10 Ways to Be Happy At Work (Even If You Hate It)

How To Be Happy At Work 2

In my life I have walked out of three jobs: a bank, a call centre and a themed pizza restaurant. And yes, when I say walked I do mean stood up, coat on, bag over the shoulder and left.

Irresponsible? Totally.

Utterly miserable? You bet.

But I’m going to defend myself okay? I was young, I didn’t know anything about the world of work.

It does amuse me when people say ‘school prepares you work’, I disagree. I think for the majority of us it does nothing apart from here’s the next system you enter and the rules that you must follow’, of course your experience may be different.

Educators agree that happy pupils learn better, what happens when we enter the 9-5? Goodbye happiness?

The bank was the worst, crying on the way there every morning was not good for the old mental health.

The last two were jobs I held as a student: the call centre I refused point blank to put my hand up to use the loo (rebel) and the themed pizza place is laughable, apparently ‘ I’m the worst waitress ever’, according to the manager. Personally I didn’t think I was that bad.

There are millions of people doing exactly what I was paid to do and even though I hated it, they don’t. Which makes me want to ask you, is happiness at work the responsibility of the employer or you, the employee?

The Other Side of The Coin

Fast forward a few  (many) years and the last role I had where someone else paid my salary was fun, employee happiness was considered important, creativity and play was encouraged. Not at Google, I may add, a non-profit in Edinburgh.

Play was encouraged?

Yes. How novel, huh? Being told to play and get creative at work.

Was the work done? Yes, and people actually enjoyed doing more with no grumping or bitterness. Having the creative freedom meant the team were always devising better solutions, programs and ways of doing things.

Can we be happy at work, even if we hate it?

My answer? No job is meant to make you unhappy, period. I’ve worked with enough adults on employability and vocational programs who were emotionally destroyed by negative, belittling, unhappy, stressful and one-size fits all ‘institutional’ work environments.

However (and believe me it’s a BIG however) there are a few things that you can do to reclaim your sanity and happiness.

To me, work is a social place, and yet the majority of workplaces are sequenced, controlled, compartmentalised and standardised, not much has changed since the workhouses of the Industrial Revolution.

Generally speaking:

  • You are expected to sit or stand all day long.
  • You are expected to be a working machine, not a complex mix of mind, body and spirit.
  • You are expected to leave your emotions at the door.
  • You are expected to solve problems and strategically plan for people who act like School Masters.
  • You are expected to follow rules, policies and regulations which don’t help you, but just reminds you that your a cog in a very big machine.
  • You are expected not to voice concern or raise objections, otherwise you rock the foundations of the institution.

Don’t get me wrong, I know all workplaces aren’t like that, but for those that are, in my opinion, rob you of the joy of making a difference, a contribution and exercising your full potential.

Looky look, the chances are, if you have past the point of no return in your career or current role, a move is on the cards anyway. How do I know that? Because the misery isn’t sustainable. You may change career, you may opt for a new wallpaper at work: which won’t solve the long term misery but at least for a while you’ll be happier as you’ll be learning new things, ideas, meeting new people and so on.

So, take these tips as an ‘in the meantime’ lessons, your call if you try them:

1. Define your own definition of work happiness and satisfaction

What does being happy mean to you? What about work satisfaction? Is it flourishing? Is it belonging and feeling valued? Is it achieving? Is it seeing a task to completion? Seeing a customer or client smile, is that a priority? Everyone has a different defintion of the word happiness. Start with these questions as a baseline. Is there anyway you can bring them into your current role? Even if the boss and management couldn’t care, do you care enough to take full accountability for your happiness?

2. No two days are ever going to be the same

What I learned from the bank was I approached each day in the same way. I had already decided how the day was going to go before I even got there (Read: The Pits. Devils Hall) At every opportunity see each day as a new day, each interaction and communication as new, every event as new. I’m asking you to take a massive mindset shift, you can do it, you are much stronger than a role or what you ‘do’, you and I can choose how we want to feel and our state of mind in a second.

3. Be your best

At what you do. Look for ways to give it your all. Hate the bosses and management? Then do it for customers and clients. Start setting your own high standards. Being the best is not competition, it’s about recognising and being proud of your own skills and abilities. Use them. Excellence, the tiny things will make you happy, even if the company doesn’t raise a smile.

4. Play

Be creative, even if it’s not encouraged. Play isn’t just reserved for children. It doesn’t even have to be childlike. Some organisations try to change their working environment to the benefit of employees, but does putting in a gym or a creative room cut it though? Do benefits create happier work environments?

  • Play and happiness isn’t a tactic or a system.
  • Work happiness isn’t a set of rules to be followed or forced.
  • It’s not reserved for team away days or for you to ‘learn’ on a training course you’ve been sent on.

A happy work environment isn’t about resources and objects it has to become part of the mission: it’s all encompassing and is the culture of the organisation.

Here’s the thing, you are the culture. You may not think you are but if an organisation is paying you for your skills, then you shape the culture. Yes, I know you may disagree with me, you may feel you have no power or status when it come to making decisions in a large company. But you do. Read number 3 again.

5. Create your own standards of excellence

You have the power to decide and write your own personal standards. What personal rules can you live with at work? What’s negotiable and non-negotiable? But I hate it, you cry. Okay, I get it, honest I do. Be exceptional anyway. Don’t let something you are paid for lower your capability for displaying excellence, you are worth more.

6. Be the person you would love to work with

Speaks for itself. Its’ so easy to get caught up in the negativity and pessimism of others. When the role no longer fits who you are, it’s pretty common to moan, grump and be the misery. Think about your ideal workmate: what qualities would they have, how would they treat others, how would they speak, be them. If you recognise the qualities, you have them.

7. Be engaged and engaging

With honesty and genuineness be interested in other people, be approachable and warm. Listen to understand, be empathic. Make people feel important, but do it with sincerity.

8. Play outside of work

Important —> Recognise you are not your job, you are not your career or what you get paid for. Take accountability for your happiness outside work. If you are thinking of a move, can you volunteer in the field you ultimately want to work in? Can you take weekend courses? Can you build in more time with your friends?

9. Give thanks and appreciation + recognise/acknowledge great work

Even if the organisation or culture doesn’t do it, you can. Acknowledge other people and the work they do: if it’s great, tell them. If you spot something that was a great idea, say so. Appreciate the good moments, be there, be present, say thanks, be the person that is creating a new culture.

10. Be altruistic

Give without expecting nothing in return. What! Yeah, toughie for most of us. Try it for a month. Just try. Don’t be a pushover though, that’s not being altruistic. Altruism is about being motivated to give something in return for nothing, but not of duty or loyality.

Will those tips make you love your role again?

(Smiling!) I don’t know. I do know (my experience) when I accept total responsibility and accountability for how I feel, shifts are made. You’ll know what’s on the cards for your career, whether you need a complete change or not. I’m suggesting to you, try it, it’s your call though, okay? And if you are utterly miserable and beyond the above list, action, decide today that you are in transition and begin the journey. You are the common factor in all this, you may not get to where you really want to go overnight, begin the process, start.

Your Wisdom Please

Any tips for being happy at work (even though you hate it?) Lessons from the past? Something you are doing now? Please leave a comment below.

Lastly if you need a little help to find and do the work you love there’s a course that does just that.


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  1. says

    Attach meaning to your work, even the seemingly insignificant tasks, and you will be happier. It’s when you see something as being pointless and beyond your control that it takes away your joy. Remember that your thoughs are always within your control.
    I’m reminded of a passage Dr. Viktor Frankl wrote: “And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour, offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.”

    • says

      Hey Jeanne! Thank you for commenting. And I love you quoted Viktor Frankl, if anyone knew about deciding how to feel when all freedom and choice was taken away, it was him. Dawn

  2. annikamartins says

    I like Marie Forleo’s response to this situation: “Love the hell you’re in.” Definitely put a plan in place to move out of the job from hell, but while you’re there, find opportunities to be grateful for it – maybe it’s the relationship with co-workers you  really like, the technical skills you’re learning or it could just be as simple as being thankful that you can buy groceries because of that pay check. As tough as it may be, finding gratitude in the midst of the suckiness is the best way to stay afloat until it’s time to hand in your resignation and move on to the job that’s a good fit.

    • says

      Hey Annika, helloooooo to you, thanks for stopping by. Agree, digging deep and finding opportunities to be grateful for. Hard? Yes, when the person may feel there is no way out, but not impossible. Have you ever hated a role? Thanks for visiting. Have a great day.

  3. says

    Hi Dawn,
    For me the sixth point is the most important. When you’re one of the whiners, you don’t have fun. It’s that simple. Sure, it’s not always easy to keep yourself from whining, but when you do put all the things you don’t like away from your mind, you’ll enjoy your day a lot more :)

    • says

      Hey Peter, I’ll admit it I’ve been a whiner in the past! Have you? In fact looking back, I must have been a nightmare to work with *hangs head in shame* :-)

  4. RtMixMktg says

    My mom used to always say, count the dollars. Maybe too practical but it stuck with me. For my own personal advice, I would always try to find some way to make the most of it. Get to know some of the co-workers. Enjoy the community. Or improve yourself in some way – especially if the job affords time or opportunities to do some study. Lastly, a bad job can serve as strong motivation to set yourself up for something better!
    Thanks for posting!

    • says

      Hey Tom, ohhhh, I’m interested, you have my attention. Has the ‘count the dollars’ statement ever had a negative effect on you? I’m writing a post called ‘Dealing Your Money Crap’ and in it is beliefs we have from our primary care givers. Of course you don’t need to answer. And yes, studying or gaining new skills while still in the sucky job is a GREAT idea — for you, for mentioning in future interviews and for sanity.
      Life is always brighter when learning. Thanks for being here.

  5. TimoKiander says

    Great stuff!
    A happy worker is a productive worker.
    One thing that I learned over the years was to appreciate my work (even if I wasn’t in my dream job). Once I did it, I looked at my work from a different perspective. I felt gratitude towards my work.
    Finally, I think that you have to take responsibility of your actions. If you are not happy, complaining won’t help. Instead, start working on your plan B and move forward.
    PS. I have written about this topic on my blog too:

    • says

      Thanks Timo, and I read your post and popped in the link in this post for people, I hope that is okay with you.

      Love the idea ‘One Day Less’.

      Thanks for stopping by.


  6. says

    Hey Dawn
    I’ve walked out of a job in the past…two days was enough to have me running for the hills.  I’m a little older and wiser now.  *I think* ;)
    It is like you say so much about the meaning and the way we view things.  When its not possible to break out you have to find hope in the current situation to get you through.  So many people are miserable because they keep finding reasons to be miserable.

  7. MightyWiseMedia says

    Great list Dawn….
    My biggest takeaway here is this — Your perception is everything and the good news?  You control your perception and attitude.
    Not happy in your job?  Well, either change your perception or change the scenery.  But for pete’s sake; do something.  Life is too short to be miserable…  :-)
    Thanks Dawn.

  8. SteveBainesBiz says

    This is really great Dawn. I believe 99.9% of employees out there need to read it.  Which is sad.  Yes happiness is a matter of choice, not circumstance.  But employers need to understand that a happy employee is a productive employee (thanks Timo).  Be like Google, Be like Zappos.  If you are an employee and you are miserable and none of these 10 great tips work than GET OUT!  Find a new job doing what you are PASSIONATE about!  I would rather make $50,000 a year doing something I’m passionate about, than $500,000 a year at a job that made me cry every day!

    • says

      It’s awfully sad :-(

      Having been the go between for hiring employers and clients (usually long term unemployed because of crappy past experiences that have affected their mental health), I do sit on the employee side. I see too many employers BS people at application and interview stage (not doing what they say on they do on paper). YET, the efficacy of the individual is more important than any pay – my opinion. Thanks for commenting, and I see you feel as strongly, noted by GET OUT in CAPS! :-)

  9. A.R. says

    Thanks for this article. I needed this today. I’ve never held a job that made me happy. I have worked minimum wage retail and food service jobs for years–all which were dirty, thankless jobs that left me with little self respect. When I moved “up” to this slightly-higher wage office job (thanks to some strings pulled by a close family friend), I thought I would be happy. But I’m going out of my mind.
    I hate the work I do (which can be boiled down to glorified sales and collections calls, sending faxes and filling out miles of serious, personal financial paperwork that my boss should be handling for herself but doesn’t want to be bothered with reading). My boss is impossible–criticizing me whenever I make a slight mistake, refusing to take responsibility (and blaming me for not catching) the mistakes she makes, and blasting me with back-handed comments (“be clever”, “what do YOU think?”, “TRY”) whenever I try to ask for help/guidance regarding something I genuinely do not know.
    I am utterly miserable and wish I had the financial luxury to quit while I spend my energy pursuing my real dreams, but I’m forced to stick it out in the meantime, until I get a better offer. I come home emotionally drained every single day. I want to do something I actually enjoy and care about. I want to work for someone who treats me like a human being. I want to be happy.

    Thanks for the tips, Dawn. Hopefully this can make the remainder of my time here more bearable.


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