Home » How To Be Happy At Work – Lessons From Bestselling Author And Work Happiness Researcher Tom Rath

how to be happy at work

How To Be Happy At Work – Lessons From Bestselling Author And Work Happiness Researcher Tom Rath

“The best use of an hour is to invest it in something that will continue to grow” – Tom Rath

What can you do better than anyone else?

Imagine what it would be like to wake up ready to take on the world and give society your gift. This is what it is like when you are doing work that matters to the world. Steve Jobs said, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. By this he meant that you should work hard and not settle until you have found your purpose and mission in life. This is the secret to being happy at work.

Tom Rath is on a mission to help you find happiness and passion in the work you do. Rath’s philosophy is based on the belief that there is something out there that has meaning for you. Find it and cultivate it on a daily basis. Center you work around it.

On a recent episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The James Altucher Show, James interviews Tom Rath. Below are my notes from the podcasts, as well my top insights.

My Top Insights From Tom Rath’s Interview With James Altucher

I came away with 4 big insights from Tom Rath’s interview. Take daily action to make progress in these areas. Over time, your work and life will be full of meaning and happiness.

1) Do meaningful work.

We spend the best hours and years of our lives working, listen to the advice of Steve Jobs when he says to “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. Keep searching for work that is meaningful to you. If you can’t do that right now, make sure you are pursuing creative work and hobbies outside of your “day job” or whatever you do to pay the bills. Don’t forget that money is important, but research shows that the marginal value of additional income starts dropping in a big way after $70,000 USD of house hold income!

2) Cultivate positive moments.

We have 19,000 “moments” in the day. Each negative moment can outweigh 4–5 positive moments. Since we know negative things will inevitably happen, make sure you are actively seeking out positive experiences and moments each day. These could be conversations with friends or family, exercise, creative work, etc. Stack the deck in your favor by cultivating positive moments each day.

3) Improve your energy.

Ensure you have enough energy each day to make a difference for other people. Without the energy to do you work well, you will not be a position to invest in your own creative projects. You will also not be able to truly help others in the best possible way. Figure out the healthy habits you need (exercise + diet + work habits) to make sure you have the energy to do what is meaningful for you. Pro tip: move around often. Top performers work in burst of 45–47 minutes, with frequent 12–15 minute rest breaks. This is even more important to your health and work than doing 30 minutes of exercise 6 days a week.

4) Build on your strengths.

We are all born with innate talents. While we can cultivate talent by effort, we can make much more rapid progress by identifying and focusing on our strengths. Find times in your life when you “found FLOW” and figure out what you innate talents are. Remember, that when we work from our strengths, research shows that we can DOUBLE OUR PRODUCTIVITY while being happier, that means getting 40 hours of work done in 20 hours and enjoying the journey.

Other Insights From The Podcast

Who is Tom Rath?

Tom Rath

  • Sold 5 million copies of his books.
  • Wrote the wildly popular Strengths Finder 2.0, a book I have read and benefited from.
  • His most recent book: Are You Fully Charged? is a Wall Street Journal bestseller.
  • The bio from his website describes him best:

“Tom Rath, author of six influential bestsellers, reveals the three keys that matter most for our daily health and well-being, as well as engagement in our work. Drawing on the latest and most practical research from health, psychology, and economics, this book focuses on changes we can make to create better days for ourselves and others. Are You Fully Charged? will challenge you to stop pursuing happiness and start creating meaning instead, lead you to rethink your daily interactions with the people who matter most, and show you how to put your own health first in order to be your best every day.”

How do we do our best work when we are struggling to pay the bills?

  • Doing work to pay bills can be important, but only at times and up to a point.
  • Most of the gains with daily well-being occur up to about $40,000 USD in income. After $40,000, there is only marginal gains up to $70,000. After that, there is not much gain in overall well-being.
  • People who are intrinsically motivated by their work tend to be more successful and earn more long-term.
  • Extrinsic motivators (external demands and stimuli) can actually detract from your overall well-being and success over the long-term.
  • The important thing is to do work that has meaning for you.

What is meaningful work?

photo-1436831135709-48bdc150cce5

  • People want to do work that has a purpose a makes a positive difference in the world.
  • Meaningful work that makes a difference can be seemingly mundane or small things that make gradual positive effects that build up into something magnificent over time.
  • We need to be able to see the meaning of our work on an ongoing basis.
  • e.g. For radiologists doing scans of patients, research has found that simply include a photo of the patient with their records radically improved the accuracy of diagnoses. When people see the humanity and impact of their work, they do better and feel better about it!
  • We must be able to understand the impact of the work we do on a real and human level to find great meaning in our work.
  • Organizations can make employees happier by showing workers how their efforts directly help customers.

Maintain a bias towards positive moments in your daily life!

  • We have 19,000 “moments” in a day.
  • Every negative moment in a day, counter-acts 4–5 positive moments in a day.
  • We need to ensure we have a positive balance in the overall equation the moments in our lives.
  • Get yourself into situations where the positive outweighs the negative over the course of the day.
  • You can apply this to work, healthy eating habits, exercise, etc.
  • e.g. For diet, instead of trying to comply 100% with perfect healthy eating, make sure that each meal overall has more healthy than unhealthy stuff in it. Go for lots of “small wins” during the day instead of trying to perfect all the time.
  • What is the role of “Mastery“ when it comes to finding meaningful work?
  • There is something you can do better than anyone else in the world. Find that and do that thing!
  • Anyone who tells you that talent is the defining factor for success, is full of it!
  • Luck has a very important role as we meet people by chance and stumble into things. However, luck without talent won’t get you very far. So invest in your talents and strengths, but also take advantage of lucky situations.
  • People are most likely born with some distinct natural talents for things. What are your innate talents?
  • The key question is: How can you invest more time in the areas where you have some talent? You will grow faster in these areas?
  • If you spend your life trying to be a little good at everything, you won’t be great at anything.
  • If you focus on your strengths, you can double your number of productive work hours from 20 to 40!”. Reason being, if you are doing strengths based work, you can work more efficiently, without getting tired and get more done. There is less struggle and more “flow”.

What if I don’t think I have talent in anything?

  • Tom Rath has sold over 5 million copies of books, but in his 20’s, never thought he had talent in writing until he stumbled upon it later in life.
  • People have remarkable talents that they discover very late, because they have no-one working with them to help them discover and build on their talent.
  • It is crucial to have people around you that can help you discover your talents.
  • Method to discovering your talents: reflect on your last few years and identify areas where you lost track of time and were happy and productive in doing something, even for a brief period of time. Think of areas where you have been in a flow state.
  • Asking good questions is a powerful way to uncover meaningful work.

What is the role of college and wellbeing?

  • Increasingly, college plays less a role in how “well” you will be doing later in life.

Distractions and challenges that stand in our way of living a meaningful life.

photo-1434123700504-d8cfba6a12c8

  • Smartphones are unlocked 110 times per day!!! Think of the wasted time and challenge this poses with focusing and honing whatever skill or talent you have.
  • We need to get clear on what is emergencies vs what are not and treat them appropriately.
  • Turn off everything by default and only toggle on the things that matter most. Focus on the people who matter most (e.g. spouse, kids, etc.).
  • Don’t put a phone on your table at dinner. This is just a cue you aren’t paying attention. Keep you phone hidden!

Find creative outlets outside of your career to increase happiness in your life.

  • Doesn’t apply to everyone, perhaps 30%, that don’t need creative outlets outside of their work.
  • For most people their work experience isn’t satisfying creative or broader missions, so it’s important to cultivate these things outside of their jobs.

Initiating vs responding. It is important to be an initiator!

  • Just responding to external requests is the new normal, and it hampers personal productivity and happiness.
  • Problem is, it can be sort of fun responding to stuff!
  • Initiating things ultimately ends up being more meaningful to people.
  • Initiating can be little things, like starting a conversation, writing, sharing an idea, etc.

Are certain times of day best to leverage my strengths?

  • Some research shows morning time is best for initiating things and getting meaningful work done.
  • Top performers across a variety of professions work in bursts – 47 minutes – with 12–15 minutes off to refresh their brain and move around. We need to think about our days in terms our ability to focus and go great work. Science backs this up (e.g. FMRI scans).
  • Tom Rath’s book “Eat Move Sleep” has more insights and research on this topic.

Move around throughout the day.

  • More important than getting “30 minutes of cardio 6 days a week” is to make sure they are getting regular bouts of activity through the day. Wear a FitBit and track movement. This will help you brain function and creativity and health. It is also less daunting than thinking you need to go an intense bout of exercise every day.
  • Steve Jobs said when asked about why did so many long walks: “I just think better when I walk.”

Resources