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For the growing number of Americans who work from home for themselves or as telecommuters for an employer, the need for supportive co-workers poses a particular problem. They gain autonomy, an important factor in job satisfaction, but may have to find that sense of belonging elsewhere. Christine Stone, 34, a saleswoman in Chicago for an Arizona corporate-relocation company, says she doesn't miss office politics but chafes at her homebound isolation. "There are some days when it's freezing here in Chicago and I don't leave the house all day," she says. "That's not exactly healthy." To compensate for that, she started making plans almost every night with friends from college and took on a second job selling real estate just to meet people in the evenings and on weekends.
The good news is, it is possible to become happier at work. In fact, engagement at work is less a function of your personality than is happiness in general. Harter estimates that individual disposition accounts for only about 30% of the difference between employees who are highly engaged and those who are not. The rest of it is shaped by the hundreds of interactions that employees have every day with co-workers, supervisors and customers.
The most direct fix, then, is to seek out a supportive workplace. Laura Anderle, 28, found one at Uncle Fun, a novelty store in Chicago. The owner, Ted Frankel, begins each new employee's orientation with "the talk." He tells them, "It's just a job. It's not your life. You should have fun while you're here. You should enjoy what you're doing, or you should go somewhere else." Anderle, who used to get stress headaches in her previous job, as a private-school administrator, now has enough energy left for her avocation, playing guitar. "Having a good job spills into the rest of your life," she says.
Gavin Mulloy, a graphic designer in Dallas, left his previous job, at an online brokerage firm, largely because of the sour work environment. "The boss had no time for me," he says, and many of Mulloy's friends had been laid off. While the hours at his new job, at a public relations firm, are long and the work is sometimes tedious, he knew when he arrived that he would enjoy it. "People seemed to be leaping from behind their desks to shake my hand," he says.
For others, finding a job that fits a life calling unlocks the door to happiness. Lissette Mendez, 33, says her job coordinating the annual book fair at Miami Dade College is the one she was born to do. "Books are an inextricable part of my life," she says. She put that commitment in writing--on her skin. A tattoo on her arm proclaims, BORN TO READ; another depicts "word temple" as a Japanese pictogram.
Even if your passion does not easily translate into a profession, you can still find happiness on the job. Numerous studies have shown correlations between meaningful work and happiness, job satisfaction and even physical health. That sense of meaning, however, can take many different forms, says Michael Pratt, a professor of business administration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Some people find it in the work itself; others take pride in their company's mission rather than in their specific job. "People can find meaning in anything," he says.