How To Be Happy, Even If You Hate Your Job

January 21, 2016

by Ravi Raman

how to be happy at work even if you hate your job

“Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same.” – Carlos Castaneda.

Happiness is a choice. It might not be an easy one to make every day, particularly if you hate your job, but it still is something we can choose, regardless of circumstance.

I am not talking about positive self-talk and affirmations. I am not talking about ignoring the terrible situations you might be putting up with right now. I am also not talking about wearing rose-colored glasses during your work day.

What I am referring to is the innate capacity we all have to see problems as solutions waiting to happen and to see the inherent benefit in any obstacle you might face as possessing a powerful opportunity for learning.

It is pretty hard to be upset and unhappy when you are learning. It is, even more, difficult to be ticked off when you see a problem as a solution waiting to happen.

With even a small shift in how you relate to the environment you may find a dramatic improvement in your happiness at work, for even if your circumstance is dire, you can find happiness in your opportunity to turn things around.

Let’s explore this idea of being happy at work, examine what scientific evidence there is regarding it and clarify some ways to make your job a more joyful experience than it already is.

Everything is Awesome, But Nobody Is Happy

There are many countries in the world where there are few jobs, and those that are available barely pay enough to provide even the necessities such as food and shelter.

You would think that people in those countries would be unhappy.

On the contrary, you would believe that workers in affluent countries, even if they did not have a great job, would be happy.

You would be thinking wrong!

Paraguay is the happiest country in the world, with 87 percent of residents scoring high on an index of positive emotions, according to the latest Gallup Poll on well-being. All of the top countries in the poll are among the poorest countries in the world.

Gallup surveyed 1,000 adults in each of 138 countries to make up the index. They asked five questions: whether people felt rested, felt they were treated with respect, laughed or smiled a lot, whether they experienced enjoyment and whether they had learned or done something interesting the day before.

Gallup then makes up a Positive Experience Index score for each country. Most of the happiest countries are in Latin America, the survey finds. The five top countries all are:

Paraguay 87
Panama 86
Guatemala 83
Nicaragua 83
Ecuador 83

Ongoing research show the United States consistently scores poorly in workplace happiness, Clifton says – especially on Wednesday. U.S. happiness peaks on weekends. “We need to do a better job of understanding workplace happiness,” Clifton said.

The USA is one of the most affluent countries in the world (if you ignore our horrendous national debt!). You would think that this affluence would promote happiness at work and in life, but it does not.

There is something else going on that needs to be addressed to create deep happiness at work and in our lives.

What Makes Workers Happy?

Surprise, surprise. The things that make workers happy are the same things that make people happy overall in the rest of their lives.

When provided with a laundry list of lifestyle factors, Family (88%), Friends (43%) and Health (41%) are ranked by workers as among the top factors in their lives that create happiness.

Where does work fit?

Only 17% ranked “Job” as one of their top 3 happiness factors.

This data is not an aberration; multiple research studies back up the overall lesson in this data.

When family connections are strong, friendships are tight, and health is taken care of; life is good. The specifics of a job matter, but much less.


Think a salary bump would make a miserable work experience better? It might, but there is another way to make yourself happy, at work and outside of work. Research shows that meeting with friends, relatives and neighbors has the same emotional effect on an employees’ happiness as a substantial increase in salary.

According to research published in The Journal of Socio-Economics by Professor Nattavudh Powdthavee:

There is substantial evidence in the psychology and sociology literature that social relationships promote happiness for the individual. Yet the size of their impacts remains largely unknown.

This paper explores the use of shadow pricing method to estimate the monetary values of the satisfaction with life gained by an increase in the frequency of interaction with friends, relatives, and neighbours.

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.


No doubt this all depends on your current financial situation. The point is that connection to family and close friends is a critical component of being happy, and if you are happy in your life outside of work, this will help you deal with stress and issues at work and create more joy in your career.

So if you passed up for that big promotion at work, go out and make a few new good friends. Call your family to say hello for no reason. Then, see how you feel!

When was the last time you gave your family a call for a meaningful conversation? Have you put in some effort to stay in touch with your old College friends or co-workers from your first job?

Now that you know that the strength of your family connections and friendships is a bigger a factor in your happiness than your job, what can you do to build stronger personal relationships with people at work and outside of work?

Once you’ve invested in your relationships, it is also important to make sure that you love what you do.

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Happiness In An Unlikely Place

Do construction and service industry workers strike as being remarkably happy people? The answer may surprise you. It definitely surprised me.

According to Ridiculously Efficient:

If you want to cultivate a happy workforce, you may want to try looking toward the construction industry for inspiration. TINYpulse recently released the 2015 Best Industry Ranking Report, which surveyed more than 30,000 employees from 500 different companies on their job satisfaction.

They found that the Construction & Facilities Services is the happiest industry. This is followed by Consumer Products & Services, Technology & Software, Telecom, Energy & Utilities, and Healthcare, Pharmaceuticals & Biotech.

Looking into TINYpulse’s research reveals what leads to employees being happy at work. The number one answer (34%) was “I work with great people…”

“These findings are remarkable because they show me that any leader — no matter the industry that they’re in — has the power to make workplace changes to materially impact job satisfaction,” said David Niu, founder and CEO of TINYpulse.”

What I take away from this insight is that if you are lucky to work in a work environment with great people, there is an excellent chance you will be happy, even if other factors (like pay, type of work) are not as good.

However, if you don’t work with great people today, you can still get the benefit by seeking out new friends outside of work and new work colleagues (e.g. get assigned to a different project team at work, shift to join a new team at your company) that are nice to be around to make things better.

What To Do When You Hate Your Job

“Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” – Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs specifically said “…love what you do…” he did not say “…do what you love…”. The difference is critical.

You can learn to love many things, provided you invest in enough time and energy to become proficient in your job and become fascinated by some aspect of it. It is about finding that special place where you are contributing, yet sufficiently challenged and learning. This is often referred to as a flow-state.

Believe it or not, you can and should be “finding flow” work!

The flow state can be found in any job, regardless if you are a carpenter or a software engineer.

This distinction is powerful. It means that there is no single perfect career you need to discover. You have choices!

You can choose a career path that provides the right combination of initial interest, your innate skills, and marketplace value; and invest in your skills enough so that you find the right balance between your accomplishment and productivity, and your learning on the job.

Your ideal job is one that you can learn to love, while also contributing to society. Steve Jobs agrees with this position. It’s not about following your passion, it’s about doing something that is useful and finding passion in it.

I love the Japanese approach of ikigai to illustrate the perfect match for a great job. According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. An ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’. A reason to enjoy life:

What is your Ikigai?If you are stuck, and don’t know where to start in finding a better job. Begin with introspection. I like to use the process outlined here:

What if you feel trapped in a job you do not like? There is a way to deal with this situation by asking yourself a few powerful questions to shift your state of mind and get unstuck.

Three Questions To Ask Yourself

Even if you feel trapped in a job you hate, or merely feel stuck, you can ask yourself a few questions to focus on the small parts of the job that you do enjoy, no matter how minor these things may seem. This same process can help you get unstuck and find renewed joy in your role.

  1. What do I care about in my work?
  2. What fascinates me about my work?
  3. What problems does my work present, that I can try to solve?

These three questions are designed to open your mind up to the possibility that even if you are stuck in a dead-end job with a terrible boss, there is something about the job (the work itself, your co-workers, your customers, your partners) that you do care about deeply.

Get in touch with those things.

No matter how mundane your work, there is surely something about the environment at work that fascinates and interests you. Figure out what that is.

Every job is simply a bundle of problems waiting to be solved. You might not like the solutions that others come up with, or “how” they are being implemented, but the problems are still there.

What are the problems at your work just waiting to be solved?

What type of problems exist out there? These include problems related to the “products” you build, the “process” of how things get done and the “people” you work with.

Get clear on the problems you face. Remind yourself that you have the chance to solve these issues, if you want to. If you do not know the solution, you can turn to friends or family for help. You can also work with a coach [LINK] to help you out.

When you connect with something you care about in your job, remind yourself that something about what you do does fascinates you and see the world as problems waiting to be solved – any negative association with your work situation will fade.

The less negative thoughts you have about your career, the more space there is for joy and happiness to grow.

Then, you will be in a great mental and emotional state to identify a create the career that will make you even happier over the long-term.

The process that I’ve outlined is completely within your control to implement and try out. If you need help, let me know, and I’d be happy to coach you through the process.

In addition to everything I’ve mentioned in this post, to help you cope with a job that isn’t great and deal with any stress, get into nature every day. At minimum, look at some trees!


  1. Cebador

    Really good post. I can say I am quite happy since I finally started to work with things that im doing it with passion. But before that I was struggiling with some boring jobs…

    • Ravi Raman

      Great to hear Cebador!


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