What do I do if I’m unhappy at Work?

Every person becomes unhappy at work at some time or another. It’s the natural emotional ebb and flow of being human. Even the best job has its problems.

You probably have certain expectations that can’t be met. These expectations must be emotionally bridged or you will constantly be grasping for unattainable happiness.

This article is not about settling for a crappy job. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. I believe you need to use your superpowers at work so you can optimize our present happiness while planning your most rewarding future.

Superpowers are actions that excite you, get you in the zone, and play to your strengths. If you aren’t using your superpowers at work you are missing out on doing meaningful work that will engage every part of your mind.

First you must allow yourself to feel and understand your present situation. A good scream or a good cry can cleanse the mind. It all depends on the person. When you allow yourself to feel the emotion that is blocking you from moving on, then you can accept your current situation.

After accepting this emotion, you have limitless ability to learn from this process.

The only way to understand what type of work will bring you the most happiness in the future is to understand your present self. That means dealing with your emotions and building internal tools.

Learn to watch your emotions when they occur, then create a plan that will help you explore and encourage personal growth. Some of this may be painful, but believe me it’s a good pain. It’s this pain that will help make you smarter and emotionally stronger. I don’t mean stronger as in more stoic. I define emotional strength as the ability to process emotions and bring the mind back into balance.

After studying videos, articles, myself, and my co-workers, I’ve put together a list of 8 tasks that will help you work happier.

  1. Find meaning.
  2. Become more aware of self-talk.
  3. Don’t take interactions personally.
  4. Help someone else become happy.
  5. Remember 3 good things.
  6. Utilize Smart Breaks.
  7. Speak up and take Action.
  8. Use More of Your Strengths.

These are concepts that are easy to understand, but may be hard to implement. You’ll need to practice these to make sure they become a part of you. I’ll break them down so you can apply them to your working life.

1. Find Meaning

If you believe in the work you do, it will be easier to connect to each task.

It’s a simple equation.

Blood + Sweat + Tears = Passion

People who are passionate about their work will do almost anything to make sure the job is done well.

The problem many of us have is that we can’t connect with the work we are presently doing.

Maybe you don’t believe in the service or product.

I met a BMW salesman on a bus ride back from New York City who took a pay cut to sell Honda cars. He didn’t believe that BMW’s value was worth the extra expense. He did believe in Honda’s value to price ratio. So instead of selling a car he didn’t believe in, he switched jobs to have an easier time connecting with his product. The best part is that within six months he was making more money because his customers sent their friends and family members to him. He received twice as many word of mouth sales. This happened because he believed in his product.

You need to find a way to connect with your job. I would suggest that you start by listing all of the aspects of your products and services that deliver value. A few of these items should ping your heart.

If you can’t find value in anything you are doing, then you probably need to find a new job.

If a few of these items from your list tug at your emotions, then expand on them. How can you consistently keep these feelings at the forefront of your brain as you work?

You should keep these emotional stimulators in a place where you can see them. If you are feeling down and your energy is broken, then read over these stimulators and try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who needs your product or service.

If you find that these emotional stimulators aren’t doing the trick, then you need to become more aware of the internal story that prevents you from connecting to your work.

2. Become more aware of self-talk

You have continual dialog going on inside your head. The dialog can be positive, negative, or neutral.

It’s what you do with this dialog that will determine your perspective.

You’ve probably seen a co-worker who can take almost any situation in stride. They seem to have a magical ability to roll with their problems. This talent is largely due to the way that they communicate with themselves.

I worked along side a friend who could find the joy in every situation. I was amazed by her ability. During my time with her, I was at a point in my career where I was so pessimistic that I couldn’t see even a sliver of joy in the work that I did.

I studied her, watching her ability to enjoy even the most stressful situation.

The most important reason for her emotional success was her ability to talk herself through a problem. There were times when I could hear her whispering encouraging thoughts or jokes to make herself giggle.

She took her inner dialog to a new level. Instead of allowing her “self-talk” to beat herself up she used it to find a constructive point of view. She built upon each thought, allowing her thoughts to take her to an internal place that brought her joy.

You have this ability too. When you are in a stressful situation, watch your thoughts and see how they add or subtract to your happiness. If you are having thoughts that subtract from your joy, then try to offset this with fresh angles that help you see the positive. I usually try to think of things for which I am grateful. This helps me stay balanced.

By noticing what you are grateful for, you’ll expand your choices. The more positive choices you have the more likely you will feel happy.

3. Don’t Take Interactions Personally

I went to a therapist when I was in my mid twenties. I needed help. I was constantly frustrated by work, relationships and life in general.

My biggest struggle was relationships. I was afraid to joke around with new friends for fear of hurting someone else’s feelings. I was also afraid of what people thought of me. There were times when I decided to stay home instead of putting myself at risk of being judged by others.

Yep, I was a mess.

I thought that if I isolated myself from the pain that I would be happier. This only made me even more unhappy.

We all know that we shouldn’t take other people’s comments personally because they are just dealing with their own problems. I look at how angry and sad many people are. They never feel that they are treated fairly at work, in traffic or at home.

Most of the time these people are signaling others to treat them unfairly. It goes back to creating positive inner dialog. Instead of letting other people’s negative comments bring us down, we need to see every interaction as an opportunity for growth.

I’ve learned that people who speak negatively about other people really see this trait in themselves. They only see life from their perspective. They haven’t been able to expand beyond their own issues.

The way you can adjust your perspective on other people’s comments is to empathize with them. You can allow them to say what is on their mind, without taking it personally. You will be taking the first step toward mastering your own emotions.

Whenever someone makes an upsetting comment about you, it helps to ask yourself, “Why do they feel this way about themselves?” You’ll eventually stop putting the blame on yourself.

When you stop taking everything personally you can find ways to bring joy to your relationships without fear of what someone might say about you.

4. Help Someone Else Become Happy

Your happiness can expand if you help someone else become happy at work. I can cite about a dozen articles about the psychology of this process, but most of them a pretty dry and boring.

It’s better to demonstrate by using an example that I know you’ve all experienced.

Laughter. Yes, the endorphin releasing experience that we all love so much.

When you make someone laugh, how does it make you feel? It makes you feel good. It’s a basic part of being human.

Making someone else laugh is the same as helping someone at work: when you do it, you increase your own happiness. You stop worrying about yourself and focus on making someone else happy. The best part is that you improve your own happiness at the same time.

I finally found one quote that resonated with me:

“When I’m feeling a bit down and I stop myself and say, ‘Let’s forget about me for a moment and do something nice for others,’ the negative feelings subside, and a sense of bliss flows in to replace them. It’s quite simple in practice. The challenge is remembering to do it.”
– Steve Pavlina’s article Afternoon of Life

This trait is the basis of all good friendships.

5. Remember 3 Good Things

When you take the time to remember 3 good things, you are training yourself to see the positive in each day. A friend of mine, Alex Krujelf the Chief Happiness Officer, gave me this tip.

Many of us actually do the opposite: we look at all the upsetting things that happened in our day, thinking that if we look over our mistakes we can avoid repeating them. This causes us to focus on the negative and beat ourselves up.

When I first started practicing the “3 Good Things” habit, I noticed a difference right away. Despite the fact, that my job at the time, was dragging me down. I found any tiny bit of joy that was in my day and added it to my list. By the time I was done listing three things, my mood had always picked up and I found myself looking for the positives in other things.

You can apply this habit at the end of your work day too. This is a perfect activity for your commute home. If you work from home, then remove yourself from your home office and take five minutes to remember three good things that happened to you that day.

6. Utilize Smart Breaks

Smart breaks replenish the mind and body. Without a good break between tasks, you won’t be able to stay productive. You know how inefficient your brain becomes when you work too hard, whether you are studying or working on a project for hours at a time. You get cranky and start to cut corners.

The difference between a smart break and a regular leisure break is the focus. Anyone can take a break, but most breaks don’t really help you release your stress and prepare you to go back to work. A smart break is an optimized break that allows you to rejuvenate yourself.

I’ve been guilty of not taking smart breaks. I would waste my “break time” either stressing out about the task I was working on or worrying about something else in my life. I had trouble relaxing my mind in order to replenish my creativity.

I needed to learn to relax in the moment and not let any thoughts distract me from my purpose.  When I returned to work on my project and I could still feel my mind going to mush, I figured out that the best thing for me to do was just to get up and start walking somewhere, anywhere. My favorite place is outside. Nature is a great source of calm and replenishes my energy. I’ve found that a walk outside allows me to go back to work with a fresh angle on the problem.

The best part about taking smart breaks is that the more a person utilizes this stress reducer, the more it helps. It also takes less time with practice. You will eventually learn to recognize when you need a break and know exactly how to reenergize yourself back to feeling good. A few years ago I needed 15 – 20 minutes to replenish my energy. Now I can usually recharge in 5 – 10 minutes.

Once you find out what works best for you, just keep tweaking it until it becomes a habit that you look forward to. Once smart breaks become a part of your routine, you’ll find that you are more motivated and productive.

7. Speak Up and Take Action

You may be the most peaceful person in the world and perhaps this makes you happy, but when you aren’t being treated fairly you have to speak up. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

Bullying at work has become an epidemic that needs to be addresses by every organization.

“From the data obtained, the researchers tell SINC that 14% of the respondents have confirmed having suffered situations of psychological abuse over the past six months, with 5.8% suffering frequently and the rest, 8.2%, occasionally.”
– escience news from the article Bullies have harassed 14 percent of workers over past 6 months

This research was done in Spain, but bullies are in every organization.

I had a boss who loved to bully me. He would verbally abuse me. He once told me that he could have a monkey do a better job than me. There were days when I would go home and cry. I felt lost and out of options.

I hope that you never experience this situation, and if you do then please create a plan to change it and take quick action.

That may mean talking to the person who is bulling you or finding a better situation. You have options and people do want to help, but only you can take control of your happiness.

8. Use More of Your Strengths

As I age, I learn more about what I’m good at and what type of projects energize me. I love the thrill of discovery and teaching. That’s why I love Work Happy Now. I’m constantly discovering what makes me and my readers happy at work, then finding the best angle to teach others how to discover their own work happiness.

It wasn’t until a few years ago, after studying hours of career speakers on YouTube, Ted, and dozens of other sites, that I realized the importance of working with my strengths. I realized that my strength was in writing to discover.

I never thought of discovery as a strength, but it certainly is. I just thought it was just something I did. Once I understood what excited me, I tried to do more of the type of work that fit with my strengths.

You can also find a way to use your own strengths at your job so you can leverage more happiness. That may mean volunteering for work that you enjoy doing even if you have a full plate. Hopefully your manager and co-workers will notice and try to give you more work of this kind.

Bear in mind that this will take patience. It takes time to retrain people on what type of work to give you.

You Can be Happy at Work

Now is the time to feel happy at work. You can’t live for retirement. That’s no way to survive.

You should never settle for average. You have a ton of creativity and energy within you; all you need to do is find the right fit. It just takes a plan and some action to make it happen.

If you need a little more help… I’ve put together a Happy at Work Project to help you discover your own work happiness. The Happy at Work Project PDF (it’s free!) is a document that will help you diagnose your issues. If you like it, you can email me at karl (AT) workhappynow (DOT) com and I’ll send you the Work Happy Now Weekly Planner and Resolution Ideas. They will help you build upon your foundation.

Whether you need a little tweak at your current job or a complete overhaul, don’t put it off any longer.

You have an opportunity to do great work that makes you feel happy and excited. Don’t let this moment slip away. It may seem like a difficult task, but I promise if you build slowly, you will find yourself in the career of your dreams in no time.


Sometimes we just need to slow down and simplify our lives. That’s why I visit Zen Habits. It always gives me a new persective on every day issues.


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Images courtesy of Teriyaki Matz’ and Éole


  1. Sounds like you are on the right track to me, great post. Turn your thoughts to what you like about your job, not what you don’t like. Place your thoughts on what kind of job you prefer and with patience, the universe will bring that into your life. Linda

  2. What a great post about dealing with a job that doesn’t make you happy! You have some really excellent insights here and I’m glad you posted this because I will definitely be putting your advice to use in my own life. I really think #8 is the most important. There are always ways to use and develop your strengths and that should be something we all focus on in our jobs.

  3. Hi Karl: Like Thoreau said, the vast majority of men (and women)live lives of quiet desperation. And most of that desperation comes from having jobs they don’t enjoy. These are great tips for people to follow as they plan their escape to something better.

  4. Tom Volkar / Delightful Work says:

    Hey Karl,

    Yours is a good list because any one of your tips will work. They all suggest an action that has one shift mind focus from unhappiness to something else. Happiness is self-created from within out. That’s the bottom line. No event will sustain our happiness only our choice to be happy now. 😉

  5. This is something I struggle with now that I’ve got my own business running well but I am still tied to a contract. Not that I’m unhappy with my contribution, but I’m burned out.

    I still haven’t found a way to struggle through the bad days, except to lean on my experience and realize that all bad things must come to an end. Perseverance and having a goal in sight are the two things that help me most.

  6. I like your prescriptive guidance and your tips resonate.

    I’m especially glad you included help someone else be happy. It’s a great forcing function with a great by-product.

  7. Hi Positively Present, when we focus on our strengths it makes work a lot more fun.

    Hi Linda, turning the thoughts in a positive direction will put any person on the right track.

    Hi Marelisa, no one should live a life of desperation. We have too many options in this day and age.

    Hi Nathan, I like how you said it. Perserverance and having a goal in sight is two the the keys to making your career a blissful one.

    Hi Tom, when our core is happy the rest of our lives fall in place.

    Hi J.D., when we give to others happiness flows back to us.

  8. Great tips! I always told myself that work shouldn’t feel like work, in order for you to be happy. Did that make sense? I don’t know how else to explain it. Just be passionate about your work, find some inspiration, and think positive!

  9. Karl,

    you’re 6 amazing techniques to staying happy during a stressful project really helped me out this week. i’ve been really lazy and not getting much done despite the huge life of tasks before me, couldn’t understand why. Just wanted to show my appreciation.


  10. hey your article is so good.i am also very lazy for that mater.but i like your article.

  11. That example under “Find meaning” was note-worthy… Yes,it is very important to be able to connect to what you are doing, or you will feel like you are stuck in a strange place doing something that you yourself do not agree with.

  12. I was positive and happy until I got laid-off. Didn’t see it coming. Loved my job. What hurt most…others who didn’t do anything still have a job. Sadly, they are still there.

  13. A very good read and advice that can be easily applied. Turning your thoughts away from the intropesctive kind and taking action makes life better.
    I especially like the tip to make someone else happy because your mind has to be creative to do so and you’re taking your thoughts away from your own situation. The result: two happier people! Just think if we all did this one thing everyday how much happier we’d be.

  14. May be what makes me happy with my work is that whatever I do I do it as a way to please God for God told us to work and as return His blessing will come down upon us.

  15. So I need your advice 🙂

    Don’t get me wrong I am very lucky I have a job, I am a manager at a Company that makes computers for the military. I love the people I work with but I have a boss and a job that’s very demanding. I wake up at 4:30 AM, Drive 41 miles to work, start work at 6:30. I have approx. 15 people working for me at one time, 4 direct and around 11 contractors from 3 companies. They work 24/7, taking turns of course, days, nights, weekends but I have to be handy to answer emails… I get over 200 emails per day and also keep active status on approx. 17 to 20 high end jobs (designs) at one time… Then I have to report to directors and managers 3 times per week or on demand… when asked.
    I am not happy with my job, to much demand… I leave at 4:00 pm then I have an hour drive home … I work out then go back on-line to clean up additional email. My job is to keep things going. My boss is the type of guy that knows how to work people… demands a lot, then makes you feel good but you know that he is just working you… So I am in search of something else… I want more for me… I also have a home, family and car payments so have to be careful of what I do. I do appreciate my job and life… but I am 53 this month and really want more.
    I have been with Engineering type people all my life. I took a Hypnosis Certification class a year ago and met some people that really were different, interesting and fun… Makes you think maybe I went the wrong direction all my life…
    So here I am spilling to you, if you have any advice please let me know.

  16. I am really enjoying these posts. Sometimes I cut and paste certain points and provide copies to my staff. Especially the 8 tasks that will help you work happier.

    • Hi Kim, I’m glad to hear you enjoy the articles on this blog. We all need to improve our happiness at work because it improves productivity, creativity, and relationships. If you ever need any advice please feel free to contact me.

  17. I used to be happy at my job. I loved what I did. But then I had to take some medical leave due to a very painful back injury (2 ruptured discs), my boss promoted one of the folks I supervise to a coordinator position, gave her 90% of my duties, and hardly anyone talks to me anymore.

    I don’t know what to do. We used to be a fairly close-knit work-family, now I find out that one of the girls who has been planning a wedding for 2 years – she invited everyone to the wedding but me. It really hurts my feelings.

    I’m going to try what you have listed here to see if I can turn this situation around. I’ve been at this company for 14 years and I don’t want to leave, but I am so unhappy. 🙁

  18. This article is not about settling for a crappy job. That’s the furthest thing from my mind. I believe we need to optimize our present happiness while planning our most rewarding future.

  19. Bob McCluskey says:

    It’s important to list what you like and dislike about a job. Then decide whether you can change the things you dislike. If so, set goals to do so. If not, you have to decide whether you are willing to put up with the things you dislike in order to keep the job.

  20. Julia Baker says:

    I could not agree with you more about your point on not taking things personally. I’ve had more than my fair share of disappointing jobs that I couldn’t leave and found myself surrounded by people just as miserable about the situation as I was. With all the griping and complaining going on it was impossible to maintain a healthy positive attitude, particularly when you allowed yourself to take things personally. As soon as I figured out how to look at all my work interactions as professional and not personal I could slowly claw my way back to sanity.


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