While on my book tour for Test-Drive Your Dream Job some months ago, a well-dressed, cynical-but-spirited woman in her early-50s came up to me after I gave a speech in NYC.  I’ll call her Mary.  She asked me the following:

Brian, you talk about being happy in one’s career….being fulfilled…being satisfied.  But why bother?  What are the benefits of actually being happy in a job?   I mean, really.  It’s meant to be work.  Why bother taking the time to be happy in it?  Why should I really go to so much effort to create or find a job that makes me “happy” unless I somehow have a sense of what being happy really means for me.  I honestly don’t know if I can ever be happy working.”

I was a bit blown away by her question and comments.  Honestly, I thought to myself:  “How can you not know what makes you happy?!  In a job…in a relationship…or anything?”  I even thought in a nano-second, “Be careful answering, Brian, you’re not a psychologist, and this is really a psychological question.”

But then I realized, this woman had a good point.  How DO you define “happiness” in the job?  Not everyone defines it in the same way.  And not everyone prescribes to the mentality that work can even conjure up happiness.  Some people simply can’t get beyond that work, to them, is a four-letter word.  

Here’s how I responded to Mary:

“You know, Mary, some people may never seek fulfillment, satisfaction and happiness on the job.  It’s that simple.  But that’s a tiny percentage of the general population and something tells me that you’re NOT part of that tiny population.  You wouldn’t have come here tonight if that were the case.  You do want more.  You do want to be happy in your work as you know it’s not mutually exclusive from the rest of your life.  You have to determine what BENEFITS you want to get out of being happy in the job.  What if you were able to say some of the following in coming months or years?

– I now have more time with my kids & grandkids
– I’m a night owl and now that I have my dream job I no longer have to get up at 6:30am.  Instead, I sleep til 10am and start my day at 1pm and work along with my own sense of when I’m most productive til late at night
– I travel just enough for work without it becoming too much and I get to enjoy some add’l “me” time added on to the travel schedule – Bonus!
– By owning my own business (if that’s your dream), I have complete autonomy
– I have a boss that understands my need for work/life balance
– Have laptop, will travel — even if it’s just the coffee house down the street.  I can work ANYWHERE
– I can take my dog with me to work
– I can work from home part-time and arrange the other “life stuff” around it – haircut, laundry, kids’ soccer game, etc.
– I am able to save some money for the first time ever because I’m not commuting (gas $’s!) nor am I irrationally spending $’s (I work so hard and hate my job so I DESERVE the new dress, the $100 dinner on a Tues PM, etc)
You get the point.  Happiness is defined differently by each and every one of us.  But by thinking through potential BENEFITS of being happy on the job, you’ll eventually discover the path toward your dream job in order to secure that sense of happiness.  Or, you’ll simply be that 1% of folks who simply don’t want to be fulfilled by work and you just want to sit around and eat Godiva 70% Cocoa while watching All My Children.  But, Mary, that’s not who you are.  Figure out what benefits you want to appreciate from working your dream job, and your happiness will come.”  
I’ve often wondered if Mary has gone on to seek out the benefits of work happiness.  I’m betting she has.  In either case, I owe her for displaying to me that some folks must first peel back the onion even further to discover what defines happiness before they even go to the time and effort of exploring their dream job.