Our jobs are a big part of our lives. We spend nearly all of our waking hours at it. We probably see more of our cubicle mates than our actual mates. So when we’re not feeling great about work, it has a huge effect on our overall happiness. However, we don’t have to be at the mercy of constantly shifting conditions.

“The research is clear,” says Dr. Andrew Shatte, Ph.D., meQuilibrium’s Chief Science Officer, “the best way to optimize our happiness and sense of engagement and to secure our resilience against workplace adversities is to find the higher meaning in what we do there.”

How do we do that? Dr. Shatte outlines three levels of connection to work, with the goal of finding that highest, third level of connection. In this guide, you’ll discover how.

1. Think beyond the paycheck.
It’s easy to think that your work is “just” a transaction: You show up, do the job, get a check. At meQuilibrium, we call this a level one connection to work—in which you see work as a means to an end. And while there’s no doubt that money is critical, being there for the income alone can diminish your ability to thrive.

Here’s why: When the paycheck is the only redeeming factor of your job, you may feel less inclined to invest yourself in the work and people around you. Therefore you settle for less—and do less to make work worthwhile.

Where you’re stuck: You feel frustrated—a lot. Frustration is the unnerving sense that you don’t have what you need to succeed. It can quickly shift to blame—you may blame yourself, or others, for the perceived lack of resources, and that’s where resentment and unhappiness take root.

BIG SHIFT: Take stock of what you bring to the table. You know what work is expected of you. But have you ever thought about what else you contribute, beyond your day-to-day tasks? “The more we are able to get outside ourselves at work, to see how we contribute to colleagues, to the overall mission of the company, and to the greater good,” says Dr. Shatte, “the more fulfilled and resilient we will be.”

SMALL STEP: Ask for—and give—support. Rather than give up the next time you get frustrated, ask for help. Approach one person and make a sincere, authentic appeal for assistance when you’re stuck. Do the opposite, too: Reach out to someone on your team who seems equally frustrated and offer to help. Small gestures can shift the dynamic of the workplace.

2. Aim for bigger.
You like your job, and you get along with the people there. You pay your bills and go home at a reasonable hour. Not so bad, right?

This is where most people hit the brakes and coast—and where you fall short of truly thriving at work. We call this a level two connection to work, and it can be deceiving, because you may think, isn’t this it? The answer is no! The problem isn’t as obvious because you’re not “unhappy,” but that doesn’t translate to true resilience.

Where you’re stuck: You’ve created a “ceiling” of happiness for yourself. You may not be miserable, but you have felt a ripple of unease. You’ve gotten to be very good at silencing it with a larger belief that you should be grateful and not make waves.

BIG SHIFT: Take a close look at your limiting beliefs.
You’ve taught yourself to believe that you’re okay with what is—or, that on some level, you don’t deserve more than you have. Thoughts like “I’m not capable of anything bigger” have done a good job of holding you in place. The sooner you dismantle these false ideas, the sooner you can strive not just to “have” more, but to grow beyond what you think is possible.

SMALL STEP: Connect what you do to something bigger. Write down 5 ways you contribute to people’s lives through your work—start with what you’ve done for people you work with, then consider the customers, and even people who aren’t directly paying for your product or service. How do your efforts contribute to something larger?

3. Choose a mission you can live by.

If you’re thriving at work, we’re pretty sure we know why: You feel that your work is aligned with your values, and your efforts, in turn, connect you with something greater than the work itself. This is what we call a level three connection at work. In short, you believe your work has meaning and worth, and that helps you feel part of something larger.

Where you’re stuck: Your work vibe is good—but conditional. You feel generally positive and believe your work has meaning, which is great! But things are always changing and when that feeling is conditional, it means you’re likely to take a hit when the tide turns. True thriving is about consistency, not just having a few good days or weeks. And when you can master that, you have what you need to thrive just about anywhere.

BIG SHIFT: Manage your mission, not just your feelings. If you wait until your feelings dictate what you should do or how you should be, then you are not going to be as sturdy as someone who is driven by mission. Managing by feeling puts you in reaction mode; managing by mission says, “This is what I have pledged to do, this is what I believe in, and I’ll do it no matter what.”

SMALL STEP: Jot down some notes on what your mission is. Think about your real purpose at work (and everywhere else). What role do you play? And how can you make that something you live by, not just fall into? For instance: If you’re the one coworkers go to when they’re upset, how can you lead with that? Maybe your mission is to empower others and make sure everyone has a voice.

BOTTOM LINE: The thing about happiness at work is that there is no finish line. You’re never “done” with it. The most resilient see work the way they see their lives—as contributing meaning to those around them. “Nobody at the end of their lives looks back and wishes they’d had a bigger house or a nicer car,” says Dr. Shatte. “Plenty of people regret that their lives weren’t spent doing something more meaningful, something that mattered to them.”