When I ask people what they do, most say, “I am electrician”, I am a cleaner” or “I am an accountant”. Many people identify themselves with their profession or their job title.

But there is a lot more to a job than that and if we can start to think differently about what we do, perhaps we can come to appreciate it more, or we can work out what else we should be doing instead.

If you start to think about what you do in terms of how it contributes to humanity, you will find that it takes on a completely new perspective. Society generally, and employers specifically have over the years attached certain values to different job types.

For example, I think it is fair to say that society regards the job of a merchant banker as somewhat more prestigious than say that of a cleaner and it is not uncommon to hear someone say “oh, I am just a cleaner”, whereas I would rarely, if ever hear someone say “oh, I am just a merchant banker”.
Yet when we examine what each of these job functions contribute to society, we will find that society simply can’t function they way we would like it to without either of these jobs being done well. Imagine the mess we would be in if there weren’t any cleaners. I don’t wish to be too unkind to merchant bankers, but some would say, imagine the mess we would be in if we had even more merchant bankers.

Living a positive lifestyle involves paying particular attention the things that are good in your life, the things that are really working. This applies in particular to the work you do, because it is a significant part of your life, no matter what you do.

In a survey conducted by the Gallup organization in 2001 and again in 2007, they asked people how much they were able to utilize their real strengths at work. Staggeringly, only 17% of people answered “most of the time”. While I am not aware of a similar survey specifically focused on Australian workplaces, I have no reason to believe it is any different here.

That means we have a lot of people sitting around in workplaces who feel seriously under utilized. That is partly because traditional organizational structures and a focus on following a prescribed process has in a sense “dumbed down” the work we do. However, it is also up to the individual to look for ways in which we can do more of the things we are good at, the things that engage and inspire us and apply that to our work.
A key aspect of living a positive lifestyle is finding a balance in life. By focusing on the things that are really good, that work well and that we are good at, we can neutralize the bad feelings we sometimes get when we think about all the things that aren’t working and that we are not good at. Therefore, if we can spend more time doing the things we are good at and that inspire us, we can live a much more balanced and happy life.
Most of us go through some form of performance appraisal on a regular basis. If you are an employee in a large organization, these are perhaps done in a more formal way and if you are self employed, you are subject to a performance appraisal every time to interact with a customer.

However, one of the more common aspects of performance appraisals is that they often gloss over the things that are working, whereas a lot of time is spent on the things that need improving. Imagine if we turned this around and spent most of the time on the things that are really working well and then said “why don’t you do a lot more of that and we will get someone else to do the things you are not so good at”. Imagine how engaged and inspired you would be and how much more productive and happy you would be.

The father of the Positive Psychology movement, Dr. Martin Seligman distinguishes between three different ways of life and says that your happiness is closely linked to which of these ways of life you live:

A pleasant life
An engaged life
A meaningful life
At work it is the same. American psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski, a professor at Yale University School of Management has found that we generally view what we do in 3 different ways:
As a job
As a career
As a calling or passion which would appear to be closely related to how we experience life according to Dr. Seligman.

In “What a Wonderful Life – with Positive Psychology”, Sarah Zobel Koelpin refers to research conducted by Amy Wrzesniewski who discovered that a group of people with exactly the same job function, experienced what they did very differently. In fact, one third saw what they did as just a job, another third saw it as a career, while the remaining third saw it as a calling or a passion.

So it doesn’t matter what you do, you can see what you do as a job, a career or a calling. But people who see what they do as a calling or a passion feel more engaged and inspired and feel that they are doing something meaningful. Not only does that have a direct impact on their level of happiness, it also considerably increases their level of productivity, attention on their work and the passion with which they serve their customers, be they internal or external.

So positive living at work is not just a nice thing to have, it produces considerable benefits for all three stakeholder groups, employees, customers and shareholders.

Don’t go through life just doing a job. Find out what you are passionate about, what engages you, what inspires you and build that in to the work you do. Think about what you do in a greater context and you will discover that it doesn’t matter what you do, you contribute to the greater good and you will discover the meaning in what you do. Once that happens, you will approach work very differently and you will feel happier for it.

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