Finding the Ultimate Career Happiness

By Maggie McCormick

The field of happiness psychology is becoming better known as both an academic discipline and a topic in mainstream culture. Happiness psychology has laid the foundation for modern approaches in career development, such as the strengths-based movement and Appreciative Inquiry. According to Martin Seligman, a pioneer of positive psychology, there are three levels of happiness:

In career development terms, the Pleasant Life can be found when following individual interests, the Good Life when engaging with the world using strengths, and the Meaningful Life when integrating values and passions into career and life.

Achieving Deeper Levels of Happiness
Many activities, besides paid employment, can offer you or your clients opportunities to explore, develop, and follow your interests, strengths, values, and passions. Pursuing hobbies, participation in organizations and civic institutions, volunteering for causes you care about can all lead to deeper levels of happiness – especially when combined - and yes, may lead to paid employment and a fulfilling career as well.

As career development professionals, we are good at helping people uncover their unique strengths and interests, and apply them to the working world. But what does it look like when people are working in line with their values and making a difference in the world? Three people come to mind who seem to embody working for a greater purpose, the deepest level of happiness.

Three Case Examples of Happiness
The first person is Steve, executive director of a rural community mental health center, which serves multiple counties and offers a variety of services. Steve once told me, “This agency was not doing well, but once we began seeing our work as a ministry, it turned around.” His vision was evident not only in the success of the agency but in the creation of a positive work environment staffed by a highly compassionate group of professionals. Steve’s statement about ministry can be lived, through good and bad job situations by keeping the focus on serving, every job experience is enhanced and a higher level of happiness achieved.

The second person is Barbara, former executive director of a non-profit cancer treatment center in the Midwest. Barbara was involved in the planning stages of a major expansion to the facility. On hearing her presentation about the expansion, I was struck by her attention to the patients and their families. Every detail, from building and treatment room layouts, to access points and added services, was designed for the comfort and care of their patients. Clearly, Barbara’s vision and purpose drove every facet of her work and she truly left a valuable legacy. Her obvious value of life was reflected in the meaningful life she led.

Alex, the third example, is an owner and director of several funeral homes, and was recently a featured speaker at a local event. As he talked about the services his business provides, he repeatedly emphasized his priority to keep things simple and to handle a myriad of details for families experiencing a loss. It was evident that his compassion, a hallmark of the Meaningful Life, drives the way he runs his business.

Career Counselors and Specialists Find Their Own Happiness
As these three examples illustrate, many people find the Meaningful Life, and thus their greatest happiness, through their work. This reflects what Seligman believes: discovering your strengths and using them for purposes that provide service to others is the key to finding the joy of working.

The theme of the 2017 NCDA Career Development conference in Orlando, home of what has been billed as “the happiest place on earth,” is “The Joy of Working: Positive Approaches to Work, Career, and Life.” This theme celebrates the achievement of the ultimate career satisfaction, and those of us who make it our life’s work to help others achieve this goal.

What better way to discover all three levels of happiness than to attend NCDA’s annual conference! You can experience the Pleasant Life through fun, food, and friendships, within conference events as well as at surrounding Orlando attractions. Experience the Good Life through your own professional development, as you build on your strengths and network with colleagues. And finally, achieve the ultimate happiness in a Meaningful Life when you return to your work with renewed passion for applying the tools, techniques, and knowledge gained to help your clients find joy in their work.

Seligman, M. E.P. (2002). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York, NY: Free Press.

Nelson, J. E. & Bolles, R. N. (2010). What color is your parachute for retirement, second edition: Planning a prosperous, healthy, and happy future. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.

Schutt, D. A. (2007). A strength-based approach to career development using appreciative inquiry. Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association.


Maggie McCormickMaggie McCormick, M.A., NCC, LPC, is the owner of Career Seasons, providing workshop facilitation and career coaching in planning for career transitions and retirement lifestyles. Maggie has a passion for helping others find their best fit at every stage of their careers, and believes in the importance of lifelong career development. She has a B.A. degree in Education and an M.A. degree in Counseling, both from Louisiana Tech University in Ruston, LA. Her work experience also includes corporate leadership and employee development, university career and academic counseling, inpatient and outpatient mental health, juvenile corrections, and education. She can be reached at maggie@career-seasons.com. Learn more about Career Seasons at career-seasons.com

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1 Comment

Julie Park   on Tuesday 07/25/2017 at 01:27 PM

Hello Maggie:

I truly enjoyed your article! Thank you for the wonderful examples and highlighting the various forms of happiness.

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