Why Being Happy at Your Job is a Silly Idea

Where did we get this idea from, that we should be happy at our jobs?

“As long as you’re happy in your job….”

“When you’re happy with your job, it won’t feel like work….”

How often have you heard someone say things like this to you? This idea of a job bringing happiness, continuous joy to the extent that the pure emotion overrides any lack of income, free time, or control is silly, and I think we all need to stop saying it.

“But I am happy in my job!” That one person will say. No, I say. The dictionary may say that joy, contentedness, satisfaction are all synonyms for happiness, but I disagree. Some of us are lucky and privileged enough to find work in fields we are passionate about, but even then, there is no guarantee for joy. What is this weird pressure to find happiness from working for someone/something else? And if we are not happy in our jobs, then it is our fault– we are lazy, we are over-qualified, we are under-qualified, we are overpaid and compensate with over-indulging, or we are under-paid and must take on another job to balance the other.

What if we stopped creating this unreasonable pressure to “be happy” at our jobs? In fact, what if we stopped asking about happiness altogether?

I think the word has taken on larger definitions than the dictionary can hold. I think the word, and the pursuit of the emotion it promises leads so many of us to wonder….. “Why aren’t I happier?” I do not believe humans are meant to “feel happy” one hundred percent of the time. Even if nothing is catastrophically wrong with our lives, this does not equate to happiness all day.

Instead of inquiring about happiness, I choose to focus on joy. I think a good job would be one where we experience moments of joy on every shift. More than that, such a job would ideally make us feel that we are the best human being for that job, that something about our person, our character, and our experience would make us specially qualified and needed at that particular job.

When someone asks, “Are you happy?” I want to clarify. In this moment? This hour? Eating this ice cream cone? Sure. But luckily, thankfully, I have this super-complex brain that allows me to feel more than one emotion at a time. I can have a good day, get momentarily mad when a driver cuts me off on the highway, feel an appropriate emotional response to it, and then feel “neutral” for the rest of my drive home. Not being happy, or not feeling happy does not automatically mean a person is experiencing a negative emotion. Can you actually imagine feeling true happiness ALL DAY? It would be exhausting!

“A lifetime of happiness? No man can bear it: it would be hell on earth.” -George Bernard

Feeling content, sure. Feeling grateful, sure. Feeling thoughtful, sure. Feeling open to moments of joy throughout the day, absolutely.

Moments of joy, not happiness. This is the reality, and I do not see anything wrong or lesser in that description. As writer Eric Wilson wrote, “To desire only happiness in a world undoubtedly tragic is to become inauthentic”.


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