How to be happier at work

You spend an enormous amount of your life at work, so how happy you are with your job can have a significant impact on the amount of happiness in your life overall. And yet for some people, work is a major source of unhappiness and dissatisfaction. If that's true for you, it might be because you're in the wrong job. But sometimes you can make yourself much happier at work with some fairly straightforward tweaks to your mindset. Here are five with the biggest payoff.

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1. Focus on what you can control, and let go of the things you can't. This is probably the biggest rule for being happier at work, because so often when something at work is aggravating you – like an annoying co-worker, a bad boss or a nonsensical policy – the natural response is to fixate on the problem.

But if you can't actually change the thing that's bothering you, fixating on it can make it even worse. Instead, if you accept that the frustration is part of the package of this particular job and that there's nothing you can do that will change it, then the question to ask yourself becomes: Knowing that, can you stay in the job and be reasonably happy? Sometimes framing things that way will help you realize that other things about the job (like the pay, the commute or the work itself) make it worth it to put up with the things you find frustrating. And once you accept that, you may find that your quality of life improves because you're not dwelling on things you can't change.

On the other hand, if you conclude that you can't be happy in the job under these conditions, then you know that you need to start taking action to move on – which is much more constructive than sticking around and being miserable.

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2. Don't join in complaint fests. Complaining about work with your co-workers can feel like a bonding experience, and venting can feel like it releases some tension. The problem, though, is that regularly complaining with co-workers often has the effect of making you think more about the problems you're griping about. That can act as a sort of reinforcement mechanism, where something that originally seemed like a minor irritation now seems like a much bigger problem. That's bad for your long-term quality of life at work.

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3. Find people amusing, not infuriating. When you have to deal with frustrating people, one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is to see them as entertaining rather than enraging. The department admin who refuses to take any request out of order, no matter its actual priority? Talk to her boss about the problem, by all means, but then resolve to find the humor in her extreme rigidity. The colleague who hoards information and gets defensive at any effort to encroach on what he sees as his turf? Reframe him in your head as Gollum from "The Hobbit," and your blood pressure might stop increasing every time you have to interact with him.

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4. Don't see your boss as your adversary – unless you have real reason to. Sometimes people's past experiences with authority make them more inclined to see managers in an adversarial way. But if you have a decent boss, she's not the enemy; she's someone who's on the same team as you and working toward the same goals. The exception to this, of course, is if your boss has given you real reason to see her as an adversary – for example, if she routinely undermines you or treats you unfairly. Absent that kind of situation, though, you'll usually have better quality of life at work if you see your boss as a teammate who happens to have more authority than you do, rather than as an enemy from whom you need to protect yourself.

5. Care about things outside of work. This might sound obvious, but too often people let work take over their lives and their identities. And when work is the biggest thing in your life, you're going to be pretty unhappy if things at work aren't going well. If you're someone who tends to invest heavily in your job, make sure you're also investing in family, friends, pets, hobbies or anything else that brings you satisfaction outside of your job. Work difficulties can feel a lot more manageable when you don't feel like your job is your life.

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