in General

Is there joy in work?

By Kay Hannaford

The word ‘joy’ is rarely heard in relation to work in my experience and I’m on a mission to change that.

By joy, I mean a feeling of great pleasure, delight or happiness, something we might associate with personal experiences, but rarely professional ones.

We use the benign word ‘enjoy’ much more commonly. While milder in connotation it is more common to say you enjoy something than it is to to actively express ‘joy’ or confess to feeling ‘joyful’ or ‘joyous’. Rarely do we actually ‘rejoice’, or use the term to show great joy or delight in the workplace, either individually or collectively.

It’s no wonder then, if you ask people if they experience joy at work, they look a little rattled.

Years ago, I began exploring joy in my own life through practicing meditation, studying Buddhism, daily walks and being in nature and reading about joy.

I soon discovered that joy is found within ourselves. To quote a favourite author, Eckhardt Tolle, in his book A New Earth:

“When you say, ‘I enjoy doing this or that’, it is really a misperception. It makes it appear that the joy comes from what you do, but that is not the case. Joy does not come from what you do, it flows into what you do and thus into this world from deep within you.”

If this is a new concept for you, you’re certainly not alone. I once coached a senior, very successful professional man who was described to me as a ‘grumblebum’ by the person who sponsored his coaching. In one of our conversations, I asked him when he experienced joy. He looked at me as though I was an alien. ‘Joy?’ he asked, incredulously. He was unable to conjure a single moment in his life when he had experienced joy and couldn’t even imagine it. Another senior executive I coached had a similar reaction when I asked what he enjoyed about his role. ‘Enjoy?’ He queried, looking confused. On further questioning, he grudgingly admitted he quite liked some of the people he worked with but clearly struggled with the concept of enjoying work.  Eventually he noted that his father had always experienced work as a chore, something to be endured to earn a living and my client had unconsciously adopted the same attitude. No wonder his co-workers and his CEO struggled to engage with him in any way beyond his technical expertise.

So if joy comes from within, how do we cultivate and access it? I think it’s always there for the asking – or finding – if we can get past our own barriers. These include always re-living the past or longing for the future rather than experiencing the present moment and choosing to see what happens in our lives as negative rather than seeking positive interpretations. My ‘grumblebum’ clients both had the choice to see work as hard slog OR as an opportunity to achieve success for themselves, their clients and their organisations AND enjoy what they did along the way.

We all do.

Busyness is another barrier to finding joy. Keeping ourselves so busy that we have no time to stop, reflect or literally smell the roses or marvel at the spectacular changing sky as the sun rises or sets leaves no space for accessing joy.

When clients complain to me about ‘having to’ do something unappealing, I ask questions to enable them to see ways to enjoy this aspect of their work instead of treating it as a chore. I also encourage them to actively celebrate successes, however small and to have fun, both simple ways to access joy.

If you’re interested in bringing more joy into your life and infusing your work with joy, this quote from Eckhardt Tolle’s first book ‘The Power of Now’, really awakened me to the idea of being joyful as a way of life:

Are you a habitual “waiter”? How much of your life do you spend waiting? What I call “small-scale waiting” is waiting in line at the post office, in a traffic jam, at the airport, or waiting for someone to arrive, to finish work, and so on. “Large-scale waiting” is waiting for the next vacation, for a better job, for the children to grow up, for a truly meaningful relationship, for success, to make money, to be important, to become enlightened. It is not uncommon for people to spend their whole life waiting to start living.

Waiting is a state of mind. Basically, it means that you want the future; you don’t want the present. You don’t want what you’ve got, and you want what you haven’t got. With every kind of waiting, you unconsciously create inner conflict between your here and now, where you don’t want to be, and the projected future, where you want to be. This greatly reduces the quality of your life by making you lose the present….

So give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting . . . snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be, and enjoy being. If you are present, there is never any need for you to wait for anything. So next time somebody says, “Sorry to have kept you waiting,” you can reply, “That’s all right, I wasn’t waiting. I was just standing here enjoying myself — in joy in my self.”

What a refreshing change from the stress that usually arises when caught in the slow queue or held up with roadworks as time ticks away.

There’s plenty of advice in books and articles on how to find joy. I like this article about finding joy at work in the Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2009/10/top-ten-ways-to-find-joy-at-wo.html

There’s also a book called ’Joy at Work’ by Dennis Bakke and you might find useful ideas in this story entitled ’40 ways to find joy in everyday life’ published in the Huffington Post:

Whatever works for you, start with the intention to find joy within yourself and live a joyful life. Simply reminding yourself or writing on your TO BE list ‘Today I am joyful’ or ‘I find joy in everything’ is a surprisingly effective way to start.


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