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4 Ingredients for Creating Happiness at Work

Does your organization bring out the best in its team members—or are you disenchanted at work? Are you a leader who struggles to improve culture, motivation, and performance?

Recently, I had a craving for peanut butter cookies. I asked my eleven-year-old daughter, who runs a small, local, cookie company named “Kyla’s Cookies,” if she would mind making peanut butter cookies for me, but she declined, having other things to do.

A few days later, the craving came back. This time no one was home, so I opened the laptop and searched for “peanut butter cookies.” The first recipe that appeared was titled “Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookies.” Under the title, it had almost one thousand, five-star reviews. It was simple and caught my attention: the recipe consisted of one cup of peanut butter, one cup of sugar, and one egg. My immediate thoughts were, “Is this recipe accurate? How is it possible to make ‘normal‘ cookies with only three ingredients?”

Even with the abundant and positive reviews, I still doubted, so I called a good friend—a well-known food blogger—and asked if that recipe was accurate. She confirmed its accuracy, and I proceeded to bake the cookies. They tasted delicious!

As I thought about this simple, three-ingredient recipe, it led me to ask myself: “What core, yet simple, ingredients create thriving cultures, effective performance, and happiness in the workplace?”

Over the years, I have repeatedly noticed four ingredients that must be in place for employees to find fulfillment, success, and happiness at work. These four ingredients are consistently found among organizations that thrive.

Watch this short video in which I briefly describe these ingredients:

Purpose and Meaning

Helping employees align with the deeper purpose and meaning behind the product or service the organization provides leads to greater accountability, increased motivation, and higher performance.

In thriving organizations, employees look beyond their job descriptions and seek to serve the whole. An organization loses when an employee comes to work wanting to do no more than what is expected. For example, I recently spoke at a well-known country club where some employees wouldn’t pick up a piece of trash that had made its way onto the golf course because “it wasn’t their job,” so they walked right past it.

As I work with organizations, I often illustrate a paradigm shift from duty to purpose. For example, when working with power and utility organizations, I point out that they are not just in the power business—they are also in the peace and comfort business. I encourage them to see themselves as providers of warmth, security, and comfort. When I work with transit organizations, I remind drivers and transit operators they are not in the business of only moving people from point A to point B—rather they are connectors of families, friends, and communities. You could find other examples, like Howard Schultz who suggested the success if Starbucks had more to do with "creating positive experiences" and "strengthening communities," than the coffee itself. Gary Vaynerchuk has said, “Uber doesn’t sell transportation. Uber sells time.”

What's your deeper purpose? When employees embrace this paradigm shift, work becomes enjoyable, and challenges become sweet.

Feeling of Progress

When it comes to sustaining motivation, feedback is critical. In particular, the feedback I am referring to is the rewarding, emotional feedback that comes from growing, stretching, and making a difference—progress.

When people aren’t challenged and stretched in a meaningful way (based on “purpose”), disengagement and low-performance result. Have you ever set a goal or been asked to complete a task only to feel that your efforts weren’t making a difference or were a waste of time?

To increase fulfillment—or “bliss” as Joseph Campbell calls it—research suggests there is a human need to feel a sense of making meaningful progress.


Although an idea may come from one individual, the realization of a goal generally comes from the team. “All of us are greater than one of us,” said author Ken Blanchard. In thriving cultures, having opportunities to collaborate with team members or departments is a high priority. In these cultures, ideas and information are openly shared and encouraged. Over the years, I have observed that most ailing organizations suffer from a lack of openness and communication (to be discussed more in future articles).

Author of The 8th Habit, Stephen Covey spoke of every individual’s need to have and express his or her “voice.” This involves inspiring communication and creativity toward a common goal or purpose.

Encouraging people to think out of the box requires an environment where workers are expected to share forward-thinking ideas, even when those ideas may be at odds with the status quo. Visionary leaders refuse to accept the belief that “this is how we’ve always done things around here,” which is a common occurrence in many organizations. Influential and purposeful leaders are not threatened by ideas; they seek them out and then prioritize them.


Employees must be trusted. Once the vision has been clearly articulated, and the training and skills have been provided, thriving organizations provide the freedom to achieve the vision by cultivating individual responsibility and creativity. When a directive is given, do your people feel that they are trusted to make good decisions?

Effective leaders provide a broad framework that allows flexibility from which to operate while taking into account personalities, skills, habits, and attributes. Freedom and flexibility must go hand in hand with a clearly understood vision. John Kotter explains: “Vision allows for autonomy." Additionally, effective leaders inspire trust and accountability when they speak, articulating the value of each individual by speaking along the lines of ‘you know what we’re trying to achieve here at the company…Therefore, it’s important that you become aware of all the skills that are needed so that we can succeed together.’”

To unleash greatness, each contributor must have control over his or her own direction by drawing on his or her own talents and abilities on a consistent basis.


Like the “Three-Ingredient Peanut Butter Cookie” recipe that was simple but produced a result that thousands were happy with, so it is with the four ingredients I have described. These four ingredients are essential for employee fulfillment, success, and happiness at work. Imagine how your organization would function if these ingredients were valued and consistently maintained. Of course, there are additional ingredients that contribute to happy employees and thriving organizations, but by striving to institutionalize these four ingredients, you will begin to see a positive shift in your organization’s culture. Choose to be a force for good. Change starts with you. Start today!


About TJ Hoisington:

TJ Hoisington is the bestselling author of If You Think You Can!, The Secret of the Slight Edge, and Return to Robinson Island. He has authored several high-performance training programs focused on personal development, leadership, customer service, sales, and creating thriving cultures. TJ's insights and workshops have been shared with many organizations around the world. (client list) Whether he speaks to audiences of 10 or 15,000 people, his mission is the same: to provide inspiration and tools that help people and organizations unleash their greatness within.

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