How to Find Happiness at Work Even if You Hate Your Job

By Jane | October 8, 2015

be happy at work

Are you reading this at work? Are you bored out of your skull, looking for any distraction? Do you have a plan (or at least a major dream) to get out of the rat race and see the world, but it just requires a little (or a lot) more time in a job you despise? Do you think happiness at work is an impossibility?

If you’re nodding your head right now, this one’s for you.

I know exactly what that’s like because I’ve felt it too. I have sat in that gray desk chair and poured my heart and soul into making money for a corporation. I have dreaded waking up in the morning, knowing that I’d have to spend the best part of my day doing something completely pointless, something that I hated.

OK, enough of my sob story.

What did I do about it? How did I get through the tedium without going abso-effing-lutely insane? How can you find a little happiness at work, even in a job you hate?

Are you reading this at work? Are you bored out of your skull, looking for any distraction? Do you have a plan (or at least a major dream) to get out of the rat race and see the world, but it just requires a little (or a lot) more time in a job you despise?  If you're nodding your head right now, this one's for you.

How to Find Happiness at Work

1. Realize you’re not alone

It’s pretty easy to look around your workplace and come to the conclusion that you’re surrounded by completely happy worker bees. How the hell can everyone seem to be so damn cheerful about working a place that you hate? It can make you feel isolated, resentful and like there’s something deeply wrong with you.

In reality, even though you might feel all alone, I guarantee you’re not. A 2013 Gallup poll found in a survey of 142 countries that only “13 percent of employees worldwide are happily engaged at work”. Ouch. So take a good hard look at your coworkers right now. They might seem to be a cheerful bunch, but they’re not! You are perfectly normal in your unhappiness at work.

Which is a good thing, because it means that your plan for jumping ship and pursuing your dreams of travel is absolutely the right decision.

2. Stay out of office politics

Office gossip is a very tempting little evil. One of the places I worked was ridden with gossip, fuelled by the boss of my department, who used to spread gossip about her own employees. I finally decided not to listen to gossip or to discuss anything to do with my coworker’s lives.

Instead, I decided to try and find something good in every person around me. If I couldn’t find anything good, I tried to understand what might have caused those seemingly evil people to be such immense idiots. Rising above the effluence of human pettiness made me feel like a nicer person, which made me feel just a little happier at work.

3. Don’t withdraw too far

I’ve definitely taking the whole “rising above” thing too far. At one job, I decided that the only way to get through the work day was to avoid talking to anyone about anything at all. Aside from a fakely pleasant “hello” in the morning, chit chat was strictly off limits.

Guess what? This made me even more miserable. As it turns out, talking with people is linked to happiness, even if you’re a total introvert. The deeper the conversation, one study showed, the happier you are. So find someone at work who you can talk with and make sure you do.

4. Wake up happy

Studies have shown that about 50 percent of your potential for happiness is genetic. If, like me, you got dealt a bad hand in the gene department, try a little optimism. You still have another 50% to work with, right?

One day, when I was at the lowest low point in my working life, I noticed something that seems kind of funny now. I noticed that the first thought I had when the alarm went off each morning was “oh fuck”. Seriously, that’s how I was starting each and every day. That’s like eating nails for breakfast instead of Wheaties.

To turn this around, I consciously made the effort to wake up and find at least three awesome things about that day.

One, the sun is out. Two, there’s a cute squirrel leaping through the trees outside. Three, the new episode of Nashville is on tonight (hey, whatever works.)

As you set out for work, remind yourself that you are in a great mood and this is going to be a great day. The power of positive thinking is not just a corny myth. Try it.

5. Let the bad things go

It’s tempting (and really easy) to stew over the crap you put up with all day. Sometimes, you might even want to hang out in the break room bitching about the latest work drama. Just don’t do it.

A bitch session might feel good in the moment, but it also can also make tiny things into big problems – ones you carry home with you. Instead, if someone annoys you or something major goes wrong, take a deep breath and let the irritation float away. Forget about it and get on with your day. I know it sounds cheesy, but trust me, it works.

6. Take breaks

If you’re an old timer like me, you’ll remember the days when people still took smoke breaks. I’m a firm believer in maintaining the smoke-break tradition, even though no one actually smokes anymore. Studies back up my gut-instinct, showing that people who take breaks are more productive and less stressed.

During my work day, I use a free screen timer called TimeOut. I set it to give me a 15-second break every 20 minutes and a 6-minute break every hour. During those mini-breaks, I look away from the screen, relaxing my eyes, jaw and shoulders and I take a few deep breaths. On the longer breaks, I always stand up and walk around or do a few stretches.

Checking Facebook and Twitter or talking on the phone is not a break. Your brain needs the time to recharge, your eyes need to rest, and your body needs to move.

There are lots of different techniques and tools you can use to set up your breaks. Experiment and find the one that’s right for you.

7. Go outside

One of the most depressing things about office life is its ill-lit, low-ceilinged, indoors-ness. It is not natural to sit in fake air under fake light staring at a computer screen all day.

Unless the weather is catastrophic, make sure you get outside at lunch and go for a walk. A study from the University of Bristol study found that exercising on workdays, even for as little as 10 minutes, helped with mood and performance.

Another option is to head to the building stairwell and walk up and down a few flights of stairs. I used to do this on miserable days in London. By the time I got back to my desk, I was more relaxed, my body felt alive and my mood was brighter.

Remember, this is all temporary.

These strategies won’t transform you into a happy employee overnight and you will never really be happy at work until you pursue something meaningful to you. But they will make your temporary work situation a little easier to bear.

On the days when all the happiness strategies in the world aren’t going to keep you from hating your remind yourself that this is all a means to an end.

You have a goal of freedom and a plan to achieve it. When the going gets tough, gaze at pictures of your dream destination, keep your plan in mind, and thank your hated job for helping you towards your eventual freedom.  

Happy travels, Stephen & Jane

4 comments

  1. Comment by Jayne Edmondson

    Jayne Edmondson Reply May 6, 2016 at 12:31 am

    Haha I can severely relate to this, every day its just so punishing ever since I returned from a 12 month trip in Oct 2014 and returned to a job that I simply hate and have grown to detest. Its so damn boring and I feel its a total waste of my day and totally pointless as it bares no relevance to my future. The good news is that I only have 8 months to go before I’m back on the plane with my husband and off on another big adventure, this time quitting the job and never returning! How do I get through my day, well I go in early and leave early then I have the better part of the afternoon to do what I want to do. Its tough getting out of bed at 5am though 5 days a week but the thought of staying until 5pm everyday motivates me to get my butt out of bed! Secondly I’ve started getting up from my desk every hour walking around our sun filled courtyard and walking 4 floors to build up my fitness in readiness for hiking Patagonia next February :-) I found that getting out of that chair really has improved my mood and makes the day go quicker. I do stay out of office politics and do talk with my favourite people at work. Its not totally horrendous but I am hanging out for that leaving date :-)

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane May 6, 2016 at 12:56 am

      Hey Jayne,
      Thanks so much for sharing your struggles. I think a lot of people can relate, even if they’re too scared to admit it out loud. I’m glad you’ve found a few coping mechanisms while you wait for your awesome Patagonia trip (I really want to go there, too!).

      I’m wondering. Do you have a long-term plan in place so you can leave the “job” world permanently? Some of us are just not made for office life, and it sounds like you may be one of those people. If you start building a plan now, it will really help you be happier in your current situation, knowing that you are working on something bigger!

      All the best, J

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