Blonde young woman smiling on a walk

According to Behavioural Scientist Paul Dolan, in his book Happiness by Design, happiness is the experience of both pleasure and purpose over time. In this way, we should be devoting equal time to these two things, for example both the everyday enjoyment of going to dinner with a friend, and working as a nutritionist helping people become healthier. 

We’ll explore a few of his suggestions for thinking about a career change we hope will make us happier, both what career we should go for and how we should go about looking for work. With a few of these tips you’ll be more motivated in looking for your ideal career and worry less if it’s not going the way you hoped. 

What career should you go for?

One that is challenging

Research has suggested that children’s behaviour and performance in school can be improved with challenging tasks, and the same is true for you. By finding ways to challenge yourself in some of what you do you’ll perform better, and be more interested and engaged in the task that you are doing. 

It has also been found that applying a variety of different skills is linked to higher experiences of meaningfulness on the job. Does the career or job you are contemplating give you the ability to vary the skills you use?

When looking for work

Don’t give up too much happiness for too long

If you are unhappy in your current work and aren’t enjoying it, don’t cling to the mistaken belief that you will recoup your unhappiness at some point later on in life. For example, you might stay in your position because it gives you the flexibility with family life or pays well so you can soon take time off to study. 

Although you’ll have reasons for your current reason for staying, you don’t necessarily know whether your new life will make you happier, and it’s only immediately that you can feel happiness. One way to overcome this is to work towards an aspect of your new life, kick-starting the new you now, which will make you feel more satisfaction in your day-to-day life and help you reach your future goal and happiness quicker. 

Forget about sunk costs

In a similar vein, if you are not enjoying your current position and have been contemplating leaving take the plunge, regardless of how much effort you’ve put into it. You are much more likely to regret not leaving earlier than sticking around. If you do decide to stay put, try to see your decision as a new commitment and a new you rather than simply staying put the same thing.

Forget about it

Students at the University of Amsterdam were shown a set of five posters from which they were allowed to take one home. Three of the posters were abstract art and the others depicted flowers and birds; so something for everyone. They were assigned to different groups in which they could either 1. choose a poster to take immediately after looking at them simultaneously, 2. choose a poster after looking at them simultaneously and then solving anagrams for 7 and a half minutes, or 3. choose a poster after thinking carefully about each one and viewing them one at a time.

They were called several weeks after making the choice in one of the three conditions. Those who had taken a break to solve anagrams were the most satisfied with their choice.

It is interesting to consider whether you could make a better choice of which job to take or career to choose if you allow some time for unconscious contemplation rather than attending to the choice fully until a decision is made.

Goal setting

Tell someone that you are thinking of changing career or company and you are more likely to do so. We like to be consistent with public promises.

Furthermore, you need to commit to something that is achievable and you have control of the outcome, rather than pie-in-the-sky. This might include bite-sized commitments, such as undertaking an online course so that you are one step closer to your new career or speaking to those in the industry to get an understanding of what it’s like. This means that you’ll be more likely to do them, and therefore be one step closer to your goal.