The Secret to Being Happy at Work

3 Simple "Secrets" to take back control of your daily happiness at work 

You know, it’s interesting when you look back at your career and reflect on how you started and what happened along the way. I honestly don’t think most people start out with the end in mind. Or at least I didn’t anyway. It’s been 20 years this year since I started my working career, so lately I find myself reflecting on all the jobs and employers and colleagues I have had. It’s been empowering and life changing; it’s been eventful and amazing; it’s also sometimes been heartbreaking but I have learned so much along the way. 

I founded Work of Heart in 2017 as a way to help people help themselves and in some respects to share with others what I’ve learned and experienced. Most of it is pretty common sense, but sometimes we get so caught up in life (or work) that we forget how to do the simple stuff. So I’m here to let you in on something … the “secret” to being happy at work is actually pretty simple.

So let me try to sum this up in 3 simple steps (aka the secrets) … because if you’re like me, you need this to be simple and to the point. If you felt compelled to read this, there is a high chance that you’re likely already sleep deprived, stressed or overwhelmed. So trust me, I get it. (Now get your pen out and write down what you’re going to do next to help yourself.)

1.   Take Time for Yourself

Okay some of you are reading this thinking “ah yeah, of course I know that” but trust me when I say that this is not always easy for people to do. When you get so caught up in the chaos at work and with responsibilities at home, it sometimes feels like there really ISN’T time. And if you’re really in a bad mindset, or having a tough time, you don’t even realize that you AREN’T taking time for you. But you need to make this happen. I beg of you. Ideally this time for yourself would be doing an activity you love. It would be doing exercise, meditation or getting fresh air. It would be self-care, a hot bath or some pampering. But since some of us need the beginner version (that was me a few years ago and I still need this reminder weekly) … start with closing your eyes in your car or at your desk. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Let your mind wander but keep your eyes closed. There you did it. Start with that. And if 5 minutes sounds like a lot? Start with less and build up.

2.   Set Boundaries (and take your vacation days!)

Alright, here is where I am either going to yell at you or plead with you (whichever suits your fancy) to please set boundaries for yourself around how much time you are working or thinking about your work. Why should you listen to me? Because I did it all wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. For 15 years. For 15 years, I thought I was an incredibly hard worker who was so passionate about my work that I just wanted it in my life every day 24-7. NOPE. Looking back I was a workaholic … I found purpose and satisfaction in my work, in being needed and from the adrenaline rush I felt. I’m not saying you should give that all up. You need to do what’s right for you.

But I’m asking you to consider giving yourself some guidelines. It was only after a health scare and subsequent burnout in 2015 that I realized (and admitted) that I had not taken a day off in 15 years. Yes, you read that right. No real day off from work in 15 years. Don’t get me wrong, I took time off on paper according to the companies I worked for. But I always had my phone on. I sometimes worked on projects on vacation.  I would check emails daily. I would text my colleagues who had become my friends and family. And yes, I would do that even from a beach chair or a family trip. For 15 years I did that, and looking back, it makes me incredibly sad. So in 2015, I created “guidelines” for myself around the hours I worked. I created rules for not checking messages and I took real vacations with my phone and email turned off. It changed my life. Duh, that’s what vacation is for right? So please, take your vacation days … with your phone off and your mind focused on anything but work.

3.   Follow your Passion

“The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.”

“The things you are passionate about are not random, they are your calling.”

It never ceases to amaze me how people lose sight of what they truly love to do when things start to get busy with life and work. In almost every workshop or presentation I have done this past year, it comes up. People actually forget what they like to do in their spare time … because they no longer HAVE spare time. Don’t worry though, figuring this out doesn’t need to be complicated. Think about what you find yourself daydreaming about. Think about the things that you do that sometimes cause you to lose track of time. And if they still don’t come to mind, just start paying more attention to things that pique your interest. And follow your curiosity: Google them, research them, ask friends about them. Ideally, you’ll make a bit of time to do these things once a week. Or start with once a month. Or just do the research. Just start.

Lastly, if you have the opportunity to mix some of your passions into your work, even better. I was fortunate over the years to have companies that supported my ideas and my passion for coaching and training others and for event planning too. So I encourage you to try to be creative and to talk to your employer … you might just be surprised at what you can make happen.

So there you have it, 3 simple secrets to help you take back control of your daily happiness at work. Turns out they aren’t so secret at all. The secret is in actually doing them.

Turns out they aren't so secret at all. The secret is in actually doing them.

Angela Harris is the founder of Work of Heart and spends every day promoting positive thinking. She is a consultant, coach and motivational speaker trying to make a positive difference in the world.

What really motivates you?

Leading with Happiness

Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Woohoo inc

Alexander is one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work having worked in the field for more than 10 years. He is an author and speaker at businesses and conferences in over 40 countries. Alex is the author of 4 books including the international bestseller Happy Hour is 9 to 5 – How to Love Your Job, Love Your Life and Kick Butt at Work. The book has been extremely well received all over the world and is available in 10 languages. His work has been featured in CNN, New York Times, Forbes, Times of India, The Times, BBC, Huffington Post, Financial Times and many others.

"Happiness at work is not a luxury – it’s an absolute prerequisite for us to be successful and be happy in life in general."

Find your Happiness at work

Annie McKee, a senior fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and the author of the book How to Be Happy at Work, tells the story of her journey to happiness—starting with her early job as a caregiver for an elderly couple. Even in later, higher-paying work, McKee saw that pursuing prestige and success for the wrong reasons ruined people’s personal and professional lives. She discusses how misplaced ambition, obsession with money, and fatalism are traps anyone, in any kind of job, can fall for—and how to not let that happen to you

A 7 Days guide for the pursue of Happiness while working in Finance

While reflecting on how Finance associates can help increasing Happiness in their working environment and companies, I read various blogs and articles on the matter and decided to propose a 7 Days behavioural based approach.The major caveat coming from a recent book  “Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life,” by Harvard Medical School professor and psychologist Susan David is that the following suggestions will work if you like being a Finance associate and you like what you are doing: ‘Happiness, Susan David found, is the by-product of pursuing things that have intrinsic value to us. In other words, when you do something you love, that’s when you’ll feel happy’. So the suggestions are valid for those that are already convinced about their choice.

Create your own Happiness regimen

Research is clear: Happiness, resilience, connection, and kindness are skills that can be taught and developed over time—with practice.That’s why UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, in collaboration with HopeLab, launched Greater Good in Action: "Synthesizing hundreds of scientific studies, Greater Good in Action collects the best research-based methods for a happier, more meaningful life—and puts them at your fingertips in a format that's easy to navigate and digest.The practices in Greater Good in Action are for anyone who wants to improve his or her social and emotional well-being, or the well-being of others, but doesn't necessarily have the time or money to invest in a formal program. We hope they serve as building blocks for creating your own happiness regimen.While we’ll never have a sure path toward happiness, we believe these practices can create lasting improvements in individuals, families, and communities. Over time, they can evolve into habits, and from habits become a new way of experiencing the world."

Another source of inspiration are “The 10 keys for happier living” created by Action For Happiness (AFH), an international non-profit of people dedicated to the creation of a happier world, which has the Dalai Lama as its patron. They’re a list of happy guidelines, unique because they’re both practical and research-based.

What I propose are then some "small changes that all add up, when it comes to mood". 

The 7 Days Guide for Finance 

MondayGiving Do Things For Others. You are back at work and on your desk the last week Sales report. Division Two, the one the company is counting a lot for this quarter results, is again behind budget. Give them a call, let them that you care, offer your support. “I am sure we are all together doing the right things. It just takes time for our initiative to generate expected outcome” you may say. Show some compassion, maybe it was your team to set such a high target to the Division head.


TuesdayRelating - Connect with people – Make three extra connections today. Take the stairs and go to Departments of your organization where they usually do not meet you. The Labs? A nearby Warehouse? The Internal communication team?. It is up to you. Stop to chat with them tell them what the Company is doing, learn some new name. Show your Emotions: say something positive: “Your proposal to expand the Labs has really positively impressed me. It will be stretched to fund it but you were so passionate behind the idea that we are taking the risk”


WednesdayExercising - Take care of your body. Are you exercising in the local company gym or prefer more exclusive places? Pay the fee, go to the company gym: notice which healthy actions lifts your mood and do more of them. “Try to limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23 and a half hours a day” suggests Dr Mike Evans.


ThursdayAwareness – Live life mindfully – “Reflect - Learning how to be still, to really be still and let life happen – that stillness becomes a radiance” say Morgan Freeman. Notice and appreciate the good things that your company is doing, list the KPIs where you are beating competition, call to your mind all the efficiency projects you team is committed to, think to some individuals that helped you in your life to become who you are, that were meaningful to you. Clear your table, quit your email and reflect on small positive things. Vanessa King, AFH's lead positive psychologist and architect of the keys, who’s writing a book on them, suggest to canvass friends to find out what you are good at – then do more of it.


FridayAcceptance No-one’s perfect. But so often we compare a negative view of ourselves and the difficulties to make things happen in the place where we work, with an unrealistic view of other people and the organization they work for. Dwelling on our flaws – what we are not rather than what we have got- makes much harder to be happy. Friday’s SWAT could mean maybe 'Sell What’s Available Today', putting passion and determination instead of desiring someone else’s’ s success. Notice things you do well, however small.


SaturdayResilience. ‘Fail again, fail better’  sustains Samuel Beckett. Get from Netflix the movie Pursuit of Happiness based on a true story about a man named Christopher Gardner. Gardner has invested heavily in a device known as a "Bone Density scanner". He feels like he has made these devices. However, they do not sell, as they are marginally better than the current technology at a much higher price. As Gardner tries to figure out how to sell them, his wife leaves him; he loses his house, his bank account, and credit cards. Forced to live out in the streets with his son, Gardner is now desperate to find a steady job; he takes on a job as a stockbroker, but before he can receive pay, he needs to go through 6 months of training, and to sell his devices. Or watch again Life is Beautiful where a gentle Jewish-Italian waiter, Guido Orefice, meets Dora, a pretty schoolteacher, and wins her over with his charm and humour. Eventually they marry and have a son, Giosue. Their happiness is abruptly halted, however, when Guido and Giosue are separated from Dora and taken to a concentration camp. Determined to shelter his son from the horrors of his surroundings, Guido convinces Giosue that their time in the camp is merely a game.

If the week was heavy take the day to shift your mood and bring new perspectives to the challenges you are facing.

 Sunday Trying out – Keep learning new things Surprise your family cook a new meal, bring them to visit a new nice place, "As long as you live, keep learning how to live" said Seneca. Find time to lose yourself in what you love.

It’s Monday again, you enter smiling your office. On your desk the Quarterly Report…Division Two made the Sales target. It is time to set your goal for the next quarter. Share your dreams; tell to 3 people what this is important for you and the company. Set your personal Happiness goal and share with them. Be The Happy CFO


A dwarf on a giant's shoulder sees the furthest of the two

During a simple and touching ceremony, my current manager and two colleagues handed me a recognition certificate for the 25 years I spent in the same company, Novartis.This anniversary made me reflect on the reason why certain individuals stay loyal, working mostly for one company, while others build a career jumping from one company to another.

A recent study, published by Elite Network (partially adjusted and shortened below by me) lists the good reasons why a worker would change job:

1.    Career advancement. This is the primary reason most people change jobs. They either want greater opportunity for advancement and their company can’t provide it, or an absolutely irresistible opportunity comes along out of the blue, and they can’t pass it up.

2.    Work environment. This can mean different things to different people. It may mean less stressful conditions due to deadlines or pressure. It could also mean more manageable hours, fewer weekends or flex time. Or it could simply mean a friendlier atmosphere.

3.    Challenge. This typically means greater mental or technical stimulation. People like to feel that they are learning new skills. This can provide them with greater market value or it can simply be more intellectually satisfying. Either way, this is very important to most people to maintain happiness in the job.To celebrate my anniversary, I then decided to write my first article on LinkedIn and I made an imaginary interview (based on info public on the WEB) to two leaders very loyal to their company, where they reached the CEO position: Jeff Immelt, GE CEO and Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO.Both have been with their company for more than 30 years, much longer than me, so I am sure they can help us understand why people stay long in the same organization and do not see a good reason to leave.

Marco: So, Ginni and Jeff, have you ever consider leaving your company in all these years?

Jeff: GE has always offered me internal growth opportunities: I joined in 1982 as an internal marketing consultant, and then from 1983 to1989 I was district sales manager in Plastics. I led, as Vice President Consumer services in Appliances from 89 to 92. Then I became Vice President and general manager of Plastics. GE offered me the chance to completely diversify my competencies, in 1997, as CEO of Medical Systems. Then, in 2001, I became GE CEO. With all these opportunities, there wasn’t much time to search for something more dynamic and interesting. No reason to leave!

Ginni: As I answered already to Forbes, in my 35-year career at IBM I led spending programs for data-analysis software and skills, cloud computing and IBM's Watson artificial intelligence technology. I joined IBM in 1981as a systems engineer in its Detroit office. Then I joined IBM's Consulting Group in 1991. In 2002 I championed the purchase of the big business consulting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers Consulting, for $3.5 billion.It accelerated my career, and I became Senior Vice President and group executive for sales, marketing and strategy in 2009. Since my early days with Big Blue, I envisioned IBM's growth strategy by getting the company into the cloud computing and analytics businesses. I was also at the helm of readying Watson, the Jeopardy! playing computer, for commercial use. I had so many achievements in my career that even an offer from Steve Jobs would have made me change job!

Marco: A recent consultant analysis suggests that people change job to look for a friendlier atmosphere or less stressful environment. What was your experience in that sense?

Jeff: Stress keeps you alive and nurtures your achievements. As you see from Wikipedia, I took over the role on September 7, 2001, just four days before the terrorist attacks on the United States, which killed two employees and cost GE's insurance business $600 million, as well as having a direct effect on the company's Aircraft Engines sector. Then I was pressed to defend GE's business model and the quality of its financial reports as the economy reeled from the Enron crisis. In 2008-09 I shepherded GE through the United States financial crisis. As legendary UCLA basketball coach Jack Wooden said, “Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.” GE required all my attention and interest with a lot of stamina and challenges: where else I would have found a better job?

Ginni: Growth and comfort never coexist, I told to the Northwestern 2015 graduates, in my early career as an executive I always took risk: when presented with a great opportunity to advance in my career, I questioned whether I was ready. The evening after having received the proposal for advancement, my husband of 35 years now sat and listened patiently to my story. He would then say only one thing: ‘do you think a man would have answered that way? I know you. In six months, you will be telling me how you are ready for the next challenge. I told the graduates to close their eyes and ask themselves when they have learned the most. Probably when you have felt at risk, so when you start to feel anxious, that’s actually a good sign. You’re learning! Changing for the sake of a less exciting job was not in my plans.

Marco: Need for another challenge is quoted as the third reason for people to change job. How you were able to constantly find another challenge, despite your long tenure in the same company?

Jeff: Marco, have you ever heard of “Neutron Jack”, my predecessor? See Investopedia definition: “To attract the right personnel, Welch instituted a strategy that earned him the moniker "Neutron Jack". He had GE cut all businesses in which the company could not dominate the market in first or second positions. Next, he had managers fire the bottom 10% of GE employees, while he fired the bottom 10% of management. Welch's housecleaning cleared away layers of bureaucracy that had built up at the organization and made way for a quicker flow of ideas.” It was a challenge everyday for me to show my capabilities to such a great leader. I learnt a lot and I was as a dwarf on a giant's shoulders but this helped me to see furthest down the road and avoid being a passive inheritor of "the house that Jack built." But I took a different path, differentiating from Jack in both substance and style. On the one hand, I eliminated or reduced GE's involvement in a number of businesses from the Jack era, with moves in the Plastics, Appliance and GE Capital businesses. On the other hand, I seized the growing international nature of commerce to expand GE's operations overseas.” Standing on his shoulders has helped me grow further. This was my everyday challenge that made me appreciate my job.

Ginni: I owe a lot to Sam (Palmisano – former IBM CEO). He was always telling me: “ A good CEO should never fall in love with himself. I was maybe the longest-sitting CEO of IBM other than Watson, but, nonetheless, I’m not the IBM company. A lot of people before me built a great enterprise. I was fortunate enough to represent it for nine to ten years, but I’m a temporal steward of an iconic organization. If you think you are the success, then you’ll make mistakes because you won’t encourage and motivate the team to go win every day. One of the most detrimental things any leader can do is put themselves above the organization. Yet you see it all the time. If you can leave the company better than when you found it, to me that was the ultimate measure of success”. The big challenge as first time woman as IBM CEO is that as Sam said: “Ginni got it because she deserved it... It’s got zero to do with progressive social policies”. To get the top job as a woman in IBM was really challenging but I agree with Jeff: I was humble for many years to stand as a dwarf on a giant's shoulders and from there see the potential IBM has to develop Watson, cloud and professional services.

Jeff - Ginni: Marco, it is now clear to you why we stayed so many years in the same company, there we found challenges to be solved, a stressful but learning environment and a place where our capabilities were rewarded. Both had the possibility to learn from the leaders of the past in our organizations and leverage their experience to see the future in a sharper and cleaner way. What made you stay for 25 years in the same company?

Marco: I am so glad that you quoted Isaac Newton’s sentence to Robert Hooke in 1676: “A dwarf on a giant's shoulders sees the furthest of the two” and I think he meant to say that when a man's low intelligence, like me, is combined with one's of greater intelligence, the dwarf (less smart one) will have a greater advantage than the giant (smarter one). Novartis gave me the opportunity to work with intelligent, smart, prepared and determined colleagues and bosses. Every of my almost 5000 working days in the company was full of learning, challenge and solutions to be found. I took the advantage to absorb from many colleagues a lot of their knowledge, behavior, empathy, competencies, skills, and that made of me a better person, a better leader. Those leaders helped me to grow professionally in Finance, General Management, Change management and Strategy. There was no reason for me to change company, as 8 career advancements and opportunities became real; no reason to change, as the work environment was friendly, rich of learning and positive stamina; no reason to change, as the challenges were always occasions to raise the bar, start from achievements and grow further.

If a genius like Newton was ready to admit how much advantage we can get, if we are ready to build on the past, if we consider those that before us were part of building the organization where we work, then I am proud that I spent a lot of time to learn from my past and current managers.

I see the furthest, I enjoy my job, I enjoy the game. Thank you to all my managers during these years: you let me see always the way ahead and made my 25 years a fantastic journey.

This imaginative interview published on LinkedIn aims to publicly thank you.

Milan 31st, December 2016

Happiness in Life and @ Work

Therefore, helping workers to feel that they are able to decide what to do, as well as feeling good at daily activities, and having meaningful and deep relationships with people who is important for them, are key nutrients for satisfying their psychological needs, making them more satisfied not only with their lives, but also with their jobs (Deci and Ryan, 2000Van den Broeck et al., 2016). Thus, when companies help employees to satisfy their needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness, organizations might start a virtuous circle of flourishing both in employees' lives and at work. However, a vicious circle is also possible. If employees feel low need satisfaction, or even worse, feel that their psychological needs are frustrated (Unanue et al., 2014Van den Broeck et al., 2016), companies may start a dangerous circle of employees' unhappiness.

Wenceslao Unanue

Happiness@Work Manifesto

  1. Studies show that happiness at work may be the most important success factor for a modern workplace and that happy companies make more money!
  2. Happiness at work is one of the 3 most important sources of happiness in life.
  3. Happiness at work is the best antidote to stress. Stress doesn’t necessarily come from working too much but from feeling bad while you work.
  4. Increasing employee happiness dramatically reduces absenteeism and employee turnover.
  5. In all the world, only the Scandinavian languages have a widely used word for happiness at work. In Danish the word is arbejdsglaede.
  6. Your happiness at work is your responsibility. Not your boss’s, not your co-workers’ and not society’s. Yours.
  7. Your boss and your workplace are responsible for creating a setting and culture where it’s easy to be happy at work.
  8. Happiness at work doesn’t only come from the organization’s policies, strategies, plans or values. It comes from the things that you and I do here and now.
  9. Happiness at work doesn’t come from raises, bonuses or perks. It comes from two things: Results and Relationships, ie. doing great work together with great people.
  10. Happiness at work doesn’t just happen. It takes a focused, long-term effort from management and employees together.

Annie McKee explains how workers can feel more fulfilled on the job.



Happiness is in short supply at work these days. Deadlines, staff shortages, productivity pressures and crazy stress push even the most talented and temperate people to want to quit their jobs. But that’s not a realistic option, even for folks in the C-suite. Annie McKee, director of the Penn CLO and Medical Education programs at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches leadership and emotional intelligence, has a better idea. In her book, How To Be Happy At Work, she outlines three requirements that workers need to feel more fulfilled on the job. McKee spoke about the concepts in her book on the Knowledge@Wharton show on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)

 The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

Knowledge@Wharton: How many people do you think are not happy at work?

Annie McKee: I don’t think we even have to guess. Gallup has been studying people for years, and upwards of two-thirds of us are either neutral, which means we don’t care, or we’re actively disengaged. Disengagement and happiness go hand in hand, so an awful lot of people are not happy at work. Unhappy people don’t perform as well as they could. When we’re negative, cynical, pessimistic, we simply don’t give our all, and our brains don’t work that well just when we need people’s brains to be working beautifully.

Knowledge@Wharton: Has this problem ramped up in the last two decades or so? As much as digital is phenomenal for us, a lot of people feel under pressure because of what digital does to accelerate change.

McKee: The world is changing at a rapid pace, obviously. As much as we love our always-connected world, it can mean that we work all of the time. We’re always one minute away from that next email that’s going to bring tragedy or crisis to our working lives. Some of us never turn it off, and that’s not good for us.

Knowledge@Wharton: Where did your idea for the book come from?

McKee: I’ve worked in organizations all over the world for decades now. I’ve looked at leadership practices, emotional intelligence, culture and all of those things that impact the bottom line and people’s individual effectiveness. I decided to take another look and see what people were trying to tell us. All of these studies that we did around the world were practical studies. People were telling us, “I want to be happy, I want to be fulfilled, I want to love my job, I’m not as happy or as fulfilled as I could be, and here is what I need.” And then they went on to tell us what they need.

Knowledge@Wharton: Are executives aware of their employees’ problems? Are they also aware that they may susceptible to this?

“Unhappy people don’t perform as well as they could.”

McKee: It doesn’t matter where you sit in the organization, you are susceptible to disengagement and unhappiness even at the very top. We think if you’re making all of that money and you’ve got all of that power and that great job, it’s going to be perfect. The best leaders in our organizations, at the very top and all the way down to the shop floor, understand that people matter, feelings matter, and it’s job number one to create a climate where people feel good about what they’re doing where they’re happy, engaged and ready to share their talents.

Knowledge@Wharton: What are the key ingredients to finding that happiness?

McKee: From my work, I’ve discovered three things. Number one, people feel that they need to have impact on something that is important to them, whether it’s people or a cause or the bottom line. They need to feel that their work is purposeful, and it’s tied to values that they care about.

Number two, we need to feel optimistic that our work is tied to a personal vision of the future. The organization’s vision isn’t enough. As good as it may be, we have to know that what we’re doing ties to a personal vision of our future.

Number three, we need friends at work. We’ve learned over the course of our lives you shouldn’t be friends with people at work, that it’s dangerous somehow, that it will cloud your judgment. I don’t agree. I think we need to feel that we are with our tribe in the workplace, that we belong, that we’re with people that we respect and who respect us in return. We need warmth, we need caring, and we need to feel supported.

Knowledge@Wharton: I would think most people looking for a job, whether they are coming out of college or shifting careers mid-life, are looking for that area that would make them happy. When you have that expectation of being in the right sector to begin with, you hope that you have the happiness to go along with it.

McKee: We do hope that we get into the right organization and there’s a good fit between our values and the organization’s values. We really try hard. But we get in there and the pressures of everyday life, and the crises and the stress can really tamp down our enthusiasm and our happiness.

Also, a lot of us are susceptible to what I call happiness traps. We end up doing what we think we should do. We take that job with that fancy consulting firm or that wonderful organization not because we love it and not because it’s a fit, but because we think we should. Frankly, some of us have ambition that goes into overdrive. Ambition is a great thing, until it’s not.

Knowledge@Wharton: Is that part of the reason why we see more people who have been with a company for 20 years, 25 years and suddenly pivot? They may be going to work for a nonprofit. You see these stories popping up, especially with people in the C-suite.

McKee: You do see that. You see senior leaders all of a sudden saying, “Enough is enough, I [want to do] something different.” But I really want to be clear, you don’t always have to run away. In fact, you want to run towards something. If you feel you’re not happy in the workplace, quitting your job is probably not the first answer, and some of us can’t. What we need to do is figure out what we need, what we want, how to have impact, what will make us feel hopeful about our future, what kind of people we want to work with and for, and then go find that either in our organization or elsewhere.

Happiness starts inside each of us. It’s tempting to blame that toxic boss or that horrible organizational culture, and those things may be true. But if you want to be happy at work, you first have to look inside and ask what is it that you want? What will make you feel fulfilled? Which happiness traps have you fallen prey to? And get yourself out.

Knowledge@Wharton: What are the happiness traps?

McKee: There’s what I call the “should” trap. We do what we think we should do. We show up to work acting like someone we’re not. That is soul-destroying, and it’s fairly common. [There’s also] the “ambition” trap. When our ambition drives us from goal to goal and we don’t even stop to celebrate the accomplishment of those goals, something is wrong.

Some of us feel helpless, stuck. The “helplessness” trap may be the most serious of all. It’s really hard to get out of because we don’t feel we have any power. My message is we have a lot more power and control over not only our attitude but what we do and how we approach our work on a daily basis and in the long term than maybe we think we do.

“Ambition is a great thing, until it’s not.”

Knowledge@Wharton: Earlier in your life, you found yourself fitting into these patterns as well.

McKee: I did. Early in my life I wasn’t teaching in a wonderful institution like Penn. I didn’t even have what you would call a professional career. I had jobs like waiting tables and cleaning houses and taking care of elderly people. I was making ends meet. And it wasn’t easy.

I had two choices, I could either say to myself this is miserable and I hate it, or I could look for something that was fulfilling in what I did. I tried to do that. I did find aspects of my job, whether it was cleaning houses and feeling like I was doing a good job or finding a mentor in some of these workplaces, that really made it worthwhile to me.

Knowledge@Wharton: Do you have to be 100% happy all of the time? I think if you can find areas of happiness, it can make your job or your life so much easier to go through.

McKee: Happiness isn’t just about feeling good every moment of the day, and it’s not just about pleasure. That’s hedonism, and we’re not seeking that. Frankly, a little bit of stress is a good thing. It pushes us to be innovative and to do things differently and to push harder. So, it’s not about just feeling good. But we do need a foundation of purpose, hope and friendships. We do need to know that what we do matters at work, that we are doing something that is tied to our future, and that the people we work with are great.

Knowledge@Wharton: You mentioned taking the time to recognize your accomplishments, but there are companies that want you to push on to the next project. They don’t give you the opportunity to slow down even for an hour to enjoy it.

McKee: Most of our organizations are really hard-driving, especially publicly traded organizations. I’m not even sure they’re that different than other institutions these days. The pressure is on everywhere, and the reality is we do move from project to project, goal to goal. What choices can we make in the middle of that culture? We don’t have to be victims of our organizational culture, and we don’t have to be victims of that bad boss you might have or maybe you’ve had in the past. We can make choices about what we do with our time, our energy and our emotional stance.

Knowledge@Wharton: Going back to the friends component in the workplace, does it matter where those friends come from within the structure of the company? A lot of people say you have to be careful if you want to try to be friends with the boss.

McKee: It doesn’t matter where your friends are, but it does matter whether or not you have your eyes open and recognize what people are thinking about how you are behaving and who you are friends with. You’ve got to be aware of your organization’s culture and the rules of the road.

If you’re violating some of those rules — for example, going up the hierarchy and building friendships with people who are a couple levels above you or maybe in another division — you need to understand what the implications of that are. And you need to be maybe a little bit careful.

Knowledge@Wharton: How does the middle manager deal with this?

McKee: Middle managers get it from all sides. They are pulled in every direction, and it is probably the hardest job in any organization. They, more than anybody, need to hear this message. Life is too short to be unhappy at work. Middle managers have a tremendous impact on the people who work for them, and recognizing that you more than anybody are the creator and the curator of the culture in the organization is an important place to start.

Knowledge@Wharton: Sometimes managers forget about the life people have outside of work.

McKee: We’re here at the Wharton School, and we’ve been studying management now for over 100 years. Some of the early approaches to managing organizations are really destructive, and one of the aspects of that early research has been the attitude that people don’t matter and that private lives ought to be left at the door of the office. It’s impossible to leave our private lives at the door of the office. It doesn’t mean that we talk about it all of the time, but we bring our experiences with us and we bring our feelings with us. Managers need to recognize that.

It’s also hard to find what is commonly called work-life balance. By the way, I don’t like that phrase. I think it’s a myth. I don’t think there is any magic formula that says if we get it just right we’re going to be happy at work and happy at home. It’s more about understanding that the lines are blurred between work and home now, and we need to learn how to manage our choices and our attention.

Knowledge@Wharton: What about those who work remotely and can feel very isolated and disconnected?

McKee: I understand the isolation and feeling kind of left out. The reality is that it takes a lot more effort to build relationships when we work remotely. We need to take time. When we’re working remotely, we get on the phone, we do the work that needs to be done, we talk about the project, and we get off the phone. That leaves us feeling kind of empty. We need to take that extra five minutes to have a chat, have a laugh, feel like we are in a relationship with somebody. It takes effort and self-management because the temptation is to just do the work. You talk about the gig economy, right? We’re all sort of working in a portfolio manner these days. We take on this bit of work and that bit of work, and much of it is virtual.

“Life is too short to be unhappy at work.”

I think we need to figure this out because the bottom line is that we have not changed as human beings. We still need to feel like we belong, we need to feel that we’re cared for, and we need to be able to care for others in return. If we’re working far away, we’ve got to take extra time and make a concerted effort to build those relationships in a different kind of way than if we’re in person.

I’m a big proponent of working from home or working remotely. I think it’s really helpful to individuals and companies. People who are able to work at home feel trusted, and when you feel trusted you are more committed to your organization. A lot of people report being able to get more done away from the office because you don’t have the interruptions. The downside is that you have to find a way to keep the relationships fresh and alive because that’s as important as getting that project done.

Knowledge@Wharton: Companies seem to be more aware of employee happiness than they used to be, which is a good thing. Do you think we’re going to continue down that path?

McKee: Companies are more aware, so are enlightened CEOs and enlightened leaders. I think we will continue down the path for the following reasons. It’s not just nice-to-have, and it’s not just about feeling good. We’ve got solid research coming out of positive psychology, neuroscience and management that tells us that feelings matter. When we feel good, we’re smarter. And we need smart employees now. We need people who are committed, who are engaged. The research is pretty clear. Happiness before success. If we want our employees to be at their best, we need to care about their emotional well-being as well as their physical well-being.