Unhappy at work? This author may have the cure

In the introduction to his recent book The Bliss List, life coach and executive recruiter J.P. Hansen cites a statistic that should be of concern to anyone with a stake in the mental health of today’s workforce: Four out of five people are unhappy in their current jobs.

It seems the old rock standard “Working for the Weekend” resonates more than ever with today’s professionals, but Hansen — the keynote speaker at the Oct. 23 In Business Expo & Conference — is convinced that anyone can find bliss in his or her job, and that simply waiting for the clock to run out on the workweek is a surefire recipe for unhappiness.

“Bliss is not part-time. If you cannot find meaningful happiness in the place where you will spend 86,000 hours of your life, you will have a difficult time in your personal life.” — J.P. Hansen

Unfortunately, all those unhappy employees are also a drag on the economy. A recent Gallup survey found that only 30% of U.S. employees feel engaged in their jobs — and that the 70% of workers who are not engaged cost the U.S. $450 to $550 billion a year in lost productivity.

Fortunately, Hansen believes he’s found the prescription for turning those numbers around. The Bliss List, which was recently republished by Reader’s Digest with revised chapters and additional information, first guides readers through steps for adjusting their attitude and discovering what makes them happy before focusing on the interviewing and résumé-building skills all professionals need in order to compete in today’s workplace.

In the following interview, the Madison native — who has also been interviewed by Fox News, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, CNN.com, and many others — touches on the attitudes people bring into the workplace, the inseparability of professional fulfillment from personal happiness, the potential we all have to find jobs we love (or to make our current jobs our dreams jobs), and the tragically deferred bliss of the late Chris Farley, a high school classmate of Hansen’s.

Most people would love to wake up each morning and know that they’re going to their dream job, but few are that lucky. You argue that anyone can find his or her perfect job. Other than reading your book, what are the most important steps toward achieving that goal? 

Two people can work in the same job during the same hours for the same pay, yet one is happy and the other is miserable. Why? First and foremost, basic happiness is a choice. Every aspect of life, including one’s job, is a choice. Everyone has the ability to experience the full spectrum of emotions, yet many default into negativity.

I can be happy as a clam waking up at 3 a.m. and writing a chapter; most people would rather stick pins and needles in their eyes. The point is, what makes one person happy is often the opposite of what makes another person happy. So the first step is to spend time thinking about what makes you truly happy. (In The Bliss List, the ever-elusive word bliss is defined as meaningful happiness — what makes time stand still.) Next, write it down. Finally, focus on your Bliss List with enthusiastic confidence.

Early on in your book, you cite a rather alarming statistic: Four out of five people are currently unhappy in their jobs. Why do you think this is? Are people really this conditioned to dislike their work situation?

It’s absurd that 80% of the U.S. population is unhappy in their jobs. After all, we live in a democracy where life, liberty, and the practice of happiness is our birthright (pursuit during Thomas Jefferson’s time meant practice). Beyond work, 80% of people are unhappy in all facets of life. In my life coaching, the focus is on finding meaningful happiness. And it begins with a person’s emotional state. I have had several life coach clients who were unhappy in their job find meaningful happiness in other areas — and remain in their current job.

Levels of employee engagement are similarly alarming, with surveys showing that large percentages of the population are not engaged in their jobs. With people’s job prospects slowly improving — and their options opening up — as the economy continues to recover, do you think business owners also need to pay attention to their employees’ bliss?

Engaged means “occupied — busy doing something.” Part of the problem lies in a company’s windswept employee count where multitasking leads to frustration — and turnover. Today’s employee doesn’t feel appreciated, and it boils down to work that feels more like “busy-ness.” An employee’s bliss is individual, but a business owner can enhance workplace happiness without increasing headcount — or salaries. Every level in an organization would benefit from understanding, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Many people try to find their bliss through their families or their hobbies instead of their work. Is this a mistake?

Bliss is not part-time. If you cannot find meaningful happiness in the place where you will spend 86,000 hours of your life (working only 40 hours per week from age 22 to 65), you will have a difficult time in your personal life. Bliss is always within reach of everyone. In fact, bliss is each person’s core. I encourage my life coach clients to include hobbies and family activities in their Bliss List. The reality is that misery at work extends into a lousy personal life. There is no way to bliss; bliss is the way.

You write a lot about positive thinking and the Law of Attraction as potential means to reach one’s goals. What about people who are habitual negative thinkers? Is it really that easy for them to change their way of thinking?

You cannot experience positive results if you are habitually in a negative state. How easy is it to become a positive thinker? In only 17 seconds, you can change from a negative to a positive. So the term habitual applies to positive thinkers, too.

In 21 days, you can change any habit. We all have an internal GPS that alerts us either way: If you are in a negative state, you feel bad; if positive, you feel good. So consciously monitor your emotions, and if you can stay in a positive state more than 51% of the time, positive results will follow — it’s that simple. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t, either way you’re right.”

Can you talk a little about the Six Spokes of Bliss, which you mention in your book?

The Bliss List contains a full chapter devoted to the “Six Spokes of Bliss” — financial, intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational. And they are all given equal importance. Think of yourself as a wheel. If each spoke is strong, the wheel turns at its optimum level. If one or more spokes are broken or rusty, the wheel may not turn at all. We all know someone who may possess one spoke that is out of sync. The financial spoke is the most popular among my life coach clients. It’s also the most misleading: There are plenty of billionaires who are spiritually, physically, relationally, intellectually, and emotionally bankrupt. (I’m not mentioning names, since they can afford better lawyers than me.)

Many people are not only fearful of losing their jobs, they’re also fearful of leaving the jobs they have, even if they’re not happy. What would you say to these people?

FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Fear is an illusion. If you’re not happy in anything, why continue? Einstein said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” Spend your time thinking about what truly makes you happy and never waver. The only limits placed on you are by you. To tweak Gandhi’s quote, “Be the change you wish to see in yourself.” Change is eternal; progress divine.

Your book focuses extensively on the importance of a good résumé. What are some of the biggest mistakes people make on their résumés?

Your résumé is your invisible first impression. It is your personal sell sheet that either opens the door or slams it shut for a long time. Many résumés wind up in the round file due to careless typos and flowery verbiage. Almost everyone undersells themselves by not highlighting — or even listing — accomplishments. Dropping it off to a résumé service is the kiss of death. Ironically, it screams amateur by shoehorning your sell sheet into a template. The Bliss List Journal, the companion to The Bliss List, takes you step by step so you can develop your own killer résumé — for a fraction of the cost of a service.



What are the three most important things people need to know before interviewing for a job?

The three Ps: prepare, prepare, prepare. You cannot over-prepare for an interview. You need to know as much as you can about the prospective company, its culture, history, and challenges — which you will be asked to help solve. Also, you need to know as much as possible about the position: why it is open, the background of the person you would report to — plus likes/dislikes, hot buttons, and management style. Preparation is the gateway to success.

Your book seems to be divided between some self-improvement — or at least outlook-improvement — tips and more practical job-seeking tips. Which do you think are more important, and which should be acted on first?

The mystical is as important as the practical, and that is why they are both in The Bliss List. Without a proper attitude, you will not fare well in any job search. But without a killer résumé and successful interview technique, your positive attitude will be wasted.

People who are out of work and trying to get back into the job market are always told to “go back to school.” What kinds of education do you recommend older workers seek while trying to get a new job?

The unemployment rate is directly proportional to education. Ph.D.s made up less than .1% of the unemployed when the unemployment rate reached its peak. Next, M.D.s, then MBAs, then B.A./B.S., etc. High school dropouts had the highest unemployment rate. If full-time education is not feasible, part-time always is. Many companies offer generous education reimbursement benefits.

Is your approach only for people who are dissatisfied in their jobs? Do you think your book is useful to people who already have their dream job?

Though the largest opportunity is to help the four out of five unhappy people, The Bliss List has helped the 20% who are happy, either by enhancing their current job or leading them to an even greater one. In my case, writing The Bliss List opened up doors for me to have four dream jobs. There is no limit to your own dreams at work and beyond.

Like the late Chris Farley, you’re a Madison native. In fact, you knew Farley in high school. By all appearances, he was someone who found bliss in his job but not in his personal life. Do you think it’s possible to focus too much on finding the perfect job and not enough on personal development?

I’m not sure Chris Farley found meaningful happiness in his job and definitely not in his short life. Though Chris was the funniest person I’ve ever known — when he was on — when off, it wasn’t pretty. Chris Rock thought SNL “killed him” with the “Chippendales” sketch by typecasting him as the fat guy falling down. Chris became the sad clown; being his life coach would have been a full-time job. Aside from Chris’ financial spoke of bliss, the other five were badly broken. Applying your question to everyone else, a dream job and dream life are interrelated. Like begets like, according to universal law, and personal development goes hand in hand with a dream job.

If you would like to participate in IB’s LinkedIn Book Club discussion of J.P. Hansen’s The Bliss List, click here.

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