10 Ways to be Happy in a Job that Makes you Unhappy
Do you get the Sunday blues?
Does the thought of Monday and a full work week ahead make you feel miserable?
Do you dread the thought of spending countless hours per day/week in a windowless office?
Are stress and anxiety common emotions when you think about or are at work?
If you had to describe your job in one word, does anything negative come up?
Feeling stuck and unhappy in a job is miserable. I’ve been there, and I’m going to guess that if you’re reading this, you either have been or currently are.
I once had a job at what I thought was my dream organization. It was an entry-level job, so I knew it wouldn’t be glamorous, but I was ecstatic to get my foot in the door. It turned out to be one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had. I would cry when Sunday MORNING would roll around, knowing I’d have to go to work on Monday, and no matter how hard I worked, I kept getting tons of projects, resulting in me always being the first one in and the last one to leave every single day, and STILL feeling like I couldn’t keep up. If you couldn’t guess, I was miserable.
I did eventually leave, and now that I look back on it, I realized a LOT of things about myself, about life, and about future jobs. I wanted to share what I learned in case you or anyone else out there is in a similar situation.
Here are 10 ways to be happy in a job that makes you unhappy:
Be fully present, engaged and yes, happy
Uff-dah. I started out with a big one. I’m guessing some of you may have even rolled your eyes when you read that title. I can hear you saying ‘seriously?!’ at even the THOUGHT of being present, engaged and happy in a place that makes you so unhappy. I would have probably laughed in your face if you would have told me that while I was in the job I mentioned above. But here is why it is important, and why I started off with this tip.
Let’s start with a little exercise.
Say you work ‘regular’ work hours, approximately 40 hours a week, out of 120 hours (for 5 weekdays a week). Knowing you probably work more than that, but just humor me.
After subtracting 40 hours from the 120 weekday hours, we’re already at 80 hours left in our work week for remaining things like:
Sleeping – let’s subtract another 40 hours assuming you get the recommended 8 hours of sleep a night (don’t laugh, just go with it).
Commuting – According to the US Census Bureau, the average commute time (one-way) is 25.4 minutes. So that’s 50.8 minutes a day, x 5 = 254 minutes, or approximately 4.25 hours a week (I’m going with four hours to make it clean).
Now we’re at 36 hours left in the week for things like socialization, family time, cleaning, kid’s homework, errands, cooking, commitments, self care, etc. etc. etc.
The point of this exercise is to show you that work-related hours take up a lot of our time. A lot!
That’s a LOT of time to spend unhappy, miserable, stressed/anxious, etc. And that doesn’t even include the time you spend outside of work thinking about work or working more once you get home.
How many times do you have a terrible day at work and get frustrated by the commute home, only to get home and find you’re still in a terrible mood? Have you ever taken your stress and frustration of work out on your family/partner/spouse?
I think you probably get the point I’m trying to make here.
It is so easy for these emotions we experience in relation to work to leak over into our non-work lives, and it starts to have a big effect. If you are here or have been here, I KNOW you know what I’m talking about.
I know it is easier said than done, but we wake up every day with a choice on how we want our mindset to be. And we can choose to be happy, even in situations that make us unhappy. Just stay with me here….
Find your purpose in your work
There are a LOT of people out there who are unhappy in a job because they think that the work they do defines their life’s purpose. But guess what? That’s not true!
Imagine being able to align your life’s purpose with the current work you are doing. Even if you don’t think they overlap or have anything to do with each other.
Your purpose, whatever that may be, is NOT the work you do. It is what you bring to your work.
Let that sink in for a few moments.
I first heard this idea on my favorite podcast of all time, The Lively Show by Jess Lively. When I first heard Jess talking about this, she brought up the example of Christopher Reeves. If we were to say that his purpose in life was to be an actor, does that mean that when he was little he had no purpose? Or that after he stopped acting he had no purpose? Of course not.
So, with that in mind, what can you bring to the table regarding the particular job you are doing right now? Knowing now that your job doesn’t necessarily define your life’s purpose?
I remember when I first heard this on The Lively Show podcast, I was kind of like, yeah, ok, whatever. But then I stopped and thought about it. I LOVE helping people, the environment, and teaching. At this point in my life, I would say that my purpose is to help people and the environment. I never thought in a million years what I do now (not at all related to any of those things) would match up with my purpose, because my work didn’t have anything to do with those things. Because of this, I was pretty unhappy in my job and longed to do something in the ‘environmental field’.
Want to know what my job is right now? I’m in IT. Once I took a hard look, I realized that I literally help people and teach them things all day long. My mind was blown! And while helping people with/teaching IT related topics are not something I strive to do forever (it’s certainly not what I went to school for), I do enjoy my job, and enjoy it even more once I was able to connect it to my life’s purpose.
So, what do you LOVE to do? What do you think your purpose is? How can you bring that to the table?
Oh, and for the record, your purpose can change as you move through life. But, if you’re not really even sure what your purpose is, I would invite you to try the 100 things list. For your list topic, start by just writing down things that inspire you, move you, that you enjoy doing, etc.
Bring your hobbies to work
Yes, really! Start a fitness club, yoga class, knitting happy hour, etc during lunch or before or after work. Invite co-workers to join you. I have had a couple of co-workers do this, and it was really fun. We got to learn something new and got to connect with other co-workers. The time became something we all looked forward to and became a great break and positive moment during the day.
Related post: How to practice self compassion (with actual examples)
The benefits and importance of practicing gratitude have become more mainstream lately and for good reason. There is tons of research on how regularly practicing gratitude can re-wire your brain and make you happier. It also can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Although it may be hard at times, start showing your job gratitude, and see if that helps turn your attitude around it at all. Here are some things you can be thankful for:
Be thankful you have a job
Be thankful for the things you are learning in your job. You never know when those skills may become handy someday.
Be thankful for the lessons you are being taught (more on this below).
What can you come up with?
To learn more about gratitude, and starting your own gratitude practice, check out my post here.
Focus on a couple awesome colleagues
There are many great benefits to having work buddies. I know I am so thankful for mine. These are people you spend a lot of time with during the work week, and they can help by being a positive beacon in what could be a somewhat negative situation or environment. Grab your favorite work friend(s) and go for a walk at lunch or eat lunch together and talk about the latest episode of Jane the Virgin (great show, highly recommend it).
Please note that I didn’t say “these people are great for complaining about our terrible boss, or to gossip about your cube mate”. Remember how I said the emotions you carry at work leak into your non-work life? Yeah. Let’s not go there with negative talk and complaining (yeah, yeah. I know. Sometimes easier said than done. I’m guilty too. But seriously, work on it).
Be active in your pursuit of something else
If you are at a point where you feel you need to get out of a particular job, be active in your pursuit of something else. Yes, it can be scary, but is it scarier than staying in a job that makes you miserable?
Do one thing each day that will get you closer to your goal of a new job. Even if it is something small, being active in looking will provide a self of control, which can be very powerful in a job you feel you have no control over.
Join different job hunting sites. Ask your friends, family, and neighbors if they know of anyone hiring that would be a good fit for your skillset. Network, network, network. Or maybe you’re working on a side business. Whatever it is, do SOMETHING each day.
Don’t become complacent. Don’t burn bridges.
Remember when I mentioned my dream job turn nightmare job at the beginning of this post (we’ll call it job ‘A’ for this example)? Before I took that job, I had been working at the same job for many years (job ‘B’). However, I had become complacent and unhappy. After I left my job ‘A’, I went crawling back to my boss at job ‘B’, and basically begged for ANY type of job they would have for me. Man, that was a lesson in humility. And a lesson not to become complacent or burn bridges. Luckily, I hadn’t done the latter, and they rehired me. But I easily could have.
Don’t become so complacent, unhappy, and miserable that you burn bridges. You never know when you may need a particular job for a reference, or when you may come crawling back because you realized the job wasn’t really all that bad and it was just your attitude. Or maybe that’s just me.
Figure out the lessons you can take away from this
But seriously. What can you learn from this particular job? I already mentioned different skills you can take away from it and put on your resume. But what about anything deeper?
In past jobs, I’ve learned that particular organizations are not actually what I’m looking for. That a particular boss is not the type of person I would care to work for in the future. How to deal with negative co-workers.
Think about what you can take away, and be thankful for that lesson.
You may get to a point where you need to set boundaries. What these boundaries look like will be unique to each person. But if you’re finding you’re constantly stressed, working additional hours at home, miserable, etc., figure out what you need to do.
Maybe it’s telling your boss certain hours that you aren’t able to work. Maybe it’s making an agreement with your spouse that you both can only talk about work for 10 minutes and then not again for the rest of the day. Maybe you decide to take public transportation 1-2 times a week so you can read, listen to podcasts, or watch a show during your commute.
Whatever it is, set up some boundaries so you can give yourself the mental break you need.
Do you have any tips for being happy in a job that makes you unhappy? I’d LOVE to hear it in the comments below!
Want to learn how to adopt a reduction based lifestyle (through mindfulness, minimalism, anxiety management, and zero waste living but not sure where to start?