Unhappily Employed: How to Improve Your Attitude about Work

Francoise de Motteville, a 17th-century biographer, believed that “the true way to render ourselves happy is to love our work and find in it our pleasure.” Many find it hard to obtain any satisfaction, let alone happiness, in the work they do every day. Is it possible to be happy at work?

For years, the amount of research and attention were given to happiness at work has increased. Books are published, studies are commissioned and reports are produced year after year that all say it is possible to be happy at work. Somewhat different is the reality that the majority of the workforce indicates high levels of job dissatisfaction.

Barbara Moses, author of “What Next? The Complete Guide to Taking Control of Your Working Life”, believes there is a reason for the high levels of unsatisfied workers. “Realistically, it’s unreasonable to expect to be happy all the time. No job is perfect,” said Moses. “You aren’t wrong or strange if your job isn’t a major source of personal happiness.”

There are all kinds of reasons why people enter the workforce in the first place. They include everything from making money to self-expression to personal fulfillment. For some people, “work is not the centerpiece of their identity,” said Moses. Others define themselves by the work they do. You must identify which you are. If you view work as a means to an end, you will more than likely seek happiness in activities and relationships outside of work to bring balance to your life. If your work defines you, a career that affirms your value system is a must for you to experience happiness.

In his book, “Who Am I? The 16 Basic Desires that Motivate Our Actions and Define Our Personalities”, Dr. Steven Reiss introduces what he calls “value-based happiness.” He believes that we only experience happiness when we satisfy our natural desires. Value-based happiness, therefore, becomes an equalizer. “You can find value-based happiness if you are rich or poor, smart or mentally challenged, athletic or clumsy, popular or socially awkward,” said Reiss in a past Psychology Today article.

“Happiness and life-satisfaction stem not from experiencing pleasure and avoiding pain,” he said. “But from a sense that our lives have meaning and fulfill a larger purpose.”

The 16 desires Reiss identifies are: curiosity, acceptance, order, physical activity, honor, power, independence, social contact, family, status, idealism, vengeance, romance, eating, saving and tranquility. Learn more about the Reiss Profile here.

Reiss encourages everyone to identify their deepest desires and then seek work in those areas. “To do well in career and enjoy life, people need to be in a job and work environment that is compatible with their intrinsic desires,” he said.

This is easier said than done for some people. “Everyone who has experienced a bad work situation knows how personally destructive it is,” said Moses. She recommends asking yourself one question: If your work is making you unhappy, what’s keeping you there?

A massive problem for many people is not knowing what would make them happy. It could be that your work environment is not compatible with your intrinsic values. Or, it could mean that you need to do some simple self-evaluation to determine what it would take to restore happiness to your job and life.

In addition to completing a Reiss Profile, consider a few strategies Moses provided in her CareerJournal.com article, “Should You Expect Happiness at Work?” Moses encourages the unhappy worker to:

  • Identify the source of your unhappiness
  • Evaluate your options
  • Think about when you were last happy to determine what has changed
  • Look outside your work for possible causes
  • Be bold and assert your right to feel good about your work

While doing these things won’t guarantee you will find happiness at work, it is a starting point to begin the journey to happiness at work. As you explore where you are and where you desire to be, remember that true happiness begins with you choosing an attitude of happiness.


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