People are happy when they do meaningful work. We forget that meaning is given to processes.
If someone pays you KSh.1000 to work for a whole week, cleaning their floors, you probably will not do the work.
But if someone gives you KSh.1000 to clean floors at the children’s cancer ward at Kenyatta Hospital, you may clean the floors at no costs, because you know the funds can be used to improve treatment for these children.
It’s the same task, cleaning, but you have ascribed a different meaning to it.
In the same way, we must find ways of ascribing meaning to the work we do. Look at the greater goal you are achieving, and try and see how your task fits into making this big goal happen.
This happiness comes because you have managed to effectively utilize the potential from your skill to overcome a challenge. If your task is too hard (in comparison to your skill) you’ll feel anxious, and if it’s too easy, you’ll be bored. Cut a good balance, and finish boring work at one go, don’t do the boring work in bits and pieces!
When you have many tasks to do without an indication of what these tasks are meant for, your work will release low levels of dopamine.
The biggest punishment you can impose on someone is to give them meaningless work.
You know of bosses who seek to punish others by making them do meaningless work. They ask you to write a report, just so that they can trash it in the bin. It’s a form of bullying at work. It’s very effective in causing stress because it steals their opportunity to be happy at work.
Basically, the feeling of anxiety increases. So they may react by doing things that will increase their levels of dopamine in order to cope, smoking cigarettes, discussing the mean boss on a WhatsApp group or ordering some fast food.
We all have a natural drive to increase our dopamine levels, especially when we are feeling bad. When an action doesn’t increase your level of dopamine, you will seek an alternative ‘short-cut’ to increasing these levels.
It literally controls your emotion and positive reinforcement, as well as other functions like cognition, food intake, endocrine regulation and movement.
Addicted to the ‘good-feeling’ of achievement
In reading all about the happiness we seek, we forget there are other feelings equally as important to us. The feeling of respect, of obligation and love, all these must work in balance with the feeling of ‘happiness.’
Some people are addicted to the high that comes with dopamine. Workaholics who seek that good feeling while working. Drug addicts who will take drugs that increase the dopamine effect in them.
The Dopamine effect must be balanced with the effect of other hormones that bring us fulfilment from joys beyond achievement: like the feeling of love, respect and acknowledgement.