The Science of happiness: purpose at work

Do you have the feeling your boss or your clients appreciate the work you do? And I’m not only talking about the results, but as much about the effort you put into it. When I watched this TED talk by Dan Ariely about what makes us feel good about our work, I realized once again that one of the most underestimated things in work is employee recognition.

You’re not doing it for the money

When people think about employee motivation, they often think ‘money’. So they still come up with the good old bonus to motivate people and forget everything else. Which is so sad. Especially since scientific research teaches us that it actually works the other way around. When people know they will get a reward (money or whatever), it kills their intrinsic motivation.

What makes work worthwhile?

Think about ‘why’ you do the things you do. Not only in work, but in everyday life. Maybe you like sports. Do you like the sweating? The pain in your chest? The total exhaustion? The aching muscles the day after? Probably not. Maybe you like working on your blog. Do you like the loss for words? The frustration when it’s just not right? The doubts about if you writing is good enough? I thought so. What you like is achieving something. Improving yourself. There’s meaning to it, something you feel makes it worthwhile. Meaning can be ‘the cure for cancer’, yes. But sometimes a smile or a sincere ‘thank you’ will do the job. (I wrote about the power of thank you before, right here) But whatever it is that gives meaning, it is vital.

No meaning, no fun

What Ariely wanted to know, is how much ‘meaning’ plays a role in what people do. So he did what every reasonable researcher would do, he grabbed some Lego. If you want know what he did, just watch the video, it’s fun. One result I’d like to share with you. He not only proved that the power of ‘meaning’ can’t be underestimated, but he also proved that when you take the meaning away, you immediately remove everything there is to like about a job. No matter how much fun there’s in it. In our knowledge economy it’s no longer money that motivates us. Yes, we need a salary to pay the mortgage. But what we need even more is creation, challenge, ownership, identity, pride and so on. If you like to read more about meaningful work, try this blog post by Monique Valcour.

As you know I’m on a quest to create happy workers all over the world. And you can help me. Please share in the comments what gives meaning to your work!

Love and keep up the good work,


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This article is written by Vasco Duarte on September 2nd 2013.

You can connect with Vasco Duarte in Google+.