Nine Tips for Feeling Happier When You’ve Lost Your Job — or Fear You Might.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: Nine tips for feeling happier when you’ve lost your job – or fear that you might lose it.

Being out of work is a major happiness challenge, and these days, a lot of people have lost their jobs, or are worried about hanging onto their jobs.

So, given this major drain on your happiness, are there steps you can take to feel better at such a time? Even if you don’t think you can feel happy, you might be able to feel happier. Keeping yourself as serene, energetic, and cheerful as possible will make it easier to handle this tough situation.

1. Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep affects your mood more than you may realize. It makes difficult situations seem harder, drags down your energy, and lowers your immune system. When you’re cut off from your usual schedule, it can be tempting to stay up late, so remind yourself to turn off the light at a reasonable hour. If you’re turning off the light but having trouble sleeping because of all your worries, here are some tips for getting good sleep. Also, people who have trouble sleeping sleep better when they…

2. Get some exercise. Exercise both calms you and energizes you. If you can’t face going to the gym or going for a run, just go for a ten-minute walk outside. The sunlight and the movement will boost your spirits.

3. Stay connected to other people. You may not feel like going out, making plans, showing up, or talking to other people. But prod yourself to make the effort. Seeing other people will give you a boost and will help distract you (see #8). Also, by staying connected to other people, you’re more likely to hear information and to create relationships that might be helpful in the jobs arena.

4. Cultivate an atmosphere of growth in some area of your life. You may feel like you’ve been pushed a giant step backward; that you’re out of control of what’s happening to you. Look for a place where you can move forward and take control. Learn to do something new – a new software program, watercolors. Conquer a device – master your camera, a kitchen gadget. Clean something up – your messy garage, your attic. Create something beautiful – plant a garden, catch up on the photo albums.

5. Help someone else. Your self-esteem may have suffered a blow, so remind yourself of how much you have to give. Teach someone something useful. Make helpful connections for other people. Volunteer your skills. Donate blood. Go through your closets and give away the clothes you don’t need (see #6). If you can’t face doing anything else, you can at least sign up to be an organ donor. It takes one minute, and you have potentially saved the lives of five people. You can feel great about your day if you’ve done that!

6. Clear some clutter. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm – and clearing clutter seems to have a disproportionately positive effect. Bringing order to a messy coat closet shouldn’t make much of a difference to happiness, but for some reason, it gives a much bigger boost than you might expect. Careful: don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick one small area of the messy kitchen counter, or clean out your fridge, or tackle one corner of your desk. Bringing order to your physical environment will help calm you – and is also a good way to observe #4.

7. Be wary of “treating” yourself. One of the Ten Myths of Happiness is that A “treat” will cheer you up. That cigarette, that extra glass of wine, that new pair of shoes, that extra brownie (or two, or three), that big mess in your kitchen because you don’t want to deal with loading the dishwasher…will these treats really make you feel happy, in the long run? Or will you be happier if you don’t treat yourself?

8. Distract yourself. Find your Area of refuge. Or rent a funny movie, re-read a book you love (I always re-read children’s literature when I’m under stress), call a friend with a good sense of humor, visit a museum, or watch some sports on TV. Let yourself take a break from your worries. When you come back to them, you’ll feel refreshed and with a better sense of perspective.

9. Remind yourself of what you have. You may have lost your job, but think about what’s going right in your life, what you have to feel grateful for. It’s a cliche to say “Count your blessings,” but it really does boost happiness.

What other strategies would you suggest? What works?

* My friend, the hilarious Pamela Redmond Satran, author of the blog and book, How Not to Act Old (she’s working blue there, so enter at your own risk), among many other things, has just created and launched Ho Springs, a serialized novel, with contributions by many other people, about “a little spa town near the gates of hell.” Check it out. I think it marks a new way to approach story-telling. The mind reels.

* It’s Word-of-Mouth Day, when I gently encourage (or, you might think, pester) you to spread the word about the Happiness Project. You might:
— Forward the link to someone you think would be interested
— Link to a post on Twitter (follow me @gretchenrubin)
— Sign up for my free monthly newsletter (about 39,000 people get it)
Buy the book
— Join the 2010 Happiness Challenge to make 2010 a happier year
— Put a link to the blog in your Facebook status update
— Watch the one-minute book video
Thanks! I really appreciate any help. Word of mouth is the BEST.

  • Britty

    Thank you for this post. I lost my job in November, and find myself in a nearly complete state of paralysis. I was moved by “find your Area of Refuge,” which is linked in tip #8. I often wake up with the fear that I cannot or will not find my way through this crisis, so it helps to read this gracefully written list of tips as a way to guide my thoughts back to a bit of light.

    • gretchenrubin

      I’m pleased to hear that this helps you during a big happiness challenge. If
      you’ve found other strategies that have helped you, please add them. There
      are a lot of people in the same boat, alas.

  • Excellent tips for any downer situation.

  • Debra

    My 4 months of unemployment were horrible, but I did the following:

    Regarding #6, I picked up garbage in my neighborhood at least once a week.

    At least once a week, I would attend happy hour at my favorite bar and order water and take advantage of the very, very cheap bar eats. I made a new good friend doing this, too.

    Library books! I couldn’t have survived without them.

    I had a very thoughtful neighbor who took me hiking, to a ball game, to the pool. If you are in a good situation, consider being a healthy distraction for someone going through a hard time. This meant so much to me.

    I really got to know my pets (birds) well. They are entertaining and funny and a blast to watch for hours.

    Keep repeating to yourself that this is temporary.

    If you qualify for unemployment – get it! Get it now! Don’t wait. There’s no shame in taking it (you’ve been paying for it all your working years), and that little bit of extra income is handy.

    • gretchenrubin

      What a great list. And a great reminder to everyone to be looking out for
      opportunities to be “a healthy distraction” for someone going through any
      kind of hard time.

  • Debra

    Also, keep visiting positivie websites like this one! I’m also a regular reader of Zen Habits and Think Simply Now. I had to go to the library to use the Internet. I called the library “my office.”

    There are lots of free things to do in the town where I’m from. Scope your town’s free newspapers for ideas. Also, if you have a change jar – use it. I used change to pay for a cover charge. I’m so glad I went to that show, because something odd that happened on the way home, made for a good story, which caught the attention of a Webmaster who asked me to write up this story for her Webpage. That story eventually lead to a paying gig with that entertainment Website. Some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I’m not a writer.

    Think outside the box regarding work. I made a major career change as a result of my unemployment and it has been great. I make a lot less money, but I have an easy, stress-free job, great benefits, and friends.

    Volunteer! You could become an usher at your favorite concert spot, or work your favorite festival. That means you get in for free and you meet new people – people who might know about a job opening – or who might become your new BFF! (It can happen!)

    I would also make a game out of saving money, like paying how low can I get my air conditioning bill. I stopped buying books (I still do this.) I cancelled stuff I didn’t need. I gratefully accepted small cash gifts from my parents.

  • Great tips Gretchen. I think meditating might also help one feel more calm about losing a job. During times when people go through a lot of pressure or stress, staying calm and balancing out emotions can help them get their feet back on track towards finding a new job and feeling happier.

  • Tyler Tervooren

    I was just laid off 2 weeks ago and I was the least bummed of everyone in our office! It was a pretty weird experience since my boss was obviously very upset about it and when he told me, all I could muster was a smile and, “Thanks.”

    In my perspective, I’ve been set free to pursue the work that I know I should have been doing all along, but I was trapped by the allure of a big, never-ending paycheck and prestige.

    My old life is dead and my new one is just beginning. I couldn’t be happier.

    Nevertheless, whether getting laid off sets you free or strikes fear and anguish into your very soul, these are 9 very good tips that are applicable whatever your situation.

    • gretchenrubin

      How terrific that for you, it wasn’t an unhappy experience — in fact, just
      the opposite. A welcome catalyst for change.

  • qconklin

    I think of all the excellent tips on this list number 5 is the best. when we are laid off or can’t find a job that is a huge hit to our ego, especially when we are used to being the provider. Helping others restores that missed feeling of usefulness and helps to rebuild our confidence. High confidence is very useful when job hunting and makes us feel happier to boot.

  • Virginia

    There is the old joke of good bad who knows. Know that your firing could be a good moment in your life just as much as a bad one, and do your best to make it a very good one. I like your list Gretchen. Many more ideas in a discussion on How to be happy:

  • I would add something along the lines of “Cultivate an Attitude of Trust” – many times my husband and I have been out of work, between jobs, or just really effin’ poor students. The times we have been able to tighten our belts and trust that everything will work out are now cherished memories (and as it turns out everything Did work out!). The times we allowed the stress of being poor, jobless, etc. invade our attitudes it was much harder to get it all worked out and we don’t remember those times with as much pleasure.

  • karenseiger

    When I got laid off, a wise counselor of mine told me that I’d probably get the most support from people I least expected, and not to be disappointed when it doesn’t come from the people I most expected to be supportive. I didn’t understand what it meant at first, but it became clear that my inner circle of friends were great for my emotional well-being, and my close colleagues were worried about their own jobs. In fact, the career support came from people who could see me more objectively and who had actual opportunities that they needed to fill. And that’s why it’s so important to keep networking, putting yourself out there, and being open to all opportunities.

  • I always look forward to your reading The Happiness Project blog. Love your tips to share and re-post. 🙂

  • blue

    Ah these are always so hard for me , the old me could do these things, with our son having been laid off, I’ve given him my car to use, I’m housebound unless someone can take me out or come with me on oxygen, so the physical and social activities are about nil for me, I’m alone almost all of the time with my own thoughts and bad health which can quickly lead to fear and sometimes tears or sheer terror. My DH worked for a wonderful company, all of a sudden we have been told we have to pay for our insurance, I have ALOT of medical expenses already, they took a 10 percent paycut and the vacation time was cut from 2 weeks to one and he’s worked for them for over 30 years….. so we took out a home equity loan while we can to pay off credit card debt and medical expenses to try and live on what budget we have now as my health worsens, the doctors and the meds keep costing more all of the time, whick makes me feel like a rock around his neck dragging him and our family down, sigh, when you can’t get out, see people or do much you’re stuck inside of yourself, but I do have my computer to find feels good things and my artwork when I am up to it! And prayers! LOTS of prayers and then hoping that the answer to them, is not NO! LOL God does say no as well as yes!
    Try to find something to laugh at or do what I did and get an abandoned animal, for me it was cats which I NEVER thought I’d like but those little critters are so loving and funny! Blessings to ALL these are VERY hard times.

    • gretchenrubin

      You’re facing some very serious happiness challenges. Sounds like you’re
      doing all you can to help others and also to find ways to keep yourself
      feeling as cheerful as you can when the situation is scary. I’ll be thinking
      of you.

  • Wednesday by you is tip day. On Wednesday is anti-procrastination day. I think that fits in with this article as well. When you are laid off work you now have time to accomplish things you have been putting off.

    By getting things done, you feel a sense of accomplishment which also makes you feel better.

    BTW-if you have not read Dan Miller’s book 48 Days to the Work you Love, I think you would like it. On his website he also has a 7 page guide about goals-many of which jive with things you wrote on here.

    Thanks for your site!

    • gretchenrubin

      I haven’t read the Miller book so will check that out. I love the Flylady!
      Yes, crossing things off your to-do list gives such a surge of energy and
      feeling of accomplishment. It really does work.

  • LizaRosenberg

    A friend of mine sent me the link to your site yesterday, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect, given that I’ve recently been downsized out of not one, but two jobs (each one being part-time). Both jobs were in a field that I strayed into “by accident”, and even though I’m a little concerned about the sudden lack of security, I’m using this time as an opportunity to move in a direction that makes me a lot happier and offers more of a balance – something my life was previously lacking. I’m also using my newfound free time to volunteer my services with a local humanitarian organization, and it’s giving me so much pleasure to do so! I feel like I’m finally taking back my soul.

    I’m going to bookmark the tips you provided, for those moments when I’ll need to jolt myself out of the unemployment blues. They’re great! Thanks for sharing!

  • Nice tips. Losing a job can’t be easy (even though I’ve never experienced it personally) but I can imagine – it’s one the reasons why I prefer to never have a job and stay self-employed for myself.

  • To some of my friends who are in this situation, here’s a boost to you

  • elemjay

    I’ve been laid off twice so far. The last time, I really struggled with my energy and felt sometimes that I didn’t want to get out of bed. One day, I gave myself permission to stay in bed and read all day. It felt so awful that I never wanted to do it again afterwards! Sometimes “giving yourself permission” might be a useful tactic…

  • Coincidentally I just watched this video on TED by Aimee Mullins on the “opportunity of Adversity”. Very inspiring and just looking at her reminds me I have no right to complain.


    BackpackBaseCamp Blog

  • Angie unduplicated

    Learn to meditate. Get some self-hypnosis tapes and work on a limiting belief.
    Find a place in your life where you can be totally, hilariously, ruthlessly honest. You’ll need this place to vent after you return from the truly hard work of forcing yourself into the HR profession’s stereotypes during those interview sessions. This place will be handy once you get the job, so you can keep your cool at work when your new coworkers try to get rid of you so that one of their unemployed relatives or friends can steal the job from you.

  • natalie57

    One thing I’ve done for a long, long time is to stop worrying after 9:30 pm. Just like anything else, it takes practice but the benefits are worth it. My worries are still there in the morning when I’m rested and my mind is clearer and often, in the light of day, I realize I was worrying about something I didn’t need to worry about. It also improves my sleep in a way nothing else has.

  • Guest

    Boy, howdy…this is good stuff. I lost my job out of nowhere November ’08 and I thought the world had come to an end. And if you’ll recall the economy at the time, things didn’t look too good for some time. Best recommendation I can make is forward motion. Granted, we all need our rest; however, we have to somehow keep moving. It all worked out, but it was as alone and frustrated as I’ve ever felt. Thanks for the post!

  • vickiefeminist

    Thanks for a very useful post. Also on Thur. 2-18, simple dollar answered a frantic request for advice re losing the job:

    A key point is to let your friends help you and to get out and talk to people (Go Hire Yourself An Employer by Dick Irish). Also don’t blame yourself.

  • Martina

    There’s something wrong with the toolbox… can’t access it 🙁

  • MM

    What helped me most was reading “The Myth of Self Esteem” by Albert Ellis. Self Esteem can take a big hit and this book clears your thinking about it – we just complicate things too much and getting back to simpler beliefs helps !

  • beverlynault

    I’m a new fan to the HP, but not new to the philosophies, I’m so glad to find a community that shares the same ideas, kudos Gretchen!

    Every day we make choices to keep clutter or clear it. From old habits, bad decisions or even people who drag us down (be kind!), we can sweep away detritus and make way for joy.

    Even disappointments can be a chance for a fresh start with the right attitude!

  • Debra

    I adore this interview with Thich Nhat Hanh at

    Great advice about happiness, living in the moment, starting life over, and compassion.

  • D.

    Thank you very much for these nine tips for feeling happier, I haven’t lost my job but I’m suffering from depression due to some sudden family problems. I suspect following your advice here will help me enormously. (at the moment I just want to stay at home sleeping and avoiding reality, so I’ll skip number 1). Thanks again.

  • All really good tips! #9 is what has been the best for me. Even the smallest blessings are something to be happy about when life has changed drastically. And when life gets back to ‘normal’ you will realize even more just how good life is even during a hard trial.

  • Eunice

    Thanks! I haven’t lost my job, but these are great ideas to lift anyone’s spirits:)

  • I’ve got a fantastic job working for the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games — but since starting two years ago, I’ve known this was coming to an end. Thanks for the tips — I’ll keep this in mind as I look for my next “great” job!

  • moorrless

    In May it will be one year since I have been employed. I have found that giving yourself a bit of pampering does wonders for your spirits. I may not be able to afford that spa manicure or pedicure, but it is easy enough to give yourself one. Also, an occasional hot bubblebath does wonders to clear your head of those doubts and negative thoughts.

  • I am putting myself on the other side of the equation and feel it is a good exercise to look within. There might be a blessing out of losing a job that we normally don’t see right away. It may be a possibility that the job you had wasn’t meant for you in the first place, and something bigger and better is waiting for you somewhere else.

    Until you find out where you land it is a good exercise to look inside you for new answers to your “what’s next” saga. What makes you tick? What are your motivations in life? What are your passions? Is there something I can do to develop my innate gifts and talent? What would I do with myself if I could create the life that I want? What does the perfect life look like for you.

    There are many assessment that can assist you in answering some of these questions. The biggest challenge that any of us have in life is looking ourselves in the mirror and embracing the gifts that are already inside.

  • Jilly

    I haven’t lost my job, but find myself like so many others, feeling overworked and under-appreciated. So much of my time goes into my job that it has the effect of dominating my life.

    With few extras due to overtime worked, I used an excel sheet to block out my time over a week to see where it was going. I found that I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about, preparing for and being at my place of work! Also, my work day appears to be an hour longer due to my commute. Sleep is something on which I won’t compromise, so I tallied my time and realized that after sleep and pre-, work and post-work, I am left with just 3.5 hours to myself. That’s too much!

    Since I’ve started my own happiness project, I’ve been practicing the items in the above list, many of which were introduced in January. I make my bed in the morning so that it is appealing at night. I pick up my clothes and put away items lying around (not everyday but regularly). I practice acting the way I want to feel, which works sometimes and not others. And I’ve tried to reach out to friends and visit them more than once in a blue moon. This has had the affect of making me more approachable, and less isolated.

    Just this week, I was able to shift around my morning routine by adding 15 minutes of exercise when I get up. Its nothing fancy, but it lifts my blood pressure so I feel awake, it releases a small amount of endorphins that boosts my mood, and counters any unexpected treats eaten during the day.

    Earlier this week, I received sad news that my friend’s father had passed away. I reached out to her, although she lives abroad, so that she could know I was there. It had the effect of putting my life into perspective. Where are my priorities!? What are the things that really make a difference in our lives? That night, I went home and hugged each of my parents in turn, telling them that I love them. I did the same with my sister and her family when I saw them.

    Right now, I am in a place where I am both engaged and drained by my job, but now is not the time to walk away from steady employment. That said, there ought to be a balancing point at which I can contribute to my Self. The little things I’ve been able to pick up thru the Happiness Project are helping me.

  • Hi Gretchen, I actually agree (as I usually do) with John Stuart Mill’s quote you disagree with: “Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so.”

    This comes from many years of experience with organizational leadership as well as personal experience that contemplating one’s own belly button (so to speak) generally leads to unhappiness. I think that turning outward to what the world needs from us rather than inward to our own needs is more uplifting and happiness-inducing.

    Great newsletter, by the way, and huge congratulations on the best seller list!!

    • gretchenrubin

      I point to the Second Splendid Truth:

      One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy;
      One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

      I believe it’s a false choice to say that you have to choose to turn outward
      or to turn inward. You can do both! And BOTH elements of the Second Splendid
      Truth are true! Everyone agrees on the first part, and it’s both true and
      also one of the nicest aspects of human nature, but the second part is also
      true. They work together. Start at any point and keep going.

      In your experience with organizations, who is more likely to help others?
      Work effectively? Lead others? Handle pressure? Worry about larger issues
      related to the organization’s purpose? Happy people or unhappy people?

      Fascinating debate!

      Thanks for your good wishes!

  • Chris Pulikowski

    thanks this really helps alot thank you

  • Happiness is a critical factor for work, and work is a critical factor for happiness. In one of those life-isn’t-fair results, it turns out that the happy out-perform the less happy. In addition, they work better with others, because people prefer to be around happier people, who are also less likely to show counterproductive behaviors like burnout, absenteeism, counter and non-productive work, work disputes, or retaliatory behavior than are less-happy people.

  • Jodi

    This is a very useful article. I recently lost my job, and I have done several of the things you mentioned on this article to regain some happiness, i.e, exercise and clearing clutter. I also started a blog, and a blog series on regaining my happiness –

    Thanks for the wonderful article.