Life Happiness = Work Happiness (Not the Other Way Around)

Today, a very cherished employee left my company.  Not only was she phenomenal at her job (god help her replacement), she was a genuinely great person to have around.  No matter what was going on, she always did her best and kept everyone motivated with a smile on her face.

As she made her rounds saying her good-byes, I thought about how strange it will feel without her warm, positive presence around the office.  Whenever I felt down or self-conscious at work, anytime I had a meeting with her or even saw her in the hallway, her smile always made me feel better.  I’ve worked in eight offices, each with a completely different vibe and energy, and I’ve realized it’s VERY rare to find people who make you smile.

It’s very easy, almost too easy, to let life’s bullshit bring you down, especially at work.  At one of the offices I worked in, it seemed like there were only two people (out of sixty) who didn’t look completely miserable.  For over a year, I was one of them.  I didn’t have the most exciting job, but it caused me zero stress, I made friends in the office, and my paycheck (barely) allowed me to live in my own (tiny) apartment and have fun with my friends.  But somewhere along the way that stopped being enough.  I got this idea in my head that my job defined who I was.  I mean “what do you do?” is usually one of the first things you ask someone when you meet them for the first time.  Suddenly I wasn’t fulfilled by my job and before I knew it, I was miserable at work.  I decided I needed to make a change, so I found a new job in a new city and set out to start a new life.  You know what happened?  I was still miserable.  Even more than I was before.  Thus began, the year of job hopping.  In one year, I had five different jobs at five different jobs.  To my credit, only two of them were full-time, but three of them had the potential to become full-time (the other was freelance because I needed the money).  Every time I switched jobs it was a huge blow to my self-esteem.  If my self-esteem had been a log at that first job, it had been whittled down to a toothpick by the time I got to my current job.

It’s been almost two years since I made the decision to leave that first job, and I finally learned what my problem was – as corny as it sounds, I was putting all my eggs in one basket.  I was looking at my job as not only my identity, but as an indicator of my self-worth.  As I mentioned, my jobs didn’t work out which I internalized as me not working out.  I believed everything that went wrong must have been some reflection of myself.  When you feel that way inside, it’s almost impossible not to show it on the outside.  Even if you don’t realize you’re doing it; if you feel miserable, you probably look miserable.

You know what else I learned?  Happy people avoid miserable people.  Not in the sense that they don’t want to help someone who’s upset.  Think of it this way – if you’re walking down the street and you see someone stomping down the sidewalk looking pissed or upset, you’re probably not going to smile at them and say “good morning!”  I know this is New York so saying “good morning” would be weird even if the person looked happy, but you get what I’m saying.  Frowns and scowls are not inviting.

But what if your job is making you miserable?  Then what do you do?  I never advocate pretending to be happy or forcing a smile.  Forced smiles usually make people look insane.  If you’re stuck at your job until you find a new one or get through a rough patch, do this instead – put it in perspective.  Easier said than I done, I know.  I have to actively do this a lot because I take every single thing WAY too personally, but I swear it helps.

Think about this:

  • Does your job allow you to pay for rent and/or groceries?
  • Does your job give you health insurance or other benefits?
  • Does your job allow you to do fun things with your friends (like going out to dinner) or for yourself (like buying a new shirt)?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then that’s a reason to be happy; you have something that gives you something you want.  Try to look at the things in your life that make you happy and feel good about yourself.  Like I feel really good when I’m out with my friends.  My job allows me the time, since I don’t work 90 hours a week, and the salary to be able to go out for dinner or drinks.  I don’t make enough to do it every night, but then again I wouldn’t want to go out every night.  My job also allows me to pay rent for my apartment which is where I get to spend time doing other things that make me feel happy and important, like writing or cooking dinner for my boyfriend.

It’s taken me two years to realize this and is still something I have to remind myself, but there are lots of things in life to be happy and grateful for, even if one big thing makes you unhappy.  When work makes me feel inadequate and useful, I try to remember that my job title is not my whole identity.  I may be a technical writer, but I’m also a blogger, a whiskey enthusiast, a dancer, a CrossFitter, an animal lover, a cook, and a lot of other things.  I’m lucky to have a job, even when it makes me stressed or upset, because it lets me be some of those things (especially a whiskey enthusiast) and have the freedom and ability to become other things.

If your job is bringing you down, try to focus on what it allows you to do, no matter how small.  That way you’ll feel better about yourself and create a positive environment around you.  Who knows, maybe you’ll be the smiling person that helps other people who are feeling down feel better.

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