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Seven tips for finding happiness at work

  • Written by Cary Cooper, Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, University of Manchester
Seven tips for finding happiness at work

Work, it’s something most of us do though it isn’t always enjoyable. Whether it’s long hours, gruelling tasks or just the repetitive nature of a day-to-day routine, work can sometimes be something we have to do rather than something we want to do.

But given that the average person will spend 90,000 hours at work[1] over a lifetime it makes sense to try and enjoy it if you can. So what can you do to be happier at work and reduce stress?

I was the lead scientist in a government project[2] that looked at how our wellbeing and emotional resilience can change over a lifetime.

As part of this project, the team, with help from think-tank the New Economics Foundation[3], identified several things that can reduce stress and enhance wellbeing and happiness – all of which can be applied to the workplace. So what helps?

1. Be active

Exercise and other physical activities[4] won’t make your problems or stress disappear, but they will reduce their emotional intensity and give you mental space to sort out problems – as well as keep you physically fit.

Research[5] shows time and time again the positive benefits of exercise, so why not bookend your working day with some physical activity[6].

Walking to and from work is a great way to create separation from the working day. If that’s not possible you could get off the bus a stop early, make your lunchtimes active or maybe find an exercise class to do before you start work for the day.

Woman does plank pose at a yoga class.
Try a lunchtime exercise class for a change of scenery. Pexels/Yan Krukau[7]

2. Connect with people

If you examine most of the happiness scales[8], relationships[9] with others come near the top of these lists.

During the pandemic, many people found their wellbeing suffered due to a lack of social contact. Indeed, a good support network of friends and family[10] can minimise your work troubles and help you see things differently.

It’s also worth getting to know your colleagues. The more you invest in your relationships at work, the more enjoyable[11] you may find your day.

Helping work colleagues and others in your life, can also enhance your self-esteem[12] and give you a sense of purpose, which is essential to your wellbeing and contentment[13].

Three women walking at work.
Get to know your colleagues, you might discover you enjoy spending time together. Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov[14]

3. Learn new skills

Keeping “cognitively active[15]” is critical to your psychological and mental wellbeing and can provide you with new opportunities in terms of your career development. So try to keep learning – take a course, develop some new skills or learn a new hobby, it all adds up.

Having things going on in your life outside of work is also important for your emotional and mental wellbeing. In the UK we work some of the longest hours in Europe[16], meaning we often don’t spend enough time doing the things we really enjoy. Don’t work excessive hours. And ensure you make time for socialising, exercise, along with activities you find fun.

Woman hanging flowers in shop
Your new hobby could even lead you down a new career path. Pexels/Amina Filkins[17]

4. Stay present

This is all about “being in the moment” rather than in the past or looking too far forward. Enjoy the present and you will appreciate[18] it more. Indeed, there is plenty of research[19] on the positive aspects of mindfulness[20] and how it can help with mental health.

You don’t have to sit down for hours meditating either. Being in the moment is more about bringing your brain back to the now. A more mindful approach[21] to life is something you can practice at any time of the day, it’s just about being aware, noticing your surroundings – the sights, sounds, smells. You can do this while you’re walking, in a meeting or making a cup of tea.

5. Recognise the positives

Staying present also helps you to recognise the positives in your life[22] – allowing you to be a glass half full[23] rather than a glass half empty person.

Accept there are things at work or in life you can’t change and concentrate on the things you have control over. Remind yourself to feel grateful for the positives in your life[24].

6. Avoid unhealthy habits

Given what we know about their long-term consequences, using excessive alcohol or coffee consumption or smoking as a coping strategy for work stress is ultimately likely to have a negative impact[25] on your happiness, even if they seem to provide a quick pick-me-up.

Man working from home on a laptop.
Finding the positive in things could help you to enjoy time spent on Zoom meetings rather than resent it. Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko[26]

7. Work smarter, not longer

Prioritise your workload during working hours[27] and you will have more disposable time to do the things you enjoy. Accept that your in-tray will always be full, so concentrate on the important things first.

The more you take control of your work life and get the balance you need, the more likely you will be happier at work. Indeed, given that in the UK stress-related illness accounts for nearly 60% of all long-term sickness[28] you must prioritise your wellbeing and try to reduce work stress where possible.


  1. ^ 90,000 hours at work (
  2. ^ government project (
  3. ^ New Economics Foundation (
  4. ^ Exercise and other physical activities (
  5. ^ Research (
  6. ^ physical activity (
  7. ^ Pexels/Yan Krukau (
  8. ^ happiness scales (
  9. ^ relationships (
  10. ^ friends and family (
  11. ^ more enjoyable (
  12. ^ self-esteem (
  13. ^ wellbeing and contentment (
  14. ^ Pexels/Alexander Suhorucov (
  15. ^ cognitively active (
  16. ^ longest hours in Europe (
  17. ^ Pexels/Amina Filkins (
  18. ^ appreciate (
  19. ^ research (
  20. ^ mindfulness (
  21. ^ mindful approach (
  22. ^ in your life (
  23. ^ glass half full (
  24. ^ positives in your life (
  25. ^ a negative impact (
  26. ^ Pexels/Tima Miroshnichenko (
  27. ^ workload during working hours (
  28. ^ long-term sickness (

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