“It’s not what you do, but how you do it.
— Coach John Wooden

Much has been written lately on the subject of happiness at work. Perhaps it’s a sign of the times and the economy that many people feel they are “stuck” in unfulfilling jobs. And when they express their unhappiness with their jobs to someone else, they are often reminded they should be “happy” that they even have a job at this point. But is that happiness?

Two years ago I wrote an article on my Web site about finding happiness, but ended up writing more about resilience, which is vital to finding happiness in life, both at work and home. More and more, I see that when the subject of happiness is explored, the word “resilience” also seems to come up.

So it was with some joy that I learned of a new best-selling book by Srikumar S. Rao, PhD, who was known for conceiving the groundbreaking course called, “Creativity and Personal Mastery.”

Professor Rao’s book is titled, Happiness at Work. For me the book’s main title wasn’t quite as compelling as its subtitle: Be Resilient, Motivated and Successful—No Matter What. There was the word “resilient” again, right alongside “happiness,” where it should be.

One thing that gives me fulfillment in my work is when I realize I have been talking and writing about important life and management issues before they slip into the mainstream. So I was pleased, but not surprised, when in the introductory chapter on resilience the author states: “Resilience is on the cusp of becoming the new management fad, and articles on it have started appearing in peer-reviewed journals. Leadership programs have been talking about how important it is and how to cultivate it.”

I’m glad resilience is starting to get the notice and credit it deserves in improving people’s personal and professional lives. This author goes it one better and talks about “extreme resilience.”

In that previous article I wrote that happy people demonstrate resilience, because resilience comes in part from the ability to look at life’s situations and determine what portion you can take the reins on, and then taking action to achieve positive results. It’s focusing on what you can control and not worrying so much about what you have little or no power over.

Scientific evidence shows that one thing we can control, to a large extent, is whether we are happy or not. It has been shown that we have control over at least 40 percent of our own happiness, which is a good number to work with.

Resilient people are those who look at a chaotic situation and say, “What are the things in all this chaos that I can control?” They then take control over those things. It is especially important for leaders.

Do you believe it is possible to attain happiness at work? Can you find a job that instills passion in you?

In Happiness at Work, the author has an important message for people who are looking for joy in their work: “Passion does not exist in the job. It exists in you—and if you cannot ignite it within yourself right where you are now, you will never find it outside yourself.”

In other words, your happiness and passion are already there—you just need to take charge of them and make them come alive in your work.

Recently I wrote about techniques for motivating top performers. But what about you as a leader? You are perhaps the most important top performer in your organization, so who motivates you? What makes you happy? Do you consider yourself happy with your job?

How do You Define Happiness?

I am happy with my job, but a lot of that comes my belief that deep down, I’m just a happy person. That doesn’t mean I start every morning with a big grin on my face, whistling in the morning sun as I make my bed, and little bluebirds come in the window and help dress me. Happiness is much more than just walking around with a spring in your step and smiling or continually finding temporary joy because something “good” happened to you. It’s knowing that you’re on track and that things are going to be OK.

In Happiness at Work, Rao explains happiness not as a momentary good feeling because of something “positive” happening to you, but more as a “profound sense of well-being that is with you all the time.” He further explains: “This does not mean that you do not face challenges, some of them quite serious. It does mean that even as you do what you must, you are still conscious that fundamentally you are fine and always will be.” If you trust that, you will be OK.

Again, you have the ability to take charge of much of your own happiness. One thing Professor Rao says you can’t control, though, is outcomes. On this point he is absolutely on track.

He says that the first thing to realize is that there is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy, and that happiness is in your nature and is always with you. If you believe that getting that promotion, or landing the big contract, or becoming a star will make you happy, you are focusing on outcomes and getting stuck in what Rao calls “if-then” propositions, rather than focusing on the process of attaining your aspirations.

If I only get that promotion, then everything will be perfect. But what if you don’t achieve that outcome? Does it mean you’re a failure? Of course not. You know who you are and what you are capable of achieving, and not getting that promotion doesn’t change anything about that.

When the author writes about not striving for outcomes, people might think that he’s saying that it’s OK to fail, just shrug it off and move on to something else every time you do. That’s not what he’s saying at all. What he says, literally, is this: “When you make your emotional well-being dependent on the achievement of an outcome, you are investing in that outcome. You are also setting yourself up for failure, dejection and despair.”

It’s true. It’s good to have a goal. But instead of counting every day that you don’t get there as a failure, focus on the process and the joy of it and how you’re working toward getting there.

The late Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden was a believer in this concept of focusing on the process of how you get to an outcome rather than on the outcome itself. One of the biggest winners in sports history, he never stressed winning to his players. Instead, he told them to go out on the court and strive to give the game their absolute best. If they did that, he said, they would likely be pleased with their score compared to that of their rivals. So they gave it their all, and they won and won and won.

The same goes for you. You can’t do better than doing your best, and there’s no feeling quite like knowing that you are striving for that every day.

Consider medicine. If you are a physician and the only way you measure your quality of care is by whether the person lives, you are going to fail. If you get caught up in that life-and-death outcome, you will always be a failure because some of your patients will die, despite you doing your absolute best to save them. Doing your best is the process. Learning from the experience is the process.

Again, Professor Rao and Coach Wooden are not saying that it’s OK to fail all the time.

A Different Perspective on Outcomes

A key piece of advice from Coach Wooden is this: “Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” Keeping it in this perspective says that you know who you are and what you are capable of, and the fact that you didn’t achieve that one outcome doesn’t change who you are or what you are capable of doing. Do your best and keep plugging ahead on that journey.

Much of the reason people become so dissatisfied at work is that they focus on the outcome and not the journey of getting there. Where is that next promotion? Instead of asking this question, delve a little deeper. If you get that next promotion, will you be more satisfied? Will it ignite a passion in you that will launch you on to greater works? If you don’t get it, then where do you go from there?

The job isn’t going to make you happy, no matter what it is. You are the source of the passion. Figure out how you are going to ignite the passion for your job. Focus on the process rather than saying “if this new program gets going, then I will have passion for my job.”

Finding the Ideal Job

Professor Rao recommends that you take a few things that you truly love about your job and work over a period of months or a year to slowly make them into programs that are a part of your department or unit. In no time at all, your job will start looking as you want it to look, because through your own resilience, you are taking charge of those things you can control.

“Here’s something you need to realize: your ‘ideal job’ doesn’t exist.” Rao says. “It’s something that you craft over time, assembling the pieces as if it were a temporal jigsaw puzzle. You don’t find it. You wake up one morning and realize you’re in it.”

The key to happiness is resilience, and taking control. Take time to look at where you would like to be and what makes you happy in your job, and then put your energy into a change process that makes those things happen for you.

I’d like to leave you with one more thought from John Wooden: “Things turn out best for the people who make the best of the way things turn out.”