by Susan Peppercorn

Research has shown that finding fulfillment at work leads to feelings of well-being, lower burnout, and greater entrepreneurial creativity. But how can you give yourself the best chance of choosing options that will lead to career happiness and these types of benefits?

One way to think about career satisfaction is by considering what makes up your personal “sweet spot.” Think of your sweet spot as the intersection between your interests/passions and your natural skills/strengths, which cannot be separated entirely from what people will pay you to do (market needs). Keeping financial concerns in mind is important, but without a firm grasp on your own passions and skills—and making those elements account for around two-thirds of your analysis when making career decisions—happiness will likely elude you.

Here are some ideas you can use to help with career decision-making as you strive to develop a model for your ideal job. Consider your opportunities in light of these questions to help reduce the possibility of basing your career decisions on the wrong things:

How does the opportunity make you feel? When you need to make a difficult decision relating to your career choices, consider how choosing one way or another makes you feel. If thinking about a specific choice generates a sense of peace, pleasure, and/or satisfaction, those are good signs that you’re on the right track toward an authentic career move. If, on the other hand, thinking about a specific outcome makes you feel negative emotions such as fear, doubt, or resentment, then you have a clear signal of what not to do. 

How interested and engaged do you feel about the work? A desired outcome of any career decision you make is to result in a state of engagement where you “lose yourself” to a job or project because you are so absorbed by it. So, when faced with career options, think about whether your decision will likely result in an opportunity for this type of absorption. If you’re choosing a career path solely for external reasons, such as prestige or what others think, this is an indicator that you’re on the wrong track with your decision-making. 

How connected do you feel to potential colleagues? During the interview stage or other preliminary steps in a career decision, notice if you feel a connection with the people you meet. If you don’t, it’s a red flag that the company or department may not be a good fit for you. The relationships you have with the people you work with are a critical part of career happiness. As we know from Martin Seligman’s PERMA research, those who have meaningful, positive relationships are happier than those who do not, and this is as important in a career context as in a personal one.

Does the opportunity feel meaningful? While there is something to be said for simply paying the bills, if it comes down to a choice between a position that fulfills your sense of personal mission or “just a job,” the meaningful opportunity is more likely to lead to long-term happiness. When you serve a cause bigger than yourself or find a way to help others through your labor, you’re feeding your soul and thus increasing your own chance of happiness.

Do you expect to feel challenged? Is the opportunity that you’re considering going to give you a sense of achievement? If so, it will help you feel greater professional and life satisfaction. Think through each option in front of you and determine whether those you’re considering are likely to result in striving to better yourself in some way. Choose opportunities that you expect can lead to a sense of personal accomplishment that you feel on the inside, rather than just external accolades for doing something you’ve already mastered. 

The most important thing is to understand what you find meaning in, and which values, interests, and relationships are most important to you. Making passions and values part of your analysis when making career decisions will likely give you a higher chance of finding career satisfaction.

This article is excerpted from Susan’s best-selling new book, Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career.

Susan Peppercorn, CiPP1, is an executive and career coach who enables mid- and senior-level professionals to find their next best career step—whether that’s a promotion, new job, career, or entrepreneurial option. A certified Positive Psychology Coach, Susan was a teaching assistant for CiPP2. A frequently quoted expert, she has been tapped for career advice by publications including the “New York Times”, “Wall Street Journal”, “Fast Company”, “U.S. News & World Report”, and “Harvard Business Review”. Accredited by the International Coaching Federation, Susan is a frequently requested speaker and an executive mentor for Healthcare Business Women’s Association. Her free workbook, “25 Tips for Making a Successful Career Transition”, is available at