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It's Never Too Late to Love Your Job

Increased autonomy will frequently lead to increased satisfaction

Amy Reingold, 56, and Marilyn "Maz" Rauber, 59 dreamed up the story lines for Capital Girls, a series of young-adult novels.

En español | When was the last time you were so passionate about your work that it didn't seem like work at all? Or felt excited by all the new stuff you were learning on your job? And genuinely couldn't wait to get up and head to the office because your bosses and colleagues were so much fun?

Joy Wanted: Find out how to talk to your boss about being happier on the job.

If it's been a while, you've got company. A majority of American workers (nearly 53 percent) say they're unsatisfied with their jobs, and only 15.4 percent pronounce themselves "very satisfied" in their work, according to a new report by the Conference Board, a business membership-and-research group that has been conducting surveys about worker happiness since 1987. Older employees have experienced the steepest drop in job satisfaction over the past 25 years: In 1987 more than 70 percent of workers 65 or older and nearly 60 percent of workers 55 through 64 felt good about their jobs; by 2011 both groups' satisfaction numbers had tumbled to 46 percent.

This is the good news: You can fall in love with work again even if you've been in a job for decades. Talk with enough happy workers and you'll find that being older doesn't have to equal unhappiness. The secret, they say, is feeling in control: having a job that offers you a bigger say in what goes on at work, more flexibility in scheduling day-to-day activities, and more opportunities to pursue professional passions and develop new skills. Increased autonomy will frequently lead to increased satisfaction.

Many paths can lead you to this fulfillment. You can switch jobs, change fields and start anew, or you can discover ways to make old workplaces feel fresh. As the "very satisfied" workers you'll meet here show, it's never too late to make your job a source of joy as well as income.

Next page: Strive to keep learning and stay nimble. »

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