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How am I Supposed to Thrive when I Hate my Job?

5 strategies to boost happiness and well-being when you can’t just walk out the door tomorrow.

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Dread Monday mornings?  You’re hardly alone. Monday jokes are so commonplace that we don’t even register that there’s something wrong with the idea of dreading our return to our work.

But what if you feel like you can’t leave your job or career right now – whether because of the pandemic, student loans, supporting a sick family member, or just because you have no idea what else you would want to do?

It probably will be really important for your medium-to-long term well-being for you to make that change. But you don’t have to suffer in misery until you leave. There’s a lot you can do to help yourself feel better exactly where you are now.

Here are some strategies that can help.

Reconnect with Purpose.  

Finding some connection between your job and what is meaningful and valuable to you can help you get through your workday on a daily basis.

Try to very consciously think about how your company’s work benefits someone in a way that feels meaningful to you. Even if you *really* don’t care about what your company does, there is often some benefit downstream that can resonate as important to you. 

And if you can’t find that?

Try to deliberately and mindfully appreciate what this job is providing to you personally – the ability to support yourself and/or your family, to pay off student loans or credit card debt, to give to causes you care about, or perhaps to save to fund a career change. Really pause and feel the feelings of gratitude.

Just watch what you make it mean: don’t make connecting with a purpose mean that you should stay at this job.

Set yourself up for a win, every day. 

When you accomplish a goal, your brain registers it as a win and you get an accompanying spike of the feel-good endorphin dopamine. This means that regularly setting and achieving goals can increase your everyday happiness.

Try determining your most important priorities for the week and then deciding on 1-2 realistic, achievable goals each day that serve those priorities.  This isn’t your to-do list – it’s not about increasing productivity (although it will help you focus on your most important work). It’s about deliberately setting up your neurotransmitters to increase your happiness and energy  

Reject perfect. Embrace good enough.

If you feel shocked and guilty at the idea of giving less than 110% to your work, let’s look at it from your employer’s perspective. Does it really benefit them if you spend three extra hours making an internal slide deck look perfect?  Isn’t their bottom line better served if you get it done and move on to a different project?  Sure, some things may need to be done perfectly – a contract or pricing document, for example. But in a lot of cases, getting something done is far superior to doing it perfectly. Start asking yourself what parts of your work this may be true for – and then try it. 

I’m not telling you to do sloppy or bad work. Doing bad work will likely just make you feel bad, and we’re trying to maximize your energy and positivity. I’m saying to work smart. Do good work. And stop when it’s good enough.

Savor the small joys every day.

Deliberately pause and really savor the things you are enjoying in your day – the scent or taste of your morning coffee, the feel of the sun on your skin as you step outside, a sweet interaction with a child or pet.  Close your eyes and really focus on that feeling of enjoyment for a few seconds. Notice it how it amplifies as you focus your attention on it.  

Doing this a few times every day will start strengthening those neural pathways that help you connect to joy and happiness. The more you use them, the stronger they will get – and the more easily your brain will register enjoyment.  

Begin and end the day (or workday) with gratitude.  

Bookending the day with gratitude is another opportunity to strengthen neural connections to positive emotions, which makes it easier for you to access those emotions.

Try starting the day with a 5-minute meditation where you focus on something you are grateful for – no matter how small.  Then at the end of the day, spend a few minutes writing down 1-3 things you’re grateful for from the day.

As you continue to do this, you’ll start noticing more and more moments of gratitude, peace and joy in your daily life, which ultimately means more happiness for you.

Give these strategies a try and see how they boost your well-being and energy until you figure out what you want next or otherwise are able to make a change. You may still dislike your work, but you and your life will be happier.

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