Just a few decades ago people had many sources of identity: Religion, class, nationality, political affiliation, family roots, geographical and cultural origins and more. Today many of these, if not all, have been subsumed by work. When you meet someone at a party, what’s the first question you ask? “So, what do you do?”
We are increasingly defined by our work. It’s what takes up most of our time. It’s where we get to employ most of our talents. It’s where we experience our greatest triumphs and failures. It’s also the basis for our standard of living. All of this means that when work is not working for us, we become subject to depression and anxiety, and that being happy at work becomes crucial!
Being unhappy at work can make you sick and being happy at work can make you well again. This sounds like an unlikely claim at first, but it’s really very true.
Lancaster University and Manchester Business School performed a study in 2005 involving 250,000 employees which found that low happiness at work is a risk factor for mental health problems, including emotional burn-out, low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. The report warned that just a small drop in job satisfaction could lead to burnout of “considerable clinical importance”.
Mental stress symptoms like the ones found in the study also increase the risk of physical health problems including ulcers, heart problems and a generally weakened immune system. Martin Seligman found the same thing in his positive psychology studies, in which he concluded that optimists are healthier and live longer than pessimists.
So not only are people who’re happy at work happier – they’re also healthier.