THE BLOG
03/13/2013 12:44 am ET Updated May 12, 2013

How to Find Joy on the Job and in Life

Do you love your job? Ok, maybe not love, but at least like?

If you don't, you're not alone. Eighty percent of employees say they are dissatisfied with their jobs. Responses to my recent blog post on passion told much the same story -- most would rather be anywhere than at their current job.

There's lots of reasons for this -- boring work, office politics, low pay, controlling boss... the list is endless.

Whatever the cause, being dissatisfied at work isn't good for you or your employer. Chronic unhappiness creates a host of emotional and physical problems and lowers our job performance. We also carry these negative emotions into our homes and neighborhoods, hurting the relationships we cherish most deeply.

To break the cycle, sometimes the best option is to find a new job. If the environment at work becomes so toxic that it negatively affects your health and kills your resolve to wake up in the morning, giving your two weeks' notice may be the way to go.

If quitting is not an option, don't despair. You can thrive on the job and in life and experience joy along the way by doing just one thing:

Choose to be positive.

Sounds clichéd, right? It's not and here's why: Choice is the ultimate expression of autonomy. It's the one thing we can control when times get tough, and it's how we remain true to ourselves.

Famed Austrian psychiatrist and Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl called this type of choice "tragic optimism." which simply means, "saying yes to life in spite of everything."

When I share this insight with clients, they're understandably skeptical. Choosing "yes" in the face of life's challenges is difficult. Most of us would rather avoid the "in spite of" part altogether.

It's necessary, however, to face our challenges head on. Avoiding or ignoring problems and the negative feelings that go along with them doesn't work, and actually makes us feel worse.

Yet, we can't force ourselves to be positive. Becoming optimistic is not a matter of the will. It's a byproduct of purpose. We can only say "yes to life" when we know what it looks like and how to get there. We can only be positive when we have something to look forward to.

Here's how to start: The next time you face a negative situation (or any situation, for that matter) ask yourself this:

"What meaning can I create from this experience?"

When we ask this question, something remarkable happens. We awaken to the possibility of the present, the moment-by-moment unfolding of existence. We begin to see every experience (whether good or bad) as an opportunity to impart significance to our actions.

The disagreeable co-worker is no longer the person we tolerate, but someone who needs our compassion. The tasks we dread doing -- writing emails, leading meetings, and giving presentations -- become opportunities to develop discipline and skills and influence others. The long commute is a time to learn (audiobooks are one of the best inventions), reflect, and give thanks. These are just a few examples.

When we approach life in this way, our focus shifts from the feelings of an experience to the meaning of an experience. It's not that we ignore negative feelings or pretend they don't exist (remember, that doesn't work). Rather, we choose to create meaning alongside our feelings.

Follow the 4 R's here. Recognize your feelings (acknowledge them), release them, re-focus on your quest, and repeat as needed.

So this is your quest -- use your experiences to become a better version of yourself and enrich the lives of others.

This is how we create meaning. This is how we say yes to life. This is how we choose to be positive.

Creating our own meaning fuels optimism because it gives us a purpose, a tangible reason to wake up in the morning. By living in the present, we also discover who we are, what we love (our passion) and what we can become.

I recently had the opportunity to witness optimism firsthand.

Last month, my wife and I bought a couch at a large furniture warehouse. After I backed our rental truck up to the loading dock, I met "Ben," the warehouse manager.

He exuded enthusiasm as he loaded the truck, so I asked him, "What do you like about your job?" Without a pause, he said, "Not the money. I'm responsible for millions of dollars of merchandise and I only make a little over minimum wage."

He quickly followed up by saying, "But I love furniture and I love helping customers find the perfect piece. And back here, I'm my own boss." Ben went on to say that he wanted to use his experience to open his own business one day.

Ben is a picture of optimism.

He doesn't complain about circumstances beyond his control or wait to discover his purpose, as many of us do. Instead, he takes ownership of his life by creating meaning out of the moments he is given. He strives to be the best at what he does while helping others get the "perfect piece." This is his source of enthusiasm.

The same is true for us. Even though our journeys may be different, the pathway to positivity is the same. When we choose to say yes to what we are given by living in the present, making meaning of each day, our experiences go from dread and "I can't wait until today is over" to appreciation and purpose.

If you follow the simple (but not easy) steps I outline above, you'll be on your way to reaching new levels of performance and experiencing joy and satisfaction on the job and in life.

I'd love to hear how you create meaning in your experiences and stay positive. Please leave your comments below or email me at frank@frankniles.com.

Dr. Frank Niles is co-founder and managing partner of Scholar Executive Group, LLC, a boutique consulting firm that provides coaching, counseling, and leadership development training for Fortune 500 companies and influential people. Learn more at frankniles.com and scholarexecutive.com or email Frank at frank@frankniles.com.

For more by Frank Niles, Ph.D., click here.

For more on happiness, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.