Is it Possible to Sustain Well-Being and Joy Despite One’s Circumstances?

Dear Liz,

I am a woman in my upper 40s. I have a job that has very good health benefits. Also, it pays enough to support my family. The issue is that I am very unhappy in my work environment. Sometimes, or I should say, often, some of the people are hostile. This has caused me to wake up many nights upset. At times, I feel alone and stuck. I stay at the job because I know that I would not realistically be able to find another one like it where I can support my family. I know this probably sounds like such a cliché, but when I look at myself in the mirror, I do not see a happy, joyful person. I see someone who is tired, stressed, and has aged tremendously. The years are going by and I am afraid of never finding a peaceful work environment. It is hard because of the many hours spent at work, and then I find that my poor children see all my unhappiness.

Thank you for reading this. Many blessings to you.

* A note to my readers:

There are many versions of toxic and/or hostile work environments.  Only you know if the toxicity rises to the level of abuse and/or exploitation.  If you find yourself in this situation, and you believe standing up to that abuse would have severe consequences, this is when the justice work must be placed in the hands of others.  I would recommend reviewing this article:

 Dear Friend,

I am quite certain you are not alone.  Your situation reminded me of the quiet desperation Thoreau spoke of, and raises one of life’s most essential questions:  Is it possible to sustain well-being and joy despite one’s circumstances?  I believe the answer is yes, and my hope for this response is that it provides a path for you to recover your wellness and happiness, regardless of whether you remain at this job or not.

With respect to your situation, the heart of the issue seems to be this:

  1. Either you must keep this job, meaning, you have no choice re: maintaining this level of income and this health insurance coverage
  2. There is a way to leave this job while still providing for your family, though leaving will require you to make significant changes to your life, and you are afraid and/or unwilling to do so.

Only you can discern which one it is


Discernment takes courage.  Courage requires openness to the truth and the willingness to act on the truth. Your soul knows the truth, and your soul possesses the will to act, but if we are not centered in our soul, then fear can have its way with us.  Fear will attempt to interrupt your discernment process, and fear will often disguise as “proof” for why we can/cannot do something or should/should not do something.  The goal is to let our soul lead the way anytime we are faced with a difficult choice.  The good news, it’s not as mysterious as it might sound.    

There is a practical and a spiritual way to go about discernment, and the two need not be separated.  I suggest you make a list of all the reasons you must stay at this job, and then make a list of what your life would/could look like if you left this job and sought employment elsewhere.  On paper, there is no reason not to be creative with possibility. 

Take your time.  Imagine.  And as each piece of “proof” rises-up to convince you that you must stay at this job, or that it would be impossible to adapt to a new standard of living, ask fear to step aside.  Let the part of you that is longing for joy and vitality respond to that “proof”.  In stillness and quiet, ask yourself:  Is this proof real, or might it be my fear in a clever disguise.    

I’m curious—have you ever had a job that you found fulfilling, or at a minimum, not stressful and not disruptive to your peace of mind?  If so, what was it about the job?  Was it the work you were doing, the community you were in, or some other factor that supported your satisfaction?

I’m also curious—what brings you joy?  What do you do simply because you love doing it?  If it is hard to name something, it could mean you have some depression. Depression is always about stagnant grief, and stagnant grief blocks our ability to hear our own true self.  If you think you are depressed, start with bringing care to that.  You will discern much more clearly if you dissolve your depression (I’ve written columns on depression, which you can find at

Creating your list and answering these questions will take time.  As you reflect, hold on to the truth that we are meant to be in a state of joy and well-being—it is our birthright.

Joy is what we experience when trust, gratitude, and purpose come together as a single energy propelling us through the day.  Joy is not the absence of sorrow; rather, joy is the ability to brush up against the mystical truths of existence, despite our earthbound experience

If you are genuinely stuck at this job:

If your discernment process leads to the conclusion that you must stay at your current job, then it’s essential you find ways to bring peace and joy back into your life, despite your work environment. This is possible, though the path I lay out may feel foreign, especially if no one has ever nurtured your spiritual understanding of self.  But give it a try, even if that first step is nothing more than a “leap of faith”.    

There are those who have known profound loss and sorrow, those whose life is one of endless hardship, those who have very little in the way of material things.  And yet, they manage to remain joyful and gracious.  There are also those folks who experience endless circumstantial blessings, yet they are often unhappy, negative, and not so gracious. What’s the difference between these two sorts of individuals?

Some say it’s wisdom, or unique perception, even disposition, that shapes how one responds to the circumstances of their life. But I see these three things as the result of a sustained and intimate relationship with our soul.  Some are naturally intimate with their soul—their early environment nurtured it, and no events in their life disrupted it.  But others must make a conscious choice to restore intimacy with their soul, and intimacy that was so natural at birth.        

There is a place within each of us that can serve as a refuge from the cruelties, sorrows, and sufferings of life. It is the place that is most real in us—the very heart and soul of our beingness, which is where we deeply, personally, and intimately encounter the infinite and unconditional love that is the heart of God.  It is where our uniqueness overlaps with the Divine.   

When we die, we experience what I’m speaking of.  We experience it because we no longer have our body/mind/ego to contend with.  And in infancy, we experience it, because our thinking mind/ego has not developed.  The challenge is figuring out how to access that space, moment to moment, day by day, as “head-based” wounded adults. 

Nurturing Intimacy with our Soul:

We have access to two distinct consciousnesses within us.  One consciousness is in our head, and the other is within our soul.    

The soul’s consciousness is informed by an energetic presence that always has our best interest at hand.  This energetic presence is love, and it guides us into our purpose, and it holds us up when we suffer.

The mind or thinking-consciousness is shadowed by an energetic presence that does not have our best interest at hand, nor does it care about love—it only cares about remaining the dominant messenger within us.  This energetic presence is called ego. Ego is deeply fear based (its greatest fear is the fear of annihilation, which it passes on to us in the form of death-consciousness).  Because it shares space in our head, and most of us are in our heads most of the time, most of us come at life and create our life through the filter of psychological fear.   

We move out of ego/fear when we drop down into the soul’s consciousness.  I say “drop down” because we feel our soul near our heart.  There is this space just behind and below the heart, that is alive, conscious, unconditionally loving, and all forgiving.  It is where we are known best, and it is the safest place to weep, to grieve, to confess, to surrender, to find strength. It is where our uniqueness, our soul, overlaps with the Divine.  Your soul is you; your soul’s heart is Divine

Some suggestions on how to “drop down” and align with our soul’s consciousness:

One shortcut to the soul is when we do something out of love.  Let’s say you must remain at this job because you have a child with medical needs, and you cannot compromise on health coverage.  Each day, when you “punch in”, if you remind yourself that you are doing this out of love for your child—the work is actually you, loving—you will be amazed at how your burden lightens.  When our motivation for doing anything is because of love, we instantaneously align with our soul, and in that intimacy, we access a quiet peace that sustains us.  Life really does feel easier.    

Another way to “drop down” is to spot when our ego is dominating our consciousness, and in those moments, make a choice to distance from ego and choose love instead

Here are some signs that our life is being filtered through our ego (meaning ego is in control of assigning meaning to our experiences):

The dominant psychological patterns will be:

  • Chronic worry (a version of psychological fear)
  • Resentment
  • Repeated frustration/anger/strong reactions
  • Lots of complaining
  • Judging others
  • A willingness (the need) to dominate others
  • Despair
  • Feeling drained; low energy; dis-ease

Here is what we begin to experience when our soul interprets and responds to the people and events of our life:

  • Our chronic worry/anxiety is replaced with the ability to be in-trust.
  • Our inclination for resentment goes away—instead, we begin to understand that suffering and fear leads to all sorts of ugly behavior—in ourselves in and in others—and we begin to be in-compassion.
  • We’re able to de-personalize from the negative behaviors of others, behaviors that would have previously led to strong/defensive/angry reactions.
  • We become grateful—and we practice gratitude as an antidote to feelings of envy.
  • We become humble, thus we interrupt the habit of judging others.
  • Any inclination we might have to exert dominance over a person or a group of people is replaced with feelings of connection and care.
  • Despair is replaced with being in-hope.
  • Our life force is energized, and we experience the recovery of our true self, which brings us into peace.  

It takes practice:

Recovering intimacy with our soul takes repeated effort, which is why so many have a daily practice to sustain this effort.  A practice can be meditation, daily exercise, sacred-text studies, prayer, a Twelve step program, daily journaling, etc. It can be as “simple” as catching our ego when it “acts up” and then making the conscious choice to drop our consciousness into the heart of our soul. 

The truth is, life is hard, and coming at life from our ego makes it a lot harder.  The easier path is choosing to let our soul lead us through life.

If you must go to this job day after day, you do not have to sacrifice your happiness and health.  Being in-soul is rejuvenating and comforting, despite our most challenging circumstances.      

If you reach the conclusion that you could leave this job:

Just as discernment takes courage, so, too, does leaving the familiar.  In fact, leaving what we have grown accustomed to and built our life around takes enormous courage.  It means we must trust that if our soul is nudging us, we will be okay, because our soul always has our best interest at hand.      

If you are considering leaving your job, if you have determined you could leave your job and still provide for your family (albeit more simply) know that fear (your ego) will continue to taunt you (ego never lets up—which is why we must do the “letting go” of it)  You are likely to say to yourself:  I’m being reckless…selfish…irresponsible…etc.  Others are likely to come at you from their ego/fear space and deliver similar messages.  Ignore them.  Trust yourself.

If you have a trusted friend or partner who truly has your best interest at hand and  is someone capable of stepping outside of their own fear patterns, talk with that person.  When we are making big life decisions, it helps to have the support of a wise and trusted listener.  But keep in mind that even those who love us can misdirect us because of their own issues and fear.  In the end, we must trust our self.          

This crisis is pressing you to do something different.  It may be to leave your job, or it may be to find ways to cope at your job.  But this crisis isn’t about the outcome per se—this crisis is about your soul’s heart calling out to you, inviting you to be more intimate with you.  When that happens, then whatever the outcome, you will be in a much better place.         

I wish you all the very best.

Love, Liz

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