Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on FlexJobs.com.
Have you ever had a day at work that made you feel outstanding?
You completed your work on time, didn’t spill lunch on yourself, and everything just kind of flowed. A workday that made you feel … just plain happy?
As you’re approaching the next stage of your career, you might build your goals around that feeling, making choices that you think will lead to daily joy.
However, it might be wise to take a step back and contemplate the differences between finding work that you feel has meaning and a position that makes you feel happy.
Meaningful Work vs. Happy Work
The terms “happiness” and “meaning” often get used interchangeably.
But a study led by Roy Baumeister, a professor of psychology, explains the essential differences: “Happiness was linked to being a taker, rather than a giver, whereas meaningfulness went with being a giver, rather than a taker.”
In other words, consider the professionals we commonly associate with having a meaningful career. Some of the most common occupations that come to mind are nurses, teachers, and firefighters.
What do they all have in common? They strive to make an impact and offer a service that will add value to others’ lives.
So, does that mean you have to switch professions to find meaning in your work? Not at all.
But you may be at a point in your career where you can prioritize finding meaning in your next role. And chances are good that happiness will follow.
4 Ways to Find Meaningful Work in Your Next Role
Most likely, if you’re reading this, you’re not simply looking for a paycheck. You’re probably seeking work that adds a sense of value to your daily tasks.
The good news is that you don’t need a particular career to do that. You simply need to add a new focus to your job search.
1. Find a Company Whose Values Align With Yours
The first step is to locate a company that shares your values. And only you can decide what those values are.
Perhaps you’re passionate about social responsibility in local communities. Maybe you have a heart for supporting sustainability. Or, maybe diversity and inclusion are your highest priority.
Chances are good that you care about all of those things, but certain aspects carry more weight than others due to personal values and experiences.
When you’re honest about the things that matter to you, you can focus on pursuing companies that prioritize those same values. That will help you feel like your role is rewarding.
Even if you work in payroll, for example, and you’re not directly supporting those initiatives daily, you’ll still feel like you’re part of a company that’s making a difference.
2. Focus on Being Authentic
Authenticity and feeling like the company genuinely care for you will also help you feel connected. As you research prospective employers, analyze the company culture.
Read reviews posted by current team members, explore the company’s social media profiles, and dive into LinkedIn profiles of current and past leadership. Then, ask yourself if you’ll feel comfortable bringing your authentic self to work.
Granted, no matter where you work, professionalism and respect for others’ boundaries should be expected. But you should never feel like you have to pretend to be interested in something or try to be someone you’re not just to get ahead.
Showing up to work every day to do the best job possible should be enough.
3. Weigh the Opportunities for Growth
Does the role provide opportunities for personal growth? Professional development is essential to a meaningful career.
If a company does not prioritize employee training and learning opportunities, you should consider whether it’s the best fit for your goals.
Make sure you’re clear on what you hope to achieve in your career. After identifying a company whose values align with yours, look at its overall goals and long-term vision.
Will you be able to reach your goals with the resources available?
4. Consider How the Work Serves Others
It’s also important to consider how your role affects others in the organization — internally and externally. Do you feel like your contribution will help make a positive impact?
For example, suppose you’re pursuing a leadership role. Maybe you can find a company with a mentorship program that supports small-business owners or less-tenured employees.
If that brings you fulfillment, you’ll find deeper meaning in your work than you would in a different leadership role lacking that opportunity.
And who doesn’t want to feel proud of their contributions at the end of the day? Keep those goals in mind as you go about your job search.
Building a Meaningful Career
Ultimately, pursuing meaningful work is about more than finding something that gives you fleeting feelings of happiness. It’s also about ensuring your career aligns with your values and offers growth opportunities.
If it does, there’s a good chance you can build a meaningful career that will bring you joy for years to come.