How to Be Happy when You Are Unemployed

A discussion on how to be happy, even when you are unemployed and under financial stress.

Being happy while unemployed is a challenge for many people today. The unemployment rate is hovering around 10% and the "real" unemployment rate (including discouraged people no longer looking, underemployed people, part-timers who want to be full time, and temporary workers who want to be permanent) is between 15 and 20%. Economists project a long recovery, with perhaps several years of high unemployment.

Despite the hardships of unemployment, some people manage to remain happy, while many are extremely unhappy.

It is easy to see why people are unhappy. Unemployment affects people's emotional well-being, as well as the obvious financial issues and the stress which comes from all of that. It is hard to be happy when you are losing your home and most of your other worldly goods. Even your relationships are often destroyed as a result of the other issues going on.

But how do people remain happy when they are unemployed? What can an individual or family do to remain happy during this difficult period? How can people prepare in advance to protect their happiness when losing a job?

Preparation for Unemployment

First, how can people prepare for unemployment? The answers to these fall into three major categories: 1.) financial preparedness, 2.) maintain other income options, and 3.) emotional.

Financial preparedness:

Live within your means

Maintain a 6-12 month emergency fund

Do not take on debt for discretionary items

Avoid credit card balances

Save as much as possible

Other sources of income:

savings and investments

maintain and improve job skills

always think about what you might do if your job went away

research and prepare for other possible jobs

develop freelance capabilities while still employed, to be positioned to move into that area when needed

Emotional Preparedness:

Develop self-worth outside the job

Determine what truly makes you happy. If it is material things, you will probably have a harder time with unemployment than if they are intangibles.

Develop interests and enjoyment from things that are not (or at least less) materialistic.

Develop relationships with family and friends

Monitor security of your job (obsolescence, company problems, general economic conditions) so you are not "blind-sided"

Have an action plan to implement immediately when needed. It's hard to move forward when you are in the shock of losing a job.

Maintaining (or Regaining) Happiness When Unemployed

Even with the best of plans, one is bound to be unhappy when they hear they have lost their job. The question is how to regain this happiness and maintain it when you do lose a job.

Some of the factors you will need to deal with on losing a job are:

financial stresses

relationship stresses

self esteem and confidence

social network

Financial stresses

Even if you are "prepared" for a job loss, an immediate assessment and implementation of a plan is important.

Evaluate your expenses and any remaining income.

Determine how long your emergency fund will last.

If necessary (and probably even if not necessary), look at what discretionary expenses can be reduced or eliminated.

Do NOT assume you will find a job in a specific period of time. Prepare for an extended period of unemployment.

Immediately plan and begin a job search. Focus first on jobs within your expertise and which will replace all or nearly all of your prior income.

Plan on spending at least 40 hours a week on your job hunt. That now IS your full time job.

Once you have nearly exhausted leads in your field, branch out into other areas. You can not afford to rule out other options.

Don't be afraid to take some part time jobs during this period. You can use the extra income and it will help your confidence level.

Relationship Stresses

Unemployment can cause serious stresses on our relationships with the ones we love. It is important to manage this aspect as well as we manage the financial aspects and the job hunt. After all, we should ask what is most important in our life. Hopefully, the answer for most of us is that our family and friends are at the top of the list.

Maintaining our relationships can also help reduce some of the other stresses involved. Those we love can provide support in many ways - love, building confidence, ideas, constructive feedback, etc. Make use of this valuable resource.

Self Esteem and Confidence

It is hard to maintain self esteem and confidence during an extended period of unemployment. Be sure to look realistically at your abilities and worth. Too often we are our own worst critics. We are good at pointing out our own faults and beating ourselves up. Focus first on what you do well and where your strengths are. Yes, also look at your weaknesses. But instead of beating yourself up over your weaknesses, look at what you can do to improve those areas.

Remember those things you have succeeded at in the past. Think about why you succeeded. Apply those strengths to your current situation.

Social Network

Often our jobs also provide a significant part of our social network. At the time when we need them most, we no longer have easy access to our co-workers, who were our sounding boards and inspiration. Try to maintain as many of those relationships as you can. Strengthen the relationships outside of work (family, friends, church, clubs, etc.) They can be helpful in so many ways - support, ideas, sounding boards, perhaps even some leads on jobs.


While losing a job is stressful and may lead to unhappiness, we need to evaluate what true happiness is. Focus more on the intangibles - love, family, friends, even a walk in the park. Don't be consumed by the "things" we often equate with happiness.

Make a realistic plan to deal with your predicament, and work at executing your plan.

Above all, maintain your confidence and self esteem in any way you can - outside contacts, part time jobs, maybe even volunteering.

Happiness, they say, is a state of mind. You can to an extent control your own happiness despite your current circumstances. Find those things that make you truly happy and build on those in your life.


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