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Want to Achieve More Satisfaction at Work? Try Doing Nothing!

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By Rachel Jonat

The following post is excerpted from the upcoming book The Joy of Doing Nothing: A Real-Life Guide to Stepping Back, Slowing Down, and Creating a Simpler, Joy-Filled Life, available in December. 

Why do you work? Sure, everyone needs to pay the bills… But why do you have the job you have? For some people, their job is their passion and a big part of their identity. For others, their job is simply a way to make a living. For some of us, it’s a combination of both. No matter where you are on this spectrum, doing nothing will help you remember why you work and give you guidance on how to strategize your career.

Taking the Focus Off Money

Most people think it’s a given that they should be working toward increasing their earnings—which usually means working harder and working more hours. After all, making more money should be the goal, right? Make more money so we can buy more stuff and be happier.

Maybe not. It turns out that more money does not always equal more happiness. A 2010 study from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School found that happiness increases as income increases up to the point of making $75,000 a year. Once people reach that $75,000 income benchmark, earning more money doesn’t bring any greater happiness. We say money can’t buy happiness, but really, it can buy some happiness. However, that happiness tops out at a certain ceiling.

Taking the time to do nothing gives you an opportunity to mull over exactly what fulfills you and makes you happy. You may find it surprising that making more money isn’t actually what will make you happier. Through doing nothing, you’ll figure out what activities and people contribute to your overall contentment. The other “things”—more money, more stuff—probably aren’t a big part of what makes you feel good daily.

Let’s say you’ve been eyeing that office with an exterior window that comes with your own team to lead and a big raise for three years. The day finally arrives when it’s all yours. You’re thrilled until a few weeks in…when you realize that you’re now working 40 percent more for a 15 percent raise.

It’s ingrained in our culture that we should be seeking more money and power. To simply enjoy where you are at is often thought of as being unambitious or lazy. Doing nothing will enlighten you to the radical and life-changing concept that there are positives and negatives to getting promoted.

In addition, responsibility, stress, and work hours are not always proportional to salaries. If you’ve ever wondered why your colleague, the happy one who everyone likes, has turned down promotions twice, here’s her secret: She knows that job titles grow in inverse proportion to personal instability and stress. This life lesson is a hard one to come by, and many people refuse to believe they wouldn’t be happier with more responsibility, power, and a higher salary. They think the higher you get, the easier it gets, because more people are “under” you to do the hard work. But that’s really not how it works. You have less free time and more pressure to perform at a high level. Some people really do thrive professionally in those situations, and that’s where they find true happiness in their life. If that’s you, great—just be sure that you arrive at that decision thoughtfully and intentionally, not by blindly following the crowd.

The next step in this process might be realizing that making more money isn’t where you want to focus your energy on a daily basis. It’s life-changing to figure out that you don’t actually want to pursue a bonus or a new job title. Suddenly you’re free from the burden of pursuing more money. Doing nothing brings out the joy you find in the simple things in your life, the things that don’t really cost much. Once you have that realization, the pursuit of money won’t hold the same power over you.

Many people want more money but many of us don’t need more money. See the difference? When you practice doing nothing regularly, when you have this new peace in your life, you can see that when your basics are covered—shelter, food, clothing—you don’t need a lot more to be any happier. Relationships and activities become much more fulfilling when we are doing nothing because we learn how to give them our full attention. The shopping for fun, buying stuff just out of habit or because it once felt good, falls by the wayside. Stepping out of the constant quest for more money lets you:


  • De-stress and simply enjoy your work more.

  • See that you don’t want to hunger after more money, accolades, and promotions.

  • Focus on just enjoying the work you do and taking pride in it.

  • Become less concerned with big-picture results and more concerned with process, enjoying the work for work’s sake instead of as a path to the next promotion or raise.

Ironically, deciding to just enjoy your job and not worry about money and advancement can lead to more money and advancement because it encourages the kind of earnest and engaged work that results in recognition from your boss.

Fall in Love (Again) with Your Job 

Doing nothing can help you fall in love with your job all over again. The increased focus and motivation from taking those do-nothing breaks can help you find the parts and perks of your job that you enjoy most and lead you to focus your energy on them. It’s like starting a new career or taking a new job or position without any of the stress or hassle. In Kerry Hannon’s book Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness, Hannon outlines many strategies for enjoying your job more, including:


  • Find what you like about your job. This is something that taking breaks to do nothing can clarify: What part(s) of your job do you return to work energized and looking forward to? Once you know what you like about your job, aim to do more of it. If you like things outside of your actual job—great coworkers, good vacation time, great health coverage—focus your thoughts on those job perks.

  • Explore finding joy in the social side of work. Join the work softball team or volunteer for an event your company supports. Join an employee committee around office recycling, employee fitness or event planning. Those restorative breaks to do nothing can give you that extra energy to join in when, in the past, you would have said you needed a break from anything affiliated with work. Embracing social and volunteer opportunities through your workplace give new meaning and fulfillment to your job. You’ll get to know coworkers in a new way and bond with them over a shared experience. This positive experience related to work will soften any negative feelings about parts of your job you don’t enjoy. You will associate work with new and good things in your life.
Rachel Jonat is the author of Do Less and The Minimalist Mom. A sought-out expert on minimalism and simplifying, she has been featured on television and radio, The Globe and Mail, Babble, and Business Insider. She lives in Vancouver, Canada, with her husband and three sons. You can read more of her work at her popular blog TheMinimalistMom.com.

Image credits: Pixabay; Simon and Schuster

Copyright © 2017 Adams Media, a division of Simon and Schuster. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.

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