I’m Not Unhappy

When I was in college, a friend of ours was in a tumultuous relationship. Like, breaking furniture tumultuous. Like, her breaking furniture on him. Not often, but any number of instances greater than zero in that category seems a bit high. We asked him once why he stayed with her. His reason was “I’m not unhappy.” We taunted him with that response (rightly so, I believe) for years. I understand the two are now married and have several children.

Being “not unhappy” is no basis for a relationship, right? Who in their right mind would stay in a relationship they would describe this was? Look around, and I’m sure you’ll see people in just that relationship with their job. We don’t mock them with it, though, right? We work with them to increase their job satisfaction, challenge them, and develop them until they are, we hope, happy. Engaged. Productive. Or, at least, a little more not unhappy. Please don’t leave me, baby. But if you do, would you mind completing an exit survey?

When did this become acceptable? When did so many of us become co-dependent with work? Why do we accept a relationship with an employer that we would find stifling in our personal life? With a divorce rate at 50%, we’re clearly not letting it slow us down outside of work, right? We want more out of our personal life. Or we meet someone who offers us something our current partner can’t. Or they get tired of our bad habits and bad behavior. Come to think of it, not too different for the reasons our work relationships end.

I’m not suggesting we should be married to our work, of course, but I do think we should look for more than just a “not unhappy” relationship with our jobs. We have many of the same drivers for accepting that relationship, I think. We have commitments to provide for our families. We have bills to be paid. We even have to live up to social norms around having that job. There are numerous pressures that conspire to keep us in our jobs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t expect more.

If you are not unhappy, you have two choices. One is to work to improve the relationship. Branch out, learn new skills, try new things, build your internal network to bring more relationship satisfaction into your life. The other choice is to leave. Find another work partner. Search out bliss.

Neither of these are easy choices, but if you are in a dysfunctional relationship with your job, you owe it to yourself to investigate your options. Our world is filled with people who are not unhappy, and its rare that any of them do something fantastic. Don’t settle for that. You deserve better.


  1. “Not unhappy” is OK if you are working just to earn some cash, but if you are looking to grow in capability and in career options, it’s the long road to bitterness. It may be easy to be ‘not unhappy’, but it will eventually wear you down.
    Dwane – I especially appreciate your last two sentences.

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