Why “If you’re not happy, change it” is the worst piece of advice… ever.


I’m pretty sure you’ve heard it before. “If you’re not happy, just change it!”. In fact, I’ve probably told people that in the past, too. It’s a massively knee jerk, all assumptive statement, isn’t it?

I mean, think about it. You might not be happy with something in your life right now (your job, your home, your relationship, your health), and you’ve probably racked your brains trying to come up with a solution. So when you start confiding in someone about it, and they just come back with a throw away “If you’re not happy, change it!”, then you’re gonna be pretty damn pissed.

It just isn’t that easy.

There are dependents, bills, family, and a whole host of other grown-up shit to think about when you’re wanting to make a huge (or even minor!) change.

Things need sorting out, pigeon holing, lists needs writing, gears need setting in motion. It’s downright ridiculous to just assume that you can “change something” on a whim and that everything will then turn into peaches & cream. Stupid!

Here’s a better piece of advice. 

If you’re not happy…

  • Ask yourself why you’re not happy (or, ask your friend). It’s usually not just “I hate my entire life”, or “My job sucks”. It’s specifics. “I have no direction, I feel like I’m letting everyone down” … “I have no free time, my job takes up so much of my evenings and weekends”.
  • What can you do right now to make it just a little bit easier? Take a look at evening classes? Spend an hour on a recruitment website? Organise a meeting with your boss? This is the start of the change. I wasn’t fulfilled in my last 9-5 job, the first thing I did? Cancel magazine subscriptions so I could start saving up for my self-employment buffer. Somehow, by doing that, it made it all feel real.
  • What’s your end goal? Do you want a new job? A new skill? Do you want to travel? What do you think would make you happy. I say think because happiness is really subjective, the grass is greener and all that. Sometimes just small shifts in your current situation can make the world of difference.
  • Plan it out. You have an end goal, you’ve thought about how that would make you feel, now it’s time to make small steps towards it. These steps should be measurable, succinct, and easy. Things like “Have 1 meal a week sat at the table with my family, phones off”, “get to the gym twice a week”, “make a list of city breaks I could take this year”. Working backwards form your end goal sometimes helps.
  • Here’s the most important piece of advice. Count your god damn blessings.  Don’t dwell on how you would be happy when _____, think about what makes you happy right now. Appreciate everything that you have in this instance, wouldn’t it be better to head towards your end goal with a happy heart and joyous everyday? Just like that douchey text-over-photo quote that goes around Pinterest and Facebook…

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”
– Vivian Greene

Extra Credits // @afeitar recommended this book, Mindfulness at Work: Flourishing in the workplace, after reading this blog post!

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  • Hi Kim,
    I was happy to get this in my inbox today.
    Real talk that makes me feel more optimistic about my challenges.
    Thank you!

  • I love this post! Change is definitely a process. I agree that you should take steps to plan out what you want, it can make you feel like you are making a difference. The biggest take away for me on your post is to “count your blessings!” Thanks for the inspiration.

  • “If you don’t like what’s on TV, change the channel.”

    That’s the motto I live by; sure they are bills and other people to think about, but what irks me is when people moan, and moan, and MOAN about their life or their job or their “situation” and do NOTHING to change it. In my opinion, if you don’t like something, if you’re not happy, change it. Obviously that statement doesn’t imply you drop everything and desert all you’ve ever known, it just means stop moaning and start doing. Put yourself on the track to doing something about the situation instead of moping around feeling sorry for yourself.

    I think that is good, solid advice.

    • I used to think the same, Sophie, but I do think there’s a lot of privilege in the “if you don’t like it, just change it” statement. Not everyone can be afforded the option to change their situation, those who can and don’t? they’re the silly ones ;)

      I was lucky when I made my big career change, I was pretty employable if the whole self employment thing didn’t work out, I had a supportive partner & a host of clients lined up. Someone else working a job they didn’t like might not be that fortunate, they might be supporting 3 kids and that shitty job will bring in a steady wage. They might want to go back to school, start their own business, but it’s just not as feasible. Of course, there’re small steps they can make to get them to where they want, but even then, each of those steps might be hugely difficult for them! For someone to just say “if you’re not happy, change it”, would be pretty useless, they probably feel really stuck in their current situation.

      Totally don’t disagree that if you’re not happy then it’s time to make changes, but sometimes those changes have to be a mental shift in the current situation, rather than changing the situation.. if ya get me!

      • Exactly. I really think a lot of those “text over photo” Pinterest quotes we all love really only come from a place of privilege, and need to be taken with a grain of salt. I went into some deep thought about this a while ago after I wrote a post about fear of failure holding people back from happiness.

        After writing the post, I realized that it might not be fear of failure- but fear of not being able to feed your three children, or keep the lights on that holds a lot of people back. Those are real concerns that can’t be solved with a simple “Just change it!”.

        You’re right- it is a throwaway generalization that implies that everyone has control over their situation. But that’s just not the case. Thanks for writing such a real post! There’s more to following your dreams and passions than just doing it- it requires a certain place in life where your basic needs are already provided for. If you’d like to check out the post I wrote on a related topic, here it is: http://eyesofstyle.com/some-perspective/

      • I also think there is a lot of ignorance behind thinking that people who can and do change their situation are privileged in some way because they manage to do that.

        I think people use their situation as an excuse not to change and while I would agree having children and a mortgage has a huge impact on what you can and can’t do, there are still ways to change a situation for the better and using those reasons as an excuse not to is a cop out.

        We all have different circumstances and while some of us approach life in a positive way, others prefer to find excuses and reasons not to change their life for the better.

  • The second part of the quote is…. “If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” This is something any and everyone can change! :)

  • So basically you’re saying it is the worst advice but you go on to say… do it anyway?

    Change is the flux of life. Learning to dance in the rain is also change. A change in attitude. Learning itself entails change.

    If you get pissed at someone who is saying you have that power that is a reflection of what’s inside you and more often than not means you don’t want to do anything to help yourself. Granted there are many who cannot. Victims of circumstance but even circumstances can be navigated and surmounted.

    I’ve been through a lot and have come to the realization that you really do have to want to do the work it takes.

    Hell even asking yourself questions that you never asked yourself before is change.