Why do we keep on doing jobs we don’t like?

Our culture has created a series of stories about work – stories that I would like to challenge.

  1. Money (and/or the stuff it can buy) makes you happy.
  2. To get the money to make you happy, you work.
  3. If you’re not happy enough, it’s because you don’t have enough money.
  4. If you don’t have enough money, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. So work harder.

Let’s take these one at a time, to see if they withstand closer examination.

1. Money (and/or the stuff it can buy) makes you happy.

Maslow's hierarchyOf course, it’s hard to be happy if you don’t have enough food or water, or a roof over your head. For the half of the world’s population that lives on less than $2.50 a day, clearly having more money would make it easier for them to be happy. But most, if not all, of you reading this blog, are in a very different income bracket, and research in the US has shown that once household income reaches $75,000, emotional wellbeing reaches a plateau.

And, in fact, being seriously rich comes with its own problems. Yes, I know that most of us are not exactly weeping for the world’s gazillionaires and their first world problems, but the point is that there is no direct correlation between money and happiness. A recent article by the Danish founder of Basecamp reinforces this point (The Day I Became A Millionaire).

If you’re interested and want to read more on this, Sonja Lyubomirsky is a leading authority on money and happiness, and there is an illuminating excerpt from her book, The Myths of Happiness, here.

2. To get the money to make you happy, you work.

This may seem like a statement of the blindingly obvious to most people. You work, you get paid, right? And if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. Tough.

But there are other ways of approaching the need to make a living, and I realise this may get controversial here, because this is so much the opposite of our widespread cultural myth.

For the entrepreneurial perspective on how to make money without getting a job, check out Steve Pavlina’s tough love article – 10 Reasons You Should Never Get A Job. I wouldn’t go as far as Steve – there is nothing wrong with having a job, so long as it fulfils you, and you know that having a job is your choice, not a necessity.

And there is also a spiritual perspective, which I’ve been playing with for the last few months – and it’s working for me. For the super-quick version, check out this Deepak Chopra video (3 mins).

making a livingOh, and Steve Pavlina has something to say about that too.

Essentially, it’s about recognising that you have something unique to offer the world (which you discover by following your curiosity and your joy), and allowing the Universe to support you while you do your life’s work. The tricky part (for me, anyway) is to suspend disbelief and wholeheartedly experience that trust, so deeply embedded is our cultural myth. It takes a leap of faith to give this approach a try, but there’s really no downside, and it’s really a lot of fun.

For more on this, check out Stever Robbins’s real-life experiment with living an extraordinary life.

3. If you’re not happy enough, it’s because you don’t have enough money.

See (1) above. Personally, I’ve experienced deep unhappiness while being financial comfortable, and I’ve experienced great joy while being financially on the edge.

So if you’re not happy, it’s worth doing the deep work to find out what’s really going on. You may well find it’s absolutely nothing to do with your bank balance.

4. If you don’t have enough money, it’s because you’re not working hard enough. So work harder.

hamster-wheelSee all of the above. If happiness isn’t (necessarily) correlated to income, and income isn’t (necessarily) correlated to work, then how is working harder going to make your life better? Isn’t there a real possibility that working harder is going to make you feel even more stressed and exhausted, with even less time to think about what will really fulfil you and bring you joy?


What do you think? What is your experience? What rings true for you? Please post a comment and let me know!




  • Thank you for the inspiration, Roz, and for sharing all these great resources! When things don’t go the way we want them to, we put more effort, but effort with a conflicted mind leads to more conflict and disappointment. We must first clear our mind, which often requires taking a break from work!

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  • Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel encouraged and empowered to do all of the measures necessary to make the proper decision. I’ve always suspected that the job I’m in now doesn’t match my skills. I’m looking forward to reading more from you.

    • I’m doing a lot of work around purpose at the moment – creating an online course, and I’ll also be coaching a group of women later this year around the topic of finding and following purpose. So you can count on a lot more about this! I hope you find some useful tips for finding work that fulfils you.

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