Should I Take a Lower Paying Job to Be Happier?

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A very common question from job seekers on forums like Reddit and Quora is centered around how they should prioritize stress versus money. Folks will often ask if they should leave a job that they enjoy for more money or if they should leave a job they hate for less money.

This post is focused on the latter case, and is written to help people decide if they should take a lower paying job to be happier.

Throughout the post, I’m going to walk you through how to help ensure that making the leap to another job truly will make you happier and, if so, how to prioritize your happiness vs. your pay.

Evaluate if Moving to a Job With Less Money is Truly Necessary to Be Happier

When trying to answer the question of if a lower paying job will make you happier, the first thing that you need to do is to determine if a different career path and/or a different job within that career path will truly make you happier.

Ultimately, there are a variety of different factors as to why you may be unhappy in your current job. And you may not necessarily need to change to a lower paying job in order to be happier.

In the I hate my job: what to do post, I walk through in detail a method for evaluating why you hate your job. 

To quickly summarize that post, the career counseling book What Color is Your Parachute, talks about seven different factors that contribute to job happiness:

  1. Your compatibility with the people (boss and colleagues)
  2. Your workplace conditions
  3. The skills you’re using
  4. Your sense of purpose
  5. The knowledge that you’re using
  6. Your pay
  7. Your location

And, as discussed in that same post, you would take a different action depending upon which of those seven factors applies to you.

For example, if you think you’ll be happier with a different boss, there’s a good chance that you can move to a different company in the same field and at the same level and maintain your pay. You’ll be happier and you won’t have to take a step back in salary.

So the first thing that I recommend when trying to evaluate if you should take a lower paying job to be happier is to assess why you don’t like your job in the first place and if you truly need to take a lower paying job to be happier.

If You Think a Different Job Will Make You Happier, Then How Do You Prioritize That Against Money?

Now, let’s say that you’ve determined that you definitely do need to move into a different career or work context with lower pay to make you happier.

For example, let’s imagine that you work at a law firm. You work crazy hours because the law firm makes money based off of the billable hour and so they’re incentivized to have their people work as many hours as possible.

If you decide that working that many hours makes you miserable, a move to a different law firm with the same incentives in place likely will not make you happier. You probably either need to start working as an in-house attorney or change career paths entirely…both of which are likely to result in less pay.

The question then becomes, is moving to a job that will make you happier for less money a smart decision? Or are you crazy for even thinking about that.

Here are a few tools that I would offer to help you think through if you should move to a different career for less money:

Evaluate Your Values

When making most big life decisions, the place that I generally recommend that people start is with their personal values. Ultimately, to live well, you need to live in a way that is congruent with the things that are most important to you. So if you know what your values are, then you can make decisions that will help build the life that you truly want.

The best methods for determining your values are outside of the scope of this article, but we have a full write-up here on how to determine your values that provides you with some tools and resources.

To unpack the process a little bit, let’s pretend that you know your values, and your top three are family, community, and autonomy. That means that, to you, a life well lived will be full of time with family and friends. And a job would give you that type of freedom.

In your case, none of the things that you value the most in life are directly tied to income. So making the move to a job that provides more time with family and community, even at the expense of some money, may be the right decision for you.

Evaluate The Life That You’re Trying to Build

Another tool for evaluating if you should take a lower paying job to be happier is to think longer term about the life that you’re trying to build for yourself.

Let’s say that you don’t enjoy your job right now and you have the opportunity to move to a job that will make you happier in the short term, but for less pay. Ultimately, that may be the right move for you, but you need to make sure you look at it through a long-term view. 

For example, if you ultimately want to look back on your life and say that you were a leader of people and that you were able to send your kids to college without debt, taking a step back in your career may not be congruent with those goals. In many cases, a lower paying job is less likely to be a people manager, and taking less money may make you less able to fund your kid’s college.

A helpful tool that I’ve found to think about the life that you’re trying to build for yourself is the process of taking 15 minutes to write a future biography. Going through that exercise enables you to visualize where you’d like to go.

If you have a clear picture of where you’re going, it may put short term job discomfort in the appropriate perspective.

Evaluate Your Financial Position

A final and important recommendation for evaluating if you should take a lower paying job to be happier is to evaluate your financial situation.

Ultimately, you need to understand the financial implications of taking less money, how it will impact your life, and if you’re comfortable with that to effectively decide if you want to take less money.

In order to properly evaluate the financial impact, you need to develop zero-based budget, if you’re not using one already. In that process, you’ll need to know all of your expenses and how much you’re currently spending in total. That will tell you how much wiggle room you have under to decrease your current income.

Additionally, you need to know the long-term financial goals that you want to achieve. For example, if you want to retire at a particular age, or send your kids to college, you need to know what it will take to get there, and understand the impact of taking a job for less money to be happier.

Once you know the financial impact that taking less money will have, you can make an inform decision on if the financial tradeoffs are worth the benefits that you will get in living closer to your values.

If You Have a Specific Job Offer, Ensure That the Job Will Truly Make You Happier

The final recommendation that I would offer in this process is tied to evaluating a specific job.

Let’s pretend that you determined that you did need to find a new job to be happier, that you went through an interview process, and have an offer in hand.

If that job offer is for less pay, then you’ll want to be really confident that when you make the jump that you truly will be happier in that role.

The full process for how to evaluate a job offer is covered in detail in a separate post. However, there are a few things that I want to pull out of that article to help you to decide if a particular job offer you have will make you happier.

First, in going back to the earlier point about knowing why you’re unhappy in your current job, you need to critically evaluate if the new job addresses that pain point. So if you don’t like the hours that you had to work in your old job, are you confident that the new job addresses that concern while offering the other aspects that you do like in a job?

The best way to do that is to ask questions regarding your key job criteria of your interviewees throughout the process. That will give you different perspectives on the company culture and what the job will really be like. If you missed the chance to do that, you can still ask questions after receiving the job offer to give you confidence that it’s the right move.

Conclusion

Whether or not you should take a lower paying job to be happier is something that a variety of people wrestle with. Ultimately, if that’s something that you’re evaluating, you need to make sure that you really do need to take a lower paying job to be happier and that there are not other options at your same level.

If you think you do need to take less money to be happier, there are some tools that you can use to prioritize money vs. happiness in a job, as well as ways to evaluate a specific job offer that may be in hand.

About the author

Dan Slocum

Dan is the founder of Best Fit Work and is a business professional with over 10 years of experience. He has been a hiring and people manager on multiple occasions, and has also gone through the hiring process himself at a variety of different companies. Dan serves as a career counselor on the side. He writes to share content, tools, and resources to help people discover and thrive in their own best fit work.

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