In her new book, Your Fully Charged Life, Meaghan B Murphy, a longtime magazine editor (she was just named Editor in Chief of Woman’s Day) and TV personality (as seen on Today Show and Live with Kelly & Ryan), turns to the latest research in neuroscience and positive psychology to reveal the secrets to finding meaningful work that does more than just pay the bills. I sat down with Meaghan to chat about her “Work Charge” chapter and her “Why/Who/How” formula for job happiness and success.
1) Purpose Beyond a Paycheck: The Why of Work
Meaghan says that for the vast majority of people, the crucial “why of work” entails helping others in some way. She cites a compelling study that found that when researchers asked what made someone’s work meaningful, 70 percent said helping others and 16 percent said contributing to a greater good. For some professionals such as nurses, firefighters, and teachers, it’s easy to recognize the meaningfulness of their work. For the rest of us, she explains, we can get caught up in the minutiae or challenges of a job, or feel like our day-to-day tasks are so far upstream from any human impact that we question whether we’re contributing anything meaningful at all.
The good news is, however, that you can say that every job plays a role in making someone’s life better in some way. The more you can see and connect with how your work serves or benefits others–others being anyone or anything you deem important and worthy–the more meaningful you are likely to find your job.
2) Positive Work Relationships: The Who of Work
Next up, Meaghan points to what she calls the “who of work.” She encourages all of us to think about work as a microcosm of life, and just as positive relationships are a boon for well-being and can give our lives a sense of purpose and meaning, research suggests the same goes for work. We can all help make our workplaces and work culture kinder, gentler, and more fun, and we can all foster a sense of belonging, community and camaraderie, and give and get support (even if we’re working from home more). When we do that, Meaghan says we leverage all the good things and opportunities relationships bring, and studies show it delivers; it makes work feel more meaningful.
Meaghan loves her research and she goes on to cite a survey that found that strong social support at work coincided with a 47 percent higher rating of meaningfulness. She points to another survey showing that helping others was the one behavior most closely tied to feelings of meaningfulness. Work friends also celebrate our achievements, which helps develop a sense of meaning. Beyond meaning, science shows good workplace relationships help us thrive in other ways: we’re more motivated, engaged, happier, and more satisfied with our jobs. Having good friends at work may increase employee satisfaction by 50 percent and make work more worthwhile and fun.
3) Capability and Accomplishment: The How of Work
Finally, Meaghan talks about the “how of work.” She explains that using your strengths, skills, and talents to complete tasks, reach goals, add value or otherwise make a positive impact in any way is closely tied to meaning. Researchers found that meaningfulness often grew from a sense of pride and achievement–the satisfaction of a hard day’s work and job well done. Those things breed confidence and self-worth. Meaghan then highlights additional research that suggests confidence in your abilities, autonomy, and feeling capable of doing your job, and doing it well, and having autonomy over how you do it all contribute to a sense of meaningfulness, too.
Especially in an era with Zoom fatigue and depleting optimism, it is more important than ever to capitalize on the things we can control. Applying the “Why/Who/How” formula is one way that we can take control of our happiness and meaningfulness within our careers, and hope to make each day a better one.