How to be Happy at Work: 12 Ways to Find Joy (Even when it's hard!)

Kristen McCabe Kristen McCabe  |  June 4, 2018

Here at G2 Crowd, one of our company values is to “work with joy.”

Of the company’s mantras this is by far my favorite. My Dad always taught me “do what you love and love what you do,” so this value in particular hits home.

My father is an optimist. He’s taught (and still teaches) me many lessons in both business and life. That quote often comes with the story of the summer he spent painting fences, and how he learned to find joy despite the hot summer sun.

Although I have heard the story many times, I appreciate his wisdom.

And even though I may have rolled my eyes once or twice (as is the requirement of any dutiful daughter), this is one of the best lessons he has given me: We can’t be happy all the time, but we can look for the moments to find the good and choose happiness.


Yes, I know that my Dad sounds a little bit like Tom Sawyer. Who thinks painting a fence is fun?

For the record, no, I did not have to paint any fences during my childhood. I did, however, have plenty of other opportunities to learn the value of hard work. 

I spent many Sunday afternoons groaning in protest as I shined my Dad’s shoes to earn my allowance. (And at age four he did manage to convince me that drywalling was fun.)  

Appreciating the ability to use our minds and hands to do good work is a source of happiness, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Even when:

  • You pull an all-nighter preparing for the meeting that got canceled
  • You don’t get credit or recognition for your work
  • You sit next to that annoying co-worker who keeps cutting their nails at their desk (Gross, but #truestory)
  • You lose that blog post you spent hours on because your computer wouldn’t stop acting up
  • You have five people asking for you for something and they all want it TODAY

Any of those sound familiar? If you haven’t found yourself in those exact situations (hopefully nobody clipped their toenails at your desk), chances are you have experienced something similar.

So how do you manage to find the joy in those moments? How do you choose happiness when life feels like a constant headache?

12 tips for how to be happy at work

Here are the tips and tricks that work for myself and my coworkers at G2 Crowd. Some work more consistently than others. (Did I mention there are puppies coming?)

Hopefully you’ll find at least a few tactics that work for you, and then discover a few tricks of your own.

1. Be appreciative at work

No job is perfect. That said, hopefully the good outweighs the bad, and when times get tough, you remember why you took the job in the first place.

What made you want to work at this business in the first place? What made you go after this career? Remind yourself of those things and be thankful for the opportunity you have.

In 2003, Dr. Robert Emmons conducted a study examining the effects of gratitude diaries. The result? In just two to three weeks, people found themselves feeling more optimistic with a better mood and overall life satisfaction.


Yes, it feels like one more thing thing on the to-do list. But if you’re not happy now, what do you have to lose? Give it a try and start writing down what you’re thankful for.

Appreciating the good things in your life will put you into a positive mindset.

As Shawn Achor writes in his book, The Happiness Advantage, “It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.”

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2. Notice what you’re learning

Even if there are tasks you don’t enjoy, chances are you’re learning something.

Perhaps you’re struggling with something you’ve never done before, and that’s why it feels so draining. You may not be acquiring a skill to list on your resume, but I promise you’re still gaining something.


If your job is eight hours of data entry you’re learning discipline and focus. Those eight hours are not an easy feat!

Discipline and focus require the same training that a runner endures before a marathon. Learning those traits definitely plays to your advantage. Have faith that the difficulty you are experiencing now will pay off in the future.

3. Give yourself a pat on the back

As I just covered, learning a new skill is hard. And the older you get, the more apparent it becomes that it’s not just learning that’s hard; it’s pretty much life in general.

So make it a point to celebrate your wins, and be kind to yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back, or a high five, or whatever makes you feel good about being you.

Find ways to treat yourself when you get through a big project. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. It could be as simple as going home and enjoying your favorite guilty pleasure TV show with a glass of wine. 

Know yourself and be kind to yourself. Every person has their own strengths and weaknesses; what comes easy to a coworker might be a challenge for you. When you accomplish a personal goal (even a mini one!) it’s okay to be proud of yourself.

In fact, you should be proud of yourself! Find whatever mini goals you can that enable you to go home and do your happy dance.

4. Chocolate

Yes, I am female. But before you jump to conclusions, both my female and male coworkers share my appreciation for the sweet, smooth flavor of velvety chocolate.

Personally, I like to share the joy of sugar. (Beware: Negative side effects may include your boss blaming you for weight gain. It has happened.)

At G2 Crowd, not only do we have chocolate – we have caffeinated chocolate. It’s like manna from heaven: sugar and caffeine all in one.

I originally resisted, continuing my perpetual quest to cut back on sweets. But then I had a realization: “It’s got caffeine. Caffeine helps me work better. I will allow it.”


That said, it’s still sugar, so consider this a tip to use in moderation. I do however recommend it as a reward when you finish a task you’ve been dreading. Think of it as the tip you give yourself for polishing your Dad’s shoes.

5. Surround yourself with what you love

My desk is an extension of myself. This is the case for many of us at G2 Crowd, as you can see by the desks of myself and a few coworkers:



When I saw the work spaces at G2 Crowd, I knew I was home. I love a place where people are encouraged to personalize their space and express themselves.

For me, my desk is more than self-expression. It a place to focus when I’m feeling stressed; a reminder of the many things in life that bring me joy.

For example (thanks to that caffeinated chocolate!) I can skip the Starbucks. Instead, I put that coffee money into a few inexpensive grocery store flowers. When I put them on my desk, I can literally “stop and smell the flowers.”

Days at work can get long. We all need to remember there is life outside those office walls!

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6. Take happiness breaks

When there’s so much to do and so little time, taking a break feels counterintuitive to productivity.

However, aside from actually helping you in time management, those short breaks can boost your attitude, too.

Sometimes a break isn’t planned; it’s an unexpected moment of laughter that builds into a completely random conversation. That laughter reinvigorates your spirit and gives your brain a break from work.

I love the moments when I find myself turning to the computer with a smile on my face.

Full disclosure; I’m not the best at this one myself. I get stressed about the work I have to get done. But what’s the fun of being surrounded by amazing coworkers if you don’t enjoy your time together?

And speaking of great coworkers...

7. Connect with coworkers who make you happy

Find the people who make you smile. When you start a new job, it can take time. But the coworkers who will make you smile are there.

Sometimes it’s the difficult times that help you find each other.



When work gets stressful for you, chances are it is stressful for others too. Find the times you can share camaraderie amidst the insanity. This is when bonds form and long-lasting friendships are made. Simply knowing you’re not alone can make a big difference.

Find someone who appreciates your sense of humor or will go for a quick coffee break with you.

Being a friend to a coworker means being there for that person too. Sometimes we are unhappy because we’re so focused on ourselves. Listen and support those around you. You will improve the happiness of both yourself and others!

8. Let it go

This is a tip which I also shared in my networking tips for real people.

Aside from being beneficial when networking, learning to “let it go” is essential to being happy, both in and out of work.

I get it. It’s not easy.

We’re our own worst critic. It’s easy to look back on the could’ve, would’ve, should’ves.

Here is one of my favorite quotes when those nagging thoughts don’t want to let me move forward. It is by the philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson, and I committed it to memory way back in high school:

“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt have crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; you shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”



When you hang on to adversity, you’re only hurting yourself. If you make a mistake, learn from it. Take that as a positive from the experience, and then move on.

Remember to do the same for others too. When you picture a happy person, is “resentful” one of the words you use to describe them? Probably not.

Perhaps a co-worker did something you’re struggling to move past. Or, maybe you made a mistake you can’t stop dwelling on. Either way, the negativity is bringing you down – your thoughts don’t affect anyone but you. When you can’t let it go, the person you hurt most is yourself.

9. Puppies, puppies and more puppies

At G2 Crowd we have a Slack channel for dogs. The only requirement is an appreciation for our four-legged friends. Here’s one of my recent favorites:



We don’t just share dog pictures in the Slack channel. Sometimes coworkers show they care by sending them directly.

The other day my coworkers and I on the content team shared an afternoon giggle at some of our favorite puppy moments, including these two Dachshunds, Crusoe and Oakley, playing Cops and Robbers:


If that doesn’t make you at least crack a smile, nothing will!

And here’s one more, to fulfill the promise of puppies:


I highly recommend finding a group of dog lovers (or cats – we won’t judge) and sharing a funny video of the day. It’s not like they’re hard to find on YouTube!

10. Music

Music is connected with emotions. Make note of the music that makes you happy and turn it into a playlist.

In fact, make multiple playlists for whatever you need to get through the day, whether it’s productivity, serenity, or happiness. Music we expect to be happy activates the reward center of the brain and releases dopamine. Start your day off on the right note with a pump up list for your commute to work.

Think about music that reminds you of happy memories, too.

Music scientifically connects you with your memories. It could be a birthday party or a high school dance; when you hear a song that reminds you of that happy memory your prefrontal cortex (where the brain stores memories) is activated.

Whether your prefer broadway musicals or techno, know the songs that make you feel uplifted and put them to work.

11. Remember the big picture

My second tip was to notice what you’re learning. Now it’s time to build on that.

Know that the skills you’re acquiring will help you through much more than your career.

It could be a lesson in perseverance or a new understanding of how to be a leader. Whatever it is, these are the teachings that will help you in and out of the office. Work is part of life; they are intertwined.

How you deal with negativity and frustrations are a huge part of what makes you the person, influencer and leader you are.

When I focus on the big picture, I like to think of paying it forward.


Image source: Marquette Educator

What are you learning now that will inspire someone else? How can your difficult situation help someone get through their own? 

It could be a friend, a co-worker or even a future child. That’s the case for my dad and I. Despite the optimist he is now, my dad suffered through terrible bullying in his adolescence.

Now we’re all aware of bullying. Schools, teachers and even workplaces have taken the strongest possible stance against it.

That wasn’t the case in my dad’s days, when he was held out of the top floor window of his middle school by his ankles.

It’s hard for a daughter’s heart not to break when she hears that. But my father firmly reminds me it was those challenges that made him who he is today. I’m thankful for the strength he has taught me because of it.

You might not find out for a long time who can benefit from your struggles. But when times get hard or the stress feels like too much to bear, remember that the hard times are how you grow into the best version of yourself.

Oh yes, and don’t forget – that best version of yourself is a happy one, too!

12. Make the decision to be happy

Happiness is a decision.

I didn't want to admit it to myself. Especially when life brings twists and turns that we don’t expect and definitely don’t want.

Happiness is not a magic switch that turns on; living out that decision to be happy requires some discipline.

When something bad happens to you, what will you choose to focus on?

Don’t get me wrong. Get mad, cry, vent to your friends – do whatever you need to get it out. Give yourself that time.

Then decide what you’re going to do about your situation. Are you going to dwell in the frustrations, or are you going to go look at tactics like the ones on this list and find ways to move on?

It doesn’t matter how good life is. There will always be plenty to complain about. The weather, taxes, dog poop, loud neighbors, awful stories on the news…okay, that’s enough negativity. You get the point.


Think of the people you want to be around. Are they the ones who complain all the time? Probably not.

We all feel the struggles of life. The people we look up to are the ones who decide to get through it and be happy, despite the pitfalls.

In closing…being happy is hard

Happiness is hard. We don’t want to admit that. When we think of happiness, we think of life being easy. “How can I be happy if I have to work at it?”

And, let’s face it, happiness is even harder at work. If people can find things to complain about on the beach in 75-degree weather, of course there will be irritations at work.

However, it’s still worth making the choice to be happy. I say this as someone who knows firsthand the struggle it is. It is not easy being an optimist.

But what’s the alternative? Will you get any closer to happiness by dwelling in your dissatisfaction?

They say “life is a journey, not a destination.” The same applies to happiness – it is a road of discovery. Find what makes you happy, both in the good times and despite the bad.

Take this happiness quote by motivational speaker Denis Waitley: "Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude."

Oh yes, and remember to smile! :)


Looking for more inspiration for work and life? Check out my networking tips for real people from a real (awkward) girl, 100 of my favorite happiness quotes, or 40 quotes about change. (Make sure you scroll to the bottom for bonus funny quotes on both pages!)

Kristen McCabe

Kristen’s global marketing experience extends from Australia to Chicago with expertise in both B2B and B2C industries. Specializing in content, conversions, and events, Kristen spends her time outside of work time acting, learning nature photography, and joining in the #instadog fun with her Pug/Jack Russell, Bella. (she/her/hers)

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