The Search for Happiness at Work: 4 Pillars

What makes you happy and how do you define happiness? What about your employees? There are many things that individuals THINK make them happy – sex, drugs, rock and roll, alcohol, food, perhaps ping pong tables at work.  And what about searching for the next event, or striving for more money, bigger houses, nicer cars, and good times? But do these make us happy or lead to lasting happiness?  

Although most of us grew up thinking about happiness from a materialistic mindset, the research disputes this as leading to happiness. What happens when these things don’t last, change, or no longer make us happy? Or when we experience loss, pain, loneliness, disappointment? 

Do you know people who keep striving for more, trying to find satisfaction again and again? Or the next high to block discomfort? Very wise musical philosophers once said, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction!”  Our meditation teacher often quotes these ‘philosophers,’ and the deep meaning of the songs. At a recent meditation session, he mentioned knowing people from all walks of life and all cultures, emphasizing that those who are wealthier or those having more material things are no happier (and often less happy!) than those with only the barest of necessities. 

Bhutan is ranked as one of the happiest places on earth based on quality of life and balancing material and spiritual development. Once our basic needs are met – safety, shelter, nourishment, health, education, and financial stability, then happiness IS defined as perceptions of quality of life and spiritual development such as contentment, joy, connection, satisfaction, and having a sense of purpose. Happiness and joy do not result from excitement or ecstasy that individuals occasionally find. 

Instead, happiness and joy are based on being content with what we have, yes striving to be better, but not without a sense of contentment and joy with where we are now. Many believe we can find happiness and joy despite pain, grief, and loss. Accepting discomfort is an important aspect of both since this too is part of life.

A recent article quoted that “joy… has grit, it isn’t fluffy or ephemeral. Joy is what we feel in our bones when we feel connected to what is good, beautiful, meaningful.” And “grief doesn’t just vanish because joy comes. Instead, joy has a mysterious capacity to be felt alongside sorry and even . . . in the midst of suffering.” (How to find joy when life is awful)

Now the question is, do happiness and joy belong in the workplace? Who benefits and in what ways?  Such questions are often debated by the wellness community and by leadership teams. What are your thoughts? Sure, some workplaces have nicer breakrooms and set up ping pong tables, but do these get us closer to happiness outlined in the pillars listed below? 

Pillars for happiness have been identified by different organizations and vary somewhat. Four Key Pillars for achieving happiness at work are: 

  • Purpose
  • Belonging and Connection to Colleagues 
  • Progress
  • Positivity and Positive Relationships.

Others have identified the pillars to be purpose, engagement, resilience, and kindness. We combine these within the pillars as the 4 P’s listed above. These pillars should be the foundation of wellness and leadership development initiatives to achieve employee and organizational well-being. A very brief description of the pillars is summarized below.


Purpose is when we believe that what we are doing is meaningful and beneficial; that we are making a valuable contribution to our workplace, to others, and/or to society, and that no one is harmed. In the book, Drive, Daniel Pink describes purpose as the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves. Pink contends that people intrinsically want to do things that matter, that make a difference. Purpose must be aligned to our individual core values. When our values are honored, they are the foundation of our actions, our purpose.

People: Belonging and Connection 

Belonging and connections are fundamental human needs. The blog we posted on the Happiness Study confirms the need for social connections, for relationships. Humans are social animals yet many employees and most CEOs report feeling lonely in their roles at work. In fact, almost half of employees in the US report feeling isolated at work. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy released a new Surgeon General Advisory calling attention to the public health crisis of loneliness, isolation, and lack of connection in our country. Loneliness and isolation contribute to both mental and physical ailments. Dr. Vivek stated that loneliness shortens lifespans in a way similar to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. 

Gallop found that having a best friend at work increases engagement and satisfaction, but it is also known to improve well-being. Social connection is beneficial for individual health and improves our resilience and that of our communities. Employees want to feel connected and accepted, they want to feel welcomed, that their voice is heard, and that what they do matters.


Daniel Pink also asserts that in addition to purpose, people want autonomy, and mastery. People want the freedom to work at jobs they enjoy and to master skills. Employees want to learn and grow. This intrinsic motivation leads to achievement and progress.  A sense of well-being, fulfillment, and happiness result when employees thrive and flourish, and passion is sparked. This is a huge component of career well-being.


How we think influences how we act, how we treat others, and how we find meaning in the world.  Each feed into the next and can be massaged and improved. How can we tap positivity and our innate nature towards goodness? It starts with our thoughts and attitudes. Kindness, compassion, respect, patience, trust, and generosity are all qualities of positivity and lead to well-being and resilience. How can you foster these at work?  One is to include such initiatives as a cornerstone of wellness programs. A powerful example is providing time and wellness initiatives for employees to reflect and consider what they are grateful for. 

Resilience is also a component of positivity and happiness. Resilience is an acquired ability to intentionally recover from challenges.  It is a learned ability to handle, adapt to, and learn from setbacks, failures, and disappointments. Life is not always a bowl of chocolate or a bouquet of flowers. Being able to accept the good and the bad, the yin and yang of life, is essential for happiness.  It doesn’t mean trying to avoid stress and difficulties or suppressing either. It means accepting; being able to manage challenges with authenticity and grace.

The Dalai Lama is quoted as saying, “happiness is the highest form of health

What can workplaces do to ensure happiness and well-being? Below are a few thoughts for health:

  • Assess employee satisfaction and needs using surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Address organization factors that impact the 4 Pillars for Happiness
  • Promote the Pillars as the foundation for wellness program and leadership development
  • Offer resilience and energy management initiatives for employees and leaders
  • Cultivate social well-being and ways for employees to connect and be involved
  • Foster a positive work culture 
  • Ensure employees know that their contributions matter and are appreciated as well as how they can advance their careers
  • Create a psychologically safe work environment
  • Cultivate gratitude and respect
  • Ensure all voices are heard and valued
  • Communicate the purpose and meaning of the business

What are your thoughts about happiness at work? What ways has your organization fostered well-being and happiness?

Four Keys to Happiness at Work

International Week of Happiness at Work

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Turn insight into action

Get a full-scale analysis of your business and recommended solutions.

error: Content is protected !!