Signs of a Job Burnout: Should I Quit or Not?

Signs of a Job Burnout: Should I Quit or Not?

In April 2014, Joey Tocnang died of heart failure while he was staying at the dormitory of the casting company where he worked.[1] He had a wife and daughter in the Philippines, who he was three months away from seeing. He was 27 years old.

How did this happen?

Tocnang died because of continued and unchecked work-related stress. In other words, his employer and his workplace culture gave him so many responsibilities, forced him to be at work for so many hours, and allowed him so little sleep that his heart gave out. This tragedy is an extreme version of job burnout, but what is more tragic is that it is not unusual.

In Japan, employers work their employees to death so often that there is a word for it: karoshi.[2] These deaths mostly take the form of some kind of cardiovascular disorder or suicide. The Japanese Labour Ministry claim that 2,310 Japanese people died from karoshi in 2015 alone.[3] Not everyone agrees with the government’s figures and some organisations put the figure as high as 10,000 per year.[4]

Job burnout is the result of unresolved and long-term work-related stress

Job burnout, also known as occupational burnout, is the result of unresolved and long-term work-related stress. We all have difficult days at work, but job burnout refers to when that difficult day turns into a difficult month (or year or even decade).

In worst cases, job burnout can lead to death. Yet it can also lead to depression, bad diet, chronic fatigue, and a whole host of other ailments.[5] People shouldn’t need to die before a society or a workplace recognises the dangers of job burnout.

Job burnout is not a formal mental disorder or illness. Rather, it is best understood as the result of ongoing and untreated stress at work which, in turn, is the cause of many serious health problems. In other words, we use the term “job burnout” because it’s something which everyone can understand, but it is much more complicated than one “illness”. Some people get depressed, others wind up with heart problems, and others find themselves chronically fatigued.

The cause of job burnout is not always the same, either. As a result, one study in Spain tried to categorise job burnout into different types.[6] The study had many limitations, but it did a good job of giving us some ways to classify different types of job burnout.


“Frenetic” burnout: too many hours and too many responsibilities

This is the classic form of job burnout caused by too many hours and too many responsibilities. Not all people with this sort of burnout are unhappy with their jobs. Some people enjoy working hard. Yet, this sort of burnout is unhealthy nonetheless.

Attention-grabbing headlines have claimed that working over 40 hours a week makes you six times likely to suffer from frenetic burnout, but this is far too simplistic.[7] The reality is that it depends on the person and their lifestyle in general. So long as you are getting enough sleep and exercise, have a healthy social life, and are eating well, then working a 40-hour week is unlikely to cause problems. The issue occurs when working these long hours causes you (either out of fear of losing your job or because you’re running on adrenaline caused by your love for the job) to ignore basic health needs.

“Underchallenged” burnout (AKA boreout): constantly feel bored at work

Boredom is not boring. It is a fascinating, potentially inspiring, but also potentially dangerous thing.

YouTuber Michael Stevens once performed an experiment on himself whereby he locked himself in isolation in a white room for 72 hours.[8] There was only a bed, food (in generic white bottles), and a toilet. There were no books, there was no television, there were no phones, there were no mirrors, and there was nothing to write on. There was no form of entertainment or stimulus whatsoever.

Psychologists predicted that staying in a room like that for less than 72 hours would have caused brain damage. This did not happen. However, Michael’s brain activity slowed, he became confused, and at one point he was unable to tell the difference between six and nine.

Boredom can have many psychological and biological impacts on us, and sometimes we exploit this for its benefits. Like almost everything else, boredom can be a great thing in small doses. After all, this is essentially how Buddhism, meditation, and transcendentalism work.[9][10][11] By clearing your surroundings of unnecessary stuff, and by limiting yourself to the task of thought, your mind is able to think independently, critically, and calmly about the world. In turn, this leads to a kind of happiness caused by a lack of desire, worry, or stress.

When we choose boredom, it can be a relaxing and powerful thing. By contrast, when boredom is inflicted upon us by our jobs or our lifestyle, it can feel like power is being taken away from you.

This is how Frenchman Frédéric Desnard felt when he sued the perfume company where he worked for €360,000.[12] He claimed that the severe boredom caused by his job had led to an epileptic fit while driving. For some, this high-profile case is hard to take seriously. Those who worry about being burned out by having too much work to do will likely laugh at the idea of being burned out because you have nothing to do.


However, consider solitary confinement.[13] This punishment is predicated on the idea that forced boredom is not a pleasant thing. As a result, it’s easy to see how someone stuck in a dead-end job where they are bored to their wit’s end can be a mentally and physically unhealthy thing.

“Worn-Out” burnout: feel worthless and lack acknowledgement within the company

The final form of burnout, according to this study, is characterised by a feeling of worthlessness and lack of acknowledgement within the company. The idea is that, for people who had been working for a company for over 16 years, the feeling of burnout is not related to stress (as they have nothing to fear from their employer). Nor is this form of burnout related to boredom (as they may enjoy their job at times).

The study’s data suggested that being educated, having a stable relationship, or having a life outside of work can reduce the risk of this kind of burnout. Yet, because this study is limited, it’s hard to find real life examples of this kind of burnout. However, anecdotal and fictional examples exist all around us. Jimmy McNulty from HBO’s The Wire springs to mind.[14]

Stuck on the same rung of career ladder year in and year out, McNulty’s passion and natural aptitude for good police work go continually unnoticed. In some cases, McNulty is punished for going above and beyond the call of duty because his work interferes with the chain of command and makes his superiors look bad.

In the rare cases where McNulty is praised, it’s never enough. The next day, after all, he’s back at his desk and he’s still deeply unhappy with his work. It doesn’t make a difference, it doesn’t make him happy, and no-one really cares about his efforts. There are no promotions for McNulty, there is no life waiting for him at home, and there is no other type of work he knows.

It’s easy to see how this kind of burnout could lead to depression and other mental disorders. For McNulty, it also leads to alcoholism, infidelity, and (the final season) convoluted and compulsive lying.

Stress is not the only cause of job burnout.

With three different kinds of job burnout, it’s hard to pin down just one cause. Workplace stress is a handy catch-all term, but here are some other things which can cause burnout:

  • A lack of control or agency in your work, such as being forced to work unreasonable hours or do unpleasant jobs without any say on the matter.
  • Unmet expectations, such as when reality of your clashes into your imagined idea of what your work would be like, what responsibilities you’d have, and how you’d be treated.
  • A dysfunctional workplace, such as when bullying and lying are rewarded but hard work is ignored or when micromanaging causes you to feel undermined and powerless.
  • Mismatched values, such as when what you believe is morally correct and what your employer believes is morally correct is radically different.
  • Wrong job, such as when you are not suited for the work you are doing.
  • Incorrect pace, such as when work is either too fast or too slow.
  • A bad social life, such as when you are unable to make friends or build relationships at work and/or you have no time or energy for friendships or relationships outside of work.

If you lack the motivation to go to work, you’re probably suffering from job burnout.

This largely depends on the kind of job burnout which your experiencing. Nevertheless, the general symptoms of job burnout are relatively easy to spot:


  • Increased cynicism or disillusionment about the job.
  • Lack of motivation to go to work or to start work once you get there.
  • Increased irritability with co-workers, managers, clients, and/or customers.
  • Dependence on food, alcohol, or drugs (recreational or prescribed) in order to get through the week or to “unwind” at the weekend.
  • Negative change in sleeping or eating habits.
  • Otherwise unexplained physical pain such as headaches or backaches.

Job burnout can actually lead to a series of health problems, both physical and mental ones.

While medical studies of job burnout are patchy, one thing we know for certain are the health problems caused by job burnout. Some of these might be obvious, but others are less so. What is more, the health problems caused by job burnout aren’t just mental, they can be physical illnesses too:

  • Stress
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping or insomnia
  • Problems with personal relationships
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks or anxiety
  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Heart complications
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes (studies show that this is especially the case with women)
  • Stroke
  • Obesity
  • A lower immune system (which can leave you more vulnerable to other illnesses)

What should you do to recover from job burnout?

In some ways, the answer to this question depends entirely on the person. After all, burnout is not the disorder itself but the cause of many other mental and physical disorders. It is for doctors and patients alike to diagnose the illnesses caused by burnout and to treat those.

In other ways, the answer to this question depends on the kind of burnout. If your burnout is caused by a frenetic pace, you should take on fewer hours and fewer responsibilities. If your burnout is caused by boredom, you should take on more hours and perhaps more responsibilities. Finally, if your burnout is caused by under-appreciation and a kind of weariness for the job, perhaps the best thing to do is to take a step back from it all.

With all that said, here are some things which everyone can do if they are worried about burnout.[15]

Know your rights and be brave to take a stand

In the UK, and in many other countries, there are laws dictating the way employers can and can’t treat employees.[16] While these laws usually refer to physical safety, such as correct safety equipment, they also refer to working hours and the amount of mental stress employers are allowed to force onto their employees. Don’t be afraid to take a stand.

Speak up and refuse to be exploited

It’s one thing to know what you should be entitled to; it’s another thing to actually have the courage to ask for it. Employees often worry that speaking out will lead to demotion or even dismissal. Though this is why labour unions and worker’s rights are so important.[17] If employers feel that they can treat employees like dirt, then they will. So don’t let them.

Change your attitude and “fake it ’til you make it”

This perhaps easier said than done and, for people with mental health issues, it is terrible advice. After all, the whole reason that mental illness is so crippling is that it is caused by an inability to change your brain chemistry at will. For people suffering from mental health, a different approach is needed.

If burnout isn’t causing you mental health issues, and if you are able to do it, then there is a lot to be said about adopting a different attitude. There is a decent amount of science backing up the idea that “faking it ’til you make it” can really work.[18] In other words, even if you feel terrible, just pretending that you feel great could actually improve your mood.


Seek medical help or professional counselling

As mentioned above, “faking it” isn’t an option for everyone. For people with mental health disorders, feeling better requires a lot more than pretending to smile.[19] Counselling and therapy are great but, if you can’t afford that or aren’t ready to make that leap, a lot can be achieved by talking to friends or family about your mental health.

When talking doesn’t work, your doctors may also prescribe you with medication. “Self-medicating” (with alcohol or some other substance) is not the way forward. Doctors are trained in the art of neurochemistry; you are not. Using alcohol instead of prescribed medication to treat mental imbalance is a bit like trying to fix your laptop with a sledgehammer.

Exercise to improve both your physical and mental health

Almost all of the health complications related to job burnout can be treated by exercise. While the jury is still out on whether or not exercise can help people with mental illness, there’s no argument that regular exercise will improve your physical health.[20] Even if exercise doesn’t solve the problem, the vast majority of us need more exercise anyway.

Get enough sleep to allow your body to fully recover after a long day

Just as with exercise, most of the problems above can also be attributed to a lack of sleep. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure why we sleep, but they are all agreed that we need it. Without sleep, our bodies suffer and become weaker.[21] Different people need different amounts of sleep, but if you wake up feeling tired that’s a surefire sign that you haven’t had enough.

Take a short break from work to rest

If you’re reading all of this in agreement but feel that you simply don’t have the time to sleep, eat, exercise, or even particularly enjoy your life, then perhaps it’s time for a break. Mental health is just as important as physical health, so there’s no reason that you can’t take a sick day in order to avoid burnout. In fact, some employers are even beginning to experiment with so-called “duvet days”.[22] These aren’t holidays, or sick days, they are days when you are allowed to ring in and say, “No thanks. Not today. I need to sleep, relax, and take some time for myself.”

Should you quit or not? It depends but you should really get a job that makes you happy.

If all else fails, then perhaps it’s time to acknowledge the elephant in the room: your job is causing you burnout because it’s a bad job. Whether this is because it’s a bad company or because it’s not suited to you is immaterial. If don’t enjoy your job (or if your job is making you ill) and there’s no way to fix it then… well… then there’s no way to fix it.

It’s okay to hate your job. Even if everybody else tells you that your job is great, remember that not everyone is motivated by the same things. Deep down, we know this. Yet we often make huge decisions not based on what we want but on societal expectations. So it’s sometimes worth asking yourself very seriously what you want from life.

You might scoff at this notion, and maybe that’s because you’re in a job that you love or live a life that you love. However, if you find yourself working in a job that you hate and living a life that you are beginning to hate, ask yourself what really motivates you to work. If it isn’t money, ask what you would do if you if you didn’t have to worry about money.

If the answer to that question is some kind of dream job, then maybe it’s time that you pursued that job. You might not have any experience or be any good at it now, but the only way to get good at something is to practice. That might mean starting at the bottom, perhaps not making as much money, or doing harder work, but if you’re doing something that you love then that might not matter so much.

Whether you decide to leave your job or not, the important thing is that your job makes you happy. One size does not fit all in this content, so it’s something which you’ll have to figure out for yourself. However, when you do, you might just be able to live a life without job burnout.


More by this author

Mitchell Labiak

Freelance Writer. Digital Marketing Consultant at Exposure Ninja. Vlogger at YouTube.

Signs of a Job Burnout: Should I Quit or Not? Which One Is Better: A Minimalist Lifestyle or a Maximalist Lifestyle? Argument between protestors How to Debate Politics Without Being a Complete Jerk

Trending in Psychology

1 How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now 2 How Self Doubt Keeps You Stuck and How to Overcome It 3 How to Find the Purpose of Life and Start Living a Fulfilling Life 4 How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits 5 15 Telltale Signs of Narcissistic Behavior (And How to Deal With It)

Read Next


Last Updated on October 4, 2018

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now

How to Be Happy Again: 13 Simple Ways to Shake off Sadness Right Now

When you look at your own life, maybe you’re thinking about how time has gone by so quickly and you have no idea how you got to where you are at. You might begin to feel sad because you’ve drifted so far from where you wanted to be at your age. Life was much more difficult than you expected it to be, so you just settled and decided to accept that this is just how life is.

You’ve given up and your goal now is just to get by. You just want to be happy.

However, it doesn’t have to be this way.

Cultivating much more happiness in your life is a very real and close possibility. You just have to put in a little work.

Here are 13 proven ways to shake off your sadness and feel happy again:

1. Do what brings you meaning

We’ve all been there. A feeling of boredom and being stuck in our lives without knowing what to do.

Nancy is one of the many who’ve been there. Take a look at her story and find out why finding your meaning to live is so important.

Rather than trying to figure out such heavy questions such as “What is my purpose in life?” it’s much easier to turn on the television and let the day go by.

“When a person can’t find a deep sense of meaning, they distract themselves with pleasure.” -Viktor Frankl

Many affluent people are experiencing unhappiness no matter how much money, respect, or fame they have because of one big reason: Our unhappiness stems ultimately from a feeling of meaninglessness.

Frankl has developed a process called Logotherapy[1] to help people build more meaning in their lives. He was put in charge of the mental health department of the Viennese hospital system because they were losing too many patients to suicide. His practices were what prevented tens of thousands of these patients from killing themselves. He did this by helping instill a sense of meaning to their lives.

What you can do right now:

In moments when you are struggling with unhappiness, you can start applying Frankl’s Logotherapy in your life by doing the following:

  • Work on a project that demands your skills and abilities. If you have trouble coming up with one, then look for something important to work on that will help someone in need.
  • Immerse yourself fully in your experience and share it with people who love you in an authentic, non-judgmental manner.
  • Find a redemptive perspective towards your suffering. Meaning comes in our lives when we change our perspective about our hardships in a way that it improves our lives rather than bringing it down.

I met a woman in Thailand once who ran an orphanage with children who were affected by the AIDS virus. She also suffered from cancer, but rather than viewing the illness as something that is ruining her life, she shared with me:

“It’s kind of like a death sentence when the doctor says to you ‘you’re HIV positive’ or ‘you have cancer’ and it gives me an ability to identify with these children that are HIV positive, so I’m grateful for cancer because of it, if nothing else.”

Recommended reading:

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

2. Start killing your options and get crystal clear on what you want

“Too many choices exhaust us, make us unhappy and lead us to sometimes abscond from making a decision all together.”[2] Keep your options open” may be advice you’ve heard often. But if you keep your options too open, it usually makes you more unhappy, stressed out, and tired from having to choose between too many things.

When you have too many choices to make, you begin to make more poorer decisions as you make each following one throughout the day. This is what’s known as decision fatigue.

The most important thing you can do to increase your level of happiness is by effectively reducing the amount of any unnecessary decisions you have to make in a day.

What you can do right now:

Set up routines to help you accomplish the following:

  • Make the most important decisions earlier in the day when your mind is more fresh.
  • Try to plan out your day the night before whenever possible.
  • Choose your meals in advance.
  • If you have to make an important decision but you’re hungry, eat first.
  • When you have too many choices, try to narrow it down to choosing between a select few.
  • Automate your life as much as possible by doing the following:
    • Set up automatic payment functions on any bills you have
    • Use free software If This Then That , to automate your life . For example: instead of watching and refreshing to win an auction on Ebay or get that coveted item on Craigslist, have an email notification sent to you, so you can be one of the first to jump on the deal.
    • If your budget allows, hire a virtual assistant or a company like Fancy Hands to take a lot of menial tasks off your plate.

3. Create safe spaces to find yourself and beat the feeling of shame

We’re constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we need to look, act, or be a certain way in order to be happy and successful.

The average person gets exposed to over 10,000 advertisements a day and most of these messages are total nonsense.[3]


All of these false promises given to us each day are what causes us to portray ourselves in a way we think others want us to be so that we can fit in. The sad part is that many of us do find ways to fit in, but we never actually feel like we belong.

When we don’t feel loved and understood for who we truly are, there is no way we can ever be happy. The reason we are often reluctant to be our most authentic selves is because of shame.

At some point in your life, you will run into shame and it will make you feel like there is something wrong with you. Whether it was getting teased at school, not meeting up to your parents’ expectations, or being harshly judged by a peer, shame makes you hide your true self and wear a mask to show someone else.

    Learning to have the courage to stay true to yourself is one of the keys to longer lasting happiness.

    Dr. Brene Brown, an amazing vulnerability researcher, explained in her TED talk that she once took put a poll on social media asking “How would you define vulnerability? What makes you feel vulnerable?”:

    Within an hour and a half, she had 150 responses. Here’s what some of them said:

    • Having to ask my husband for help because I’m sick, and we’re newly married
    • Initiating sex with my husband / wife
    • Being turned down
    • Asking someone out
    • Waiting for the doctor to call back
    • Getting laid off
    • Laying off people

    Vulnerable moments like these are when we are most prone to feeling shame. Learning about how to handle that shame is what will enable you to recover from it in a healthy way.

    What you can do right now:

    Practice vulnerability.

    Start by looking yourself in the mirror each morning and telling yourself “I’m not perfect, but that’s ok”

    Take Dr. Brown’s simple advice that she gave on the Oprah show. When you experience shame, talk to yourself like you talk to someone you love, reach out to someone you trust, and tell your story.[4]

    Recommended reading:

    I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough” by Dr. Brene Brown

    4. Engage your curiosity to supercharge your personal growth

    Some of the greatest things that exist in our world today were a result of someone’s curiosity. It’s the reason why people like Steve Jobs, Thomas Edison, and Henry Ford created some of the most innovative products of all time.

    Satisfying your curiosity releases dopamine in your brain.[5] This is also why we absolutely have to finish a great movie and watch it till the end. You want to know what happens and when you finally do, you get that rush of dopamine and get pleasure from it as a reward. The same applies with any habits we’ve formed, such as checking our social media feeds and emails.

    While these kind of things may give you a short moment of happiness, there is a type of curiosity that will give you a more longer lasting happiness. Dr. Todd Kashdan explains it in the terms of being a “curious explorer”.

    “Curious explorers are comfortable with the risks of taking on new challenges. Instead of trying desperately to explain and control our world, as a curious explorer we embrace uncertainty, and see our lives as an enjoyable quest to discover, learn and grow.”

    By using your curiosity to help you get better at something, become more knowledgeable or see something in a new perspective, you’ll find life to be much more enjoyable.

    What you can do right now:

    Kashdan’s suggestions on how to become “Curious Explorers” are summarized in Kari Henley’s Huffington Post article in the following way:[6]

    • Try to notice little details of your daily routine that you never noticed before.
    • When talking to people, try to remain open to whatever transpires without judging or reacting.
    • Let novelty unfold and resist the temptation to control the flow.
    • Gently allow your attention to be guided by little sights, sounds or smells that come your way.

    Recommended reading:

    Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life by Todd Kashdan PhD.

    5. Help yourself by helping others

    The happiest people are ones who make a positive impact on others.

    “No man or woman is an island. To exist just for yourself is meaningless. You can achieve the most satisfaction when you feel related to some greater purpose in life, something greater than yourself.” ―Denis Waitley

    Every individual has something they can contribute to the world. The hard part is figuring out what that is. And the truth is, we’ll never figure it out until we actually do something about it.

    Science has shown data that supports the evidence that giving is a powerful way to lasting happiness. If done in the right way, giving can feel good and give you the much needed boost in your mood.[7]

    “Happiness is only real when shared.” -Christopher McCandless, Into The Wild

    What you can do right now:

    Intentionally begin contributing to something or someone in your life.

    Check out these 20 small acts of kindness to do something bigger than just for yourself.

    6. Get out of your comfort zone to rewire your brain

    Chances are you are unhappy because of the routine. Simply put, you’re bored but at the same time, maybe you’re a little afraid of trying something new.

    Or, in a more extreme example, you might hate your job but you are too afraid to quit because you’re worried you may become broke with nothing better ahead for you.

      Whatever the case may be, bringing yourself out of your comfort zone as much as possible can result in a  much more satisfying life.

      Scientists have found evidence that if a person steps out of their comfort zone just enough, then they can increase endorphin’s in their brain, which creates increased feelings of happiness.[8]

      What you can do right now:

      • Create more experiences in your life that you can’t back out of. Think of a big goal in your life you’ve always wanted to accomplish, then create a situation that brings you out of your comfort zone that you’ll follow through with.
      • Travel more. Neuroscience has shown that new experiences can build new neuropathways in the brain.[9]When this occurs, it promotes mental health as a result. There is a joy that comes from traveling and whether you’re visiting a foreign country, a nearby city, or even a staycation to a new local restaurant, discovering and experiencing new things can do the trick.[10]

      7. Kick materialism in the face and invest in experiences

      I can’t remember the number of times I was excited to buy a new toy, game, or piece of technology for myself only to get bored of it not too long after. This goes to show material things usually only bring out a temporary amount of happiness at best. Happy experiences last as a happy memory forever.

      While owning material possessions can be nice, they can never be a part of you like great experiences can be a part of you. This is why you should invest more in experiences rather than things.[11]

      “Part of us believes the new car is better because it lasts longer. But, in fact, that’s the worst thing about the new car,” he said. “It will stay around to disappoint you, whereas a trip to Europe is over. It evaporates. It has the good sense to go away, and you are left with nothing but a wonderful memory.” — Dan Gilbert

      What you can do right now:

      Rather than spending your money on buying something a material possession that you’ve always wanted, try these options instead:

      • Invest in a class you have always wanted to take.
      • Book a trip to somewhere you have always wanted to visit.
      • Get tickets to a popular show that you might like.

      8. Meditate regularly

      Self-realization has been shown to have many benefits and this can be achieved by regularly practicing mindfulness meditation.

      Taking a moment to get yourself untangled from all the messy thoughts and emotions you experience can be just the thing you need to be happier. Meditation increases gray matter in the hippocampus, which is an area of the brain important for learning, memory and emotion. It also reduces gray matter in the amygdala, the area of the brain associated with stress and anxiety.

      These are just a few of the many benefits meditation has been shown to give you.

      What you can do right now:

      Download the no-nonsense Headspace meditation app. All you need is 10 minutes and a comfortable chair. If you find yourself thinking you don’t have 10 minutes, then let the truth of Tony Robbins’ words settle in:

      “If you don’t have 10 minutes, you don’t have a life.”

      9. Change your attitude to gratitude

      This is something that’s commonly said, but it comes from a place of truth.

      The Journal of Happiness published a study where the 219 men and women participants involved wrote three letters of gratitude over a three week period. The results showed that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction while decreasing depressive symptoms.[12]


      Your brain cannot simultaneously focus on positive and negative things at once. Because of this, practicing gratitude can help you shift your focus from being sad about the things you don’t have in your life to being glad for the things you do have.

      When you engage in the act of being thankful for something, production of dopamine and serotonin increases.[13] This activates the happiness center of the brain, which is similar to how antidepressants work; so, you could think of gratitude as a natural antidepressant.

      What you can do right now:

      • Start a habit of writing down three things you are grateful for each day.
      • Regularly write a thank you card to someone you appreciate or to someone who has done something recently for you.
      • Inject things you are thankful for in your daily conversations instead of focusing on negative topics.

      10. Create better habits

      One of the biggest difference between happy and unhappy people are the habits they have. Over 40% of your day isn’t spent on making active decisions but is a result of habit.

      The truth about why it’s so hard to break out of old routines is simply the fact that it is a routine. Human beings are creatures of habit. Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit how the basic structure of habits consists of a cue (trigger), the routine, and the reward.

        For example, stress can be your cue to engage in your routine of smoking a cigarette, which rewards you with the surge of nicotine to relieve your stress. Duhigg teaches the key to turning bad habits into good ones is to figure out how to change the routine. Rather than smoking, maybe you can go for a nice walk or meditate to achieve the same stress relief.

        If your habits are not making you healthier and happier, that means you may be automatically spending almost half your day doing things that make you more unhappy.

        What you can do right now:

        Changing your habits is much easier said than done, which is why you also need to modify your environment as much as possible to increase your chances of success. After doing so, try and tackle the routines which will help you to replace the bad habits with good habits.

        Also take a look at this detailed guide to try to hack your habit loop and build lasting habits for a better self:

        How to Break a Habit and Hack the Habit Loop 

        11. Learn how to predict happiness more accurately

        There are plenty of things in life that aren’t as pleasant as you thought they would be.

        You may have always wanted the nice expensive car, but now that you have it, you’re constantly stressed out about any new scratches and annoyed at all the extra unexpected expenses involved with keeping it well maintained and in good condition.

        You may have always wanted to be married, but now that you are, you didn’t realize the immense amount of work it takes to build and maintain a loving relationship.

        Harvard psychology professor Dan Gilbert argues one of the reasons for our unhappiness is by wrongly predicting the types of things that will make us happy.[14]

        “If I wanted to know what a certain future would feel like to me, I would find someone who is already living that future. If I wonder what it’s like to become a lawyer or marry a busy executive or eat at a particular restaurant, my best bet is to find people who have actually done these things and see how happy they are. What we know from studies will increase the accuracy of your prediction, but nobody wants to do it.”

        Simply investing the time and energy to learning more about what you are getting yourself into can increase your chances of accurately placing yourself in happier situations.

        What you can do right now:

        Reach out to people that are living the lifestyle you want or possess something you want to have; get on a call with them, or take them out for coffee. Ask about their experiences, both good and bad, and observe if what they have makes them happier, and then decide if it is something you want as well.

        Speaking to a close friend who owns a new piece of technology that you want or is currently involved a career that you want to pursue is easy. Yet, if the person of interest is a celebrity or a highly respected individual, then getting in touch with them will be much harder. In this case, scour any public information such as blog posts, interviews and social media posts to get to know them and help you make a decision whether the life they are living is one you want to pursue.

        Recommended reading:

        Stumbling Upon Happiness by Dan Gilbert

        12. Treat yourself with compassion to boost your self-esteem

        Imagine sitting down in a cafe and overhearing a conversation between two girls at the next table.

        “…and you’ve gotten fatter as well. It’s terrible…”


        “Don’t you feel horrible right now?”

        “With those large thighs and your horse’s hips?”

        Fortunately, this conversation was staged by the personal care company, Dove. But the conversation was one that actually happened, except it was with one’s self.

        The script for the actresses were written from actual self-dialogue from women who were documenting the thoughts that they had about themselves each time the thought came to mind.

        Dove ran this campaign to illustrate this point: if we wouldn’t talk to others in this negative manner, why would we talk to ourselves in this way?

        Here’s the video:

        People who practice self-compassion also have greater social connectedness, emotional intelligence, happiness, and overall life satisfaction. So the next time you are feeling low and start nitpicking at yourself, come to your own defense and give yourself a break.

        What you can do right now:

        Here are some ways you can practice self-compassion:

        • Treat yourself as you would your own child.
        • Practice non-judgmental mindfulness (i.e. meditation, yoga) to quiet your inner-critic.
        • Remind yourself of the fact that you are not alone.
        • Give yourself permission to be imperfect.
        • If you struggle with having self compassion and find yourself in need of help, consider hiring a supportive coach or therapist.

        13. Give yourself time to be sad

        Most of the time, people try to avoid negative emotions because they are afraid of the pain and grief they will experience or of the vulnerability it will require. But unless you let those tears come, you will never be able to let go of the emotions. They will stay stuck inside of you.

        It gets even worse when you try and numb your sadness with negative behaviors such as overmedicating, excessively drinking or distracting yourself by overworking. What happens when you numb your negative behaviors is that you are also numbing your positive behaviors.[15]

        Fully experiencing your emotions, whether they’re positive or negative, is important for your own well being.

        “But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, “All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.” Morrie Schwartz, Tuesdays With Morrie

        What you can do right now:

        Get into a habit of identifying your emotions. For example, when you start to feel sad, simply tell yourself “This is sadness.” Once you begin calling your emotions by name, it helps you realize it is an emotion and doesn’t have to define who you are.

        This is the simple process that lets you ride the wave of emotion and let it pass without letting it take hold of you and controlling your behavior.

        The next time you start feeling sadness, let yourself feel it. Don’t let your fear find an excuse to avoid it. Just like a roller coaster becomes fun after the initial drop, let the discomfort of sadness come through you so you can go back to enjoying your life again.

        The important part of feeling your sadness is to make sure you don’t cross the fine line of dwelling on it and victimizing yourself. Let the feeling come, and when it wants to go, let it go.

        Recommended reading:

        Happiness marks the spot

        Unlike in fairytales, there is no such thing as happily ever after. Instead, it’s similar to there being a variety of scattered treasures buried in a huge field called life. You will need to dig a little to find each treasure as you walk through different points in your life.

        If you find yourself feeling unhappy about where you are, you don’t have to stay that way. You can in fact restart your life to be happy again:

        How to Start Over and Reboot Your Life When It Seems Too Late

        As you continue to go through the daily grind, make the choice to invest time and energy into using the methods outlined here to uplift your spirits. You’ll be happy you did.

        Featured photo credit: unsplash via



        Read Next