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….
Related post: 14 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness During Times of Uncertainty
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).
Related post: Why the news makes you anxious: headline stress disorder (with tips to cope)
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.
Related post: Your anxiety is lying to you: Here are 8 Lies My Anxiety Tells Me & How I Move Past Them
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?
I was in a job like this before my son was born. It was a customer service related position, but the company I worked for cared very little about actually satisfying customers. That made every day difficult. I tried to focus my energy on the good. I tried to focus on the ones I could help, and I learned how to work around the systems to get the unhappy customers taken care of. It was a small thing, but it helped get through the days
Thanks for sharing your story, Lisa. I am glad you were able to find ways to get through the day. It can be so hard, but for our own mental health, I feel like we need to try and find the happiness where we can.
I have recently quit a job that was making miserable
I had really tried to be happy in that job but after 20 years I realized some things were never going to change. I am now finding multiple sources of income without having a boss and I couldn’t be happier.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Jeanne! I am so glad you were able to get out and find something that makes you truly happy. I am certainly not advocating people stay in a position that makes them unhappy, but sometimes we find ourselves not able to leave in an instant for a variety of reasons. In those situations, I’m advocating trying to find the happiness you can for your own mental health!
This is so true. Sometimes it can be really hard to see the positive side. Keep doing it till you find your real purpose.
It can be so difficult. But we can use it as a stepping stone, learning experience, and try to find the happiness we can for our own mental health!
This is exactly what I needed. I’m in a job I dislike and am in the process of trying to find purpose.
I’m sorry to hear you’re in a difficult position, Anne. I am glad the post came to you at the right time. Good luck with everything.
I love that idea of bringing your hobbies to work! This post is a great reminder that we can learn something about ourselves or others in any job. And while some jobs may not be our favorites we can be grateful for what we learn and the people we meet!
Exactly, Miranda! I love learning more about my co-workers, and what better way than to share our hobbies and talents!
This couldn’t have come at a more perfect time. I’ve got a month left of work before I can take a year off (maternity/child care leave). I needed this motivation to push through the next two weeks!
Good luck, Katie! I wish you the best.
This is a really great post! So much to consider – I’ve had so many jobs that I’ve despised. You’ve definitely provided great perspective!
Thanks, Patricia. I think we can all relate to being in jobs we don’t love!
Great post! So many people need to hear this. Sometimes we have to do things we don’t want to do before we can do the things we want to do. Some many people want the easy quick way to a life they love. But it takes time to get there. I think you give good examples of how to be happy with where you are until you get to where you want to be.
Thank you so much, Ashley! That was what I was trying to convey in the post. I definitely am not advocating that people stay in a job that isn’t a good fit, but as you say, sometimes we find ourselves in these situations and we have to try and make the best out of them for our own happiness! Thank you again!
These are great tips; gratitude and being present are my favourites. If I’m in a job I don’t want to be in, I always think of my WHY (my purpose) of being there and remind myself “this is temporary”.
Exactly! That is a great mantra. Thanks for sharing.
I love ‘Your purpose, whatever that may be, is NOT the work you do. It is what you bring to your work’ – thank you for the reminder!
You’re welcome! Thanks for stopping by!
I don’t have a job, but these tips can definitely be used in the SAHM “job field” . It can very stressful and a lot of times make you feel down if you don’t have a break or any pals to hang with. Great post!
Absolutely they can be! SAHMs have really difficult jobs too!
About 20 years ago, I was in a position that I absolutely hated. It created so much stress for me, my hair actually stared to fall out! Thankfully, I did have a colleague that made it more bearable! I really love your tips–they certainly would have come in handy back then. One of the things that I did for a mental break was to physically leave the building for my entire lunch break. It did help!
Thank you for sharing your experience, Jen! And thanks for sharing your tip about getting out of the office for lunch break! I try and go for a walk at some point during the day, even for just a refresh!
This is a great post thank you! It can be so difficult to see the trees through the Forrest sometimes when you aren’t as happy as you could be at work. These are helpful and actionable tips to move forward.
Thank you, Nicole, I’m glad you found it helpful. I agree, it isn’t easy, but for our own mental health, I think we need to try and incorporate whatever happiness we can to a negative situation!
Some great thoughts here….it’s amazing how much you learn and grow in a job that’s difficult, to say the least. I’ve found that later on in life, when I am in a job I like, I’ve drawn on a lot of the stress management tools I developed during a very hard phase at a previous job. Thanks for the encouragement and positivity!
That is so true! You can learn a lot if you allow yourself too. Plus, it makes being in a negative situation a little better!
You are spot on. I needed this post today. I am super busy at my job but not always present. Sometimes I get frustrated how many hours away I spend away from the family but know that I now need to change my frame of mind.
I have definitely been in the same situation! It can be very hard to adjust the mindset, but I believe we can be so much happier if we do, even if we’re not in an ideal situation!
I used to be in a job that I absolutely hated one of my bosses but I stayed because I loved my customers and my in store work team. The boss I disliked was a district manager so while she sent emails everyday to us, we only saw her once in a blue moon. She made my life miserable as well as everyone at that store. Walking out was the best decision for me personally and I have found a place that I am genuinely happy at now with amazing coworkers and bosses.
Thank you for sharing your story, Melissa! I am so glad you got out of a negative situation. I am certainly not advocating people stay in a job that makes them unhappy! This post is more for when you are feeling like you are stuck in a job and you aren’t able to leave at that moment for whatever reason. In that case, I advocate trying to make the best of a bad situation!
wonderful post! This definitely hit home for me.
I love the idea of focusing on one or two colleagues. It really is all about relationships. Even in the jobs I’ve disliked, I’ve always appreciated the people I worked with and it made a world of difference in my feeling of purpose heading off to work each Monday morning.
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