to reach out. McKinnon Leadership Group helps leaders every day to lead like they were meant to.