HR & EDUCATION | Contributed Content, Singapore
Anthony Koh

Why Singaporean workers can't find the perfect happy job


Different jobs make different people happy and different people are happy with different aspects of their jobs.

In Singapore alone, a happy job to you could be an unhappy job to me. Otherwise, why would people quit and give away their happy job to others?

But leaving an unhappy job does not guarantee us work happiness for life; people are still hopping from one unhappy job to another. I plodded through several happiness literature to find out why knowing what make you unhappy at work alone won't get you any nearer to a happy job.

Self-realisation has to happen

Dr Richard Teo, a millionaire aesthetic surgeon told us that Ferraris and bungalow didn't make him happy when he knew he was dying from lung cancer. His soul-searching story was read by many after his death at age 40.

I would think that the point is not about Ferraris or bungalow. Generally, people who are healthy to enjoy them should be happy to have them.

Also, I don't think that having a high-paying job that could afford us these things is not to be happy about. What matters is whether we are happy as we are pursuing these things.

Most people don't think about happiness when they are chasing after things that they thought make them happy. Everyone needs a wakeup call.

Former school counsellor Shimona Kee, 30, only had the courage to pursue singing full-time after her young brother died in a tragic dragon boat accident.

Yoga teacher Yvette Tee, 41 left the corporate world when she realised that she had "never stopped to enjoy the little things".

Patricia Chew, a children book writer whom I met recently, quit her legal practice when she felt that the season in her life was over.

People brainwash themselves

Behavioural economist, Dr Nick Powdthavee explains in his book, The Happiness Equation that "people tend to rationalise the costs of their decisions - especially the ones that can't be undone, such as parenthood or career choices - and then conclude that, given the high price they pay, they must be happy with their choices".

They tend to practise positive self-talk throughout their unhappy careers, hoping that the right time will come for them to do what they like. But that day may never come.

"'Someday' is a disease that will take your dreams to the grave with you...If it is important to you and you want to do it 'eventually', just do it and correct course along the way."

These are the words of Tim Ferris, author of the The 4-Hour Workweek. I agree with him totally. To overcome writer's block, writing experts advise writers to just write and edit our stories later. The importance is to get into the flow of writing.

Wrong concept of happy job

Even if you have a dream job, you couldn't possibly be fired up at work every day.

In his book, The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, Ken Robinson argues that nobody can be in their zone all the times even if they are doing what they love. They will feel that they are out of their Element and feel disconnected with their "sense of identity, purpose and wellbeing".

A happy job is not without unhappiness but once in the zone, people will experience a "sense of freedom and authenticity" which make them happier. I'm happy when I'm writing but when I'm besieged with deadlines, stress can make me unhappy.

Inherent attributes

Dr Powdthavee also mentions about the 130 personality traits that predisposed people to be happy or unhappy. Happy people are identified by their excitement-seeking, sociability, assertiveness, creativity and self-confidence among other traits; unhappy people exhibit anger, anxiety and self consciousness.

If this theory is anything to go by, then it would mean that everyone can thrive to be happy but not all get on the path of happiness. Age also determines our state of happiness.

Think how mid-life crisis can affect a person's emotion. Interestingly, which side of the brain we use more can impact on our happiness too.

"Left-siders" are found to be happy as opposed to "right-siders". So if you are disadvantaged by these innate qualities, you may only see unhappiness at your workplace and missed the happy moments.

Wrong motivation

Society has taught us that the higher paying a job is, the better it is for our future. It is true for raising our standard of living but not absolutely true for increasing our level of happiness.

If you think that happiness doesn't bring foods to the table, think twice. Studies have found that happy workers are more productive and earn a higher salary.

A study that measures happiness against income level found that how happy a worker is depends on how much others are earning. Not only that - Dr Powdthavee observes that once people's income has met their basic needs, they start to pursue status.

Keeping up with the Joneses is an endless chase that can only lead to stress and debts. The late Dr Robert Hoppock, a pioneer in occupational guidance said this: "Choose an occupation because you like the work, not solely because of the rewards in money or prestige."

Find your happy job today

A happy job is one that you enjoy the process of doing it. Unhappiness at work cannot be compensated in the form of material things, vacation or social status.

Rewarding yourself for hard work in a job that you like is different from making up to yourself for a job that you really dislike. The first step to finding a happy job is to stop doing the type of job that makes you unhappy.

So if you detest numbers, don't go back to accounting again. Study a second degree if you need to. The importance is to do something that you find purposeful. If you still haven't found your happy job, start looking now!

Don't look at job advertisements first; begin by searching inside your heart. 

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Anthony Koh

Anthony Koh

Anthony Koh has been a full-time freelance writer since 2007.

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