According to Aristotle, the good life is achieved through a life of contemplation, moral virtue, and engaging in meaningful relationships and activities. The recently published book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, by Robert Waldinger and Mark Schulz, scientifically reveals that good relationships are essential to “the good life” in our lives today.
After 80 years of scientific research, with medical tests, interviews, videos, questionnaires, the Harvard team leading the study behind the book share real life stories of numerous participants as they navigate through life - growing up, establishing relationships and families, finding employment, developing their career and transitioning, and retiring. These accounts confirm that the quality of our connections, be it at home, university, or work, deeply impacts our overall wellbeing, happiness, health and longevity.
As a Careers Manager at WBS, Konstantina Dee finds the specific chapter on “The Good Life at Work” extremely interesting as it discusses how the relationships that we have at work affect our life and our perception of success. And while it is not always easy to find your dream job or to change jobs, it is within our control to nurture good relationships at work, which will change the perception of how we feel about our job and how we assess our own happiness. In this blog, Konstantina reflects on this topic.
Often the WBS CareersPlus team work with students and alumni who find themselves uncertain about the next career steps, questioning themselves about their post-graduation paths. As coaches, we delve into our students' values, motivations, interests and strengths to unveil their current life priorities. There is a good article on “How to explore your career options”, if of interest.
Exploring career options often leads to a discussion and reflection on how you as individual matter to others around you. The authors of the book argue that mattering is what actually gives us a meaning and brings joy at work. Roles in social and healthcare sector, charities and NGOs are inherently associated with making a difference to other people’s lives. But how about other roles? One can find a meaning in being part of a team, where your contribution will benefit the team. When you see yourself as an integral part of the team, you feel you belong and you are connected to the others and therefore you find meaning and joy in the work you do both individually and collectively. The satisfaction derived from our work often stems from the collective achievements of the team. We thrive when we celebrate successes alongside our teammates.
You can also achieve happiness at work when you feel that your knowledge and guidance can benefit those less experienced than you. Mentoring is the perfect example of this and it does not need to be formalised through your employer. There are various channels though which you can mentor and support others. Joining the WBS Global Mentoring Programme can help you appreciate that your work and experiences matter to others.
At certain periods in our lives, we just need to get on with the job (sufficing) because we are providing for the family. Or as Victor Frankel says: “For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person’s life at a given moment.”
“Have you got a best friend at work?” This was a question asked by Gallup aiming to evaluate how close friendships at work can positively benefit us. The research finds that friendships at work can lead to lowering stress levels, contributing to better health and fewer days when workers go home upset after work.
We are all different and while I will always strive to find a “friend” at work, others will make sure they keep their work relationships away from their personal lives. Nevertheless, the study indicates that individuals who have close friendships in the workplace are more engaged with the job too. This is particularly evident amongst women. It resonates with me as I reflect upon my more than 20 years of working. While I may not remember the minute details of every accomplishment in each job, I still maintain connections with the friends I made at work and these friends matter.
Dr Robert Waldinger, the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, and his co-author, Mark Schulz, propose looking into at least three types of meaningful relationships you can develop at work.
Friendship at work
You can ask yourself: “Who can be my valued friend at work? How can I build this relationship?”
Colleagues you value
Not everyone needs a friend at work but you can identify a colleague you genuinely enjoy and value working with. Then you can find ways to strengthen your connection with them. Are there any projects you can work on together? Are there any other ways to connect? How can you express your appreciation for their contributions?
Your attempts to build this relationship will have a positive impact. You can find that this colleague feels valued and more open to you, and in return you will feel there is someone with who you can have a meaningful conversation and feel connected.
People who are different
You gain insights from people who come from different backgrounds, who have different expertise or perspectives. What can you learn from these people? How can their insights help you find meaning in your work?
Having pondered these questions, take the initiative to engage with others through genuine curiosity and attentive interaction. Initiate conversations, actively listen, and demonstrate that the presence and contributions of these people matter to you.
Whether you are starting your professional journey, or are firmly established in your career, or are embarking on a career change, it is vital to bear in mind that we exist in the present moment. Embracing this reality and knowing our time is a limited resource, we should seize every opportunity to cultivate meaningful connections that have the potential to transform any job into a fulfilling and rewarding experience.
Note: You can view the Ted talk by Dr Robert Waldinger to find out more about the research and its findings.