Can you be happy at work AND unhappy?

QuestionGerardo Amaya asks this question:

I don’t know if you’ve already talked about this, but this thought really disturbed me. I heard a lady talking at a friend’s birthday party about her retirement. She said that she has never been happier since then, but the phrase that really makes me wonder was, when she said “I loved my work, but since my retirement I can finally do the things I really love”.

Looks to me like an oxymoron, but can this be true? She used to work as a financial adviser and she said that despite the fact that she is retired, she loves to make all the financial reports and calculations for her house budget because she misses it to much, so I guess she still loved the financial world.

Can you see the conflict here? So my question is, she loves her job, but she was wanting something else, but when she retires she had that something but misses her job. Is it possible that she loved her work but never realized it while looking forward for retirement? Can we say that she was happy and now she is not?

That’s a great question – how can you both enjoy what you do and yet long to put it aside in favor of other pursuits.

I don’t really have an answer for this. What do you think? Please write a comment, I’d really like to know your take.

18 thoughts on “Can you be happy at work AND unhappy?”

  1. I don’t think that the two statements are necessarily contradictory. One can like or love more than one thing at a time (as long as you’re not married…)

    Underlying all this might be a love of, for example, completing a difficult piece of work. When employed, one might love one’s work because it gives one the opportunity to plan, execute, and complete a task that is useful and good. When retired, one might love, for example, gardening, and completing a difficult job of preparin the soil, planting seeds, and tending the garden, all resulting in beautiful flowers or delicious vegetables and fruits, is the same love expressed in a differnet medium.

    By the way, I went on a job interview a few days ago and used some of the interview questions about happiness at work; they went down a treat and I believe that exploring why people are happy with their jobs is very valuable to stimulate discussion during an interview that is mostly about dull stuff like what you did in your last few jobs. Thanks for the tip!

  2. I agree with Chris.

    Many people have interests in more than one thing at a time, but are unable to pursue all of them due to many factors. Time can be one of the times freed up from retirement, and thus allowing retirees to pursue the passions they had.

    Sometimes we find certain skills used in work, but other skills seem neglected. We desire to use them, yet we hesitate to step out and try it. We may never realise we have these skills until we start pursuing something new.

    I believe there are good and bad, likable and less favorable parts of jobs/events and everything else. We might like aspects of a job, but at the same time we’re longing to try something entirely new. I guess it’s the conflict.

    Between the spare time after work, family and other commitments, do we choose to spend extra time pursuing our passion?

    As for ways of exploring your passions, I suggest searching for information. Join relevant organisations, check out books in your library, or even ask friends and colleagues to see if they have or can refer you. Having an organisation to support you gives you a wealth of shared knowledge where you can rapidly expand your horizons.
    Volunteer in the organisation gives you hands on approach to test out whether you really enjoy your passion to carry it on. Or perhaps a short course will do. It is really up to you.

  3. It might be he was happy and now she is not. A lot of people look forward to retirement BUT that’s a serious health risk. Retired people tend to die faster… :o)

    Ideally you should never ever retire. Manage the time better BUT never retire.

  4. To follow along Chris and Angela, this retiree could be a renaissance soul as I’d consider myself. She might have more interests than a lifetime can handle, so to be able to achieve anything, she had to make choices. One of those was her day job, and apparently she chose one that she enjoyed. Now, however, she has an opportunity to shift her focus and devote time to one of her likely multiple other passions that have been simmering in the back of her mind.

  5. It’s a deeper question… Can you really be happy and retired? You can be happy and on holiday (for a week or two), but eventually you would be mind-numbingly bored.

    Our society seems to have swallowed the lie that ‘being’ is more enjoyable that ‘doing’. Is lying on a beach really more fun than learning a language or playing the piano? Personally, I am never more fulfilled that when being creative or acheiving goals.

    And I’m not alone.

    So work is not primarily something we do to make money. It’s a place we contribute (and gain) value.

  6. I have to add my voice to the chorus of people that say it’s possible to be happy doing work and yet be *more* happy when you’re doing something else you love even more!

    Currently, my job involves:
    * developing software for clients
    * being ridiculously good-looking

    But what I eventually would love to do is:
    * write full-time
    * continue to be ridiculously good-looking

    I would love the latter even more than the former, but I am blessed to really enjoy what I do anyway, so it’s not so much “work” as it is “what I do to entertain myself”! What a great way to be!

  7. I like my job, but I would love to be financially well off enough to spend all my time on artwork that won’t necessarily net me much (or any) income at all. Curse this need to, well, eat and all that.

    Long time lurker, first time poster.

  8. Did you see “Brewsters Millions”?

    You may like smoking a cigar, but you hate smoking a cigar all the time without escape. It’s similar with work and leisure. You may love your work and you may love gardening, but you hate doing gardening all the time and not doing work at all, or vice versa.

    So it’s the mix of things that make you happy!

  9. “I loved my work, but since my retirement I can finally do the things I really love”

    Simple. Intrinsic motivation is more intense in things that one really loves. When external objects like money, name, fame, etc.. come in, extrinsic motivation takes foothold.

    Intrinsic is more fun than extrinsic.

  10. I think it may be a matter of the typical constraints of the workplace. You can be doing something that you love, but you still need to put in longer hours than you like, traveling when you would rather be at home, doing expense reports, dealing with office politics, etc. Can’t you love what you do, but still sometimes get tired of the situation you do it in?

    She may miss the content of her work, but not all the trappings.

  11. I think it’s a case of treason. I try not to commit it myself.

    She is not saying that she misses work. She is saying that she misses making financial reports and calculations. She cannot say that she misses work. She loved work. She had to love work, she stuck with it until retirement. To turn around now and say, ‘Dang what a waste of time that was!’ would be high treason.
    Treason against herself because then she is not who she thought she was.

    I do it daily. When somebody ask me how’s work I say great. Because if I do not say great I have to come up with a reason why I’m sticking with it. If it’s not great why don’t you leave, why don’t you do something else? You do that long enough and eventually you believe that your job is great and you love work – even though you hated every day. You tell yourself you love work until you do.

    When you stop working you can stop the lying. But you can’t, because you now either believe it or you can’t commit high treason.

  12. Could it be to do with roles?

    Part of our identity is the different roles we have: worker, parent, son, nurse, comedian etc. When we fulfill a role, it feels satisfying, because it shows purpose in our life.

    But of course there are umpteen different roles we have or could choose to have. And sometimes we just want to do our own thing, without fulfilling some sort of responsibility. Whichever path we choose, there is the opportunity for happiness.

  13. I think Sridhar made an excellent point! Looking at how I make my living, the work that I do each day, I love my job. That’s the core of my job, not all the ancilliary things that crop up in the corporate world! It boils down to the fact that I love helping people. Dangerous as it can be, I’ve stopped on the side of the road to help a stranded motorist several times. I’ve volunteered and though its usually difficult work, if I can see the end result then I know I’ve helped and its satisfying. But volunteering doesn’t meet my financial requirements. If I were to take those extrinsic motivators out of the equation, would I still be here? Tough call, there are far more fulfilling ways to help than what I currently do. When I retire, I’ll take some of those up.

  14. The big difference is that at home she’s organizing her work as she sees fit, and is the master of her own time. For some people, the very fact of taking direction from someone in authority is the most objectionable feature of a job, any job. A century and a half ago, 90% of Americans were self-employed. In fact, the very term “self-employed” was invented only after that status became an anomaly in a sea of wage-slavery. People instinctively hate going from the sixteen hours a day when their time belongs to them and they can organize it as they see fit, to the eight hours that they’ve got a boss. It’s the exact same reason that kids instinctively hate walking through the doors of a school where they have to take orders from an authority figure behind a desk.

    By way of analogy, I’ve gone back on my own to study, in my own way, subject matter that I absolutely hated in school. The fact that I’m my own boss makes all the difference in the world. Other things I’ve learned to appreciate intellectually on my own, because I never studied them in school–and I’m mortally sure I would hate them with a passion if they’d been assigned course work.

    For example, I read Watership Down for the first time about three years ago. Last May, I saw the bookstores advertising it as part of the “summer reading list” for the publik skool system. My immediate reaction was to the effrontery of a required summer reading list–it’s not enough for them to poison the joys of learning during the school year, they’ve got to turn it into a chore even during what passes for “ownlife” among human resources-to-be. Then I thanked God that I’d never been assigned Watership Down in school, and identified it with authority, so I was able to love it instead of hate it.

  15. I don’t see any problem with having multiple interests. Most of us probably have several, but because we don’t have enough time to do it simultaneously, we just settle for one that is manageable.

  16. I agree. Having several interests doesn’t mean that we will be unhappy if we don’t get to do everything. Even if we were given the chance to do all those things, we still won’t have enough time to spend it on all of them.

  17. Thanks for all the great input people.

    Having read all of this, it struck me that this person is in possession of a really valuable skill, which is appreciating what she does right now.

    Imagine a person who, while working, looks forward to retirement for the freedom it will bring. Then, when retirement arrives, becomes nostalgic about work for all the challenges it offered.

    Lots of people practice this kind of “grass is greener on the other side” thinking. No matter what they’re doing, they can more easily see the advantages of whatever it is they’re not doing.

    And these people have a really hard time becoming happy (or even satisified) because their minds are always focused on what they don’t have.

    The person Gerardo describes, however, does the exact opposite and focuses on the benefits of what she DOES have, rather than pining for something else.

    Make sense?

  18. And these people have a really hard time becoming happy (or even satisfied) because their minds are always focused on what they don’t have.

    Well said, Alex.

    Buddhists call this Tanha, the root cause of all human misery.

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