The Key to Being Happy at Work Just Might Be to Care Less About It

man relaxing on the sofa at home
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There’s an old adage that goes something like this:

No one ever lies on their deathbed thinking, “Man, I wish I’d spent more of my life working.”

In theory, it’s easy to promise ourselves we’ll compartmentalize our professional and personal lives, working when it’s time to work and playing when it’s time to play.

In reality, many of us never really mentally clock out when we leave work at the end of the day.

I get it. It’s hard not to think about our jobs outside of working hours, especially when we’re constantly bombarded with advice on how to maximize performance to get ahead.

From productivity apps we didn’t know we needed to work methods designed to make sure we stay hyper-focused on the task at hand, we seem to be almost pathologically concerned with wringing out every last drop of energy we possess to stay relevant at our jobs.

So is it any wonder that work stress is on the rise and even gives some of us nightmares?

You Have Permission to Care Less About Work

Philosopher and business consultant Andrew Taggart says the key to work satisfaction is to simply care less about it.

Taggart isn’t suggesting workers shirk their responsibilities or make as little effort as they can get away with and still draw a paycheck.

Instead, Taggart recommends we relax the emotional grip our jobs have on us and think about who we could become if we weren’t constantly trying to get ahead at work.

The goal isn’t to become indifferent to our jobs — in fact, apathy is likely to land you on the unemployment line.

Rather, the key is to stop believing that the key to happiness lies in how successful you are at work and free space in your mind to be open to experiences that enrich you as a person and not as a worker bee.

“By caring about work a little less, we can afford ourselves experiences of what is truly meaningful, and let us rest for a while in the unfolding present,” says Taggart.

Easier Said Than Done?

Learning how to care less about work without becoming totally detached can be difficult.

So what’s the trick?

“Rather than caring about everything, choose what’s most important and let go of the pressure on the things that don’t matter to you so much,” suggests clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd.

Maybe that means taking a mental health day off work rather than trying to keep your perfect attendance streak going indefinitely. Perhaps it means leaving your company-issued laptop at the office or not checking your work email “one last time” before bed.

For me, it means turning off work notifications on my phone the minute my workday is over. I’ve yet to regret not being available 24/7 in the event of a catastrophic writing emergency.

Caring less about your job may seem counterintuitive to success, but you won’t get anywhere at work if you flame out.

“It’s great to want to be helpful and make a difference at work, but you have to take care of yourself first,” notes author Kelly O’Laughlin. “You aren’t helping anyone if you burn out and quit. Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. She’ll lie on her deathbed thinking, “Man, I wish I’d spent more of my life riding roller coasters.”