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Happiness In Minimum Wage

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There are certain boring, low-paying jobs most people fear being stuck with when they grow up: burger flipper, garbage man, janitor, retail store greeter, etc. This character has one of these jobs... and wouldn't have it any other way.

This trope can reveal many things about the character. Maybe they're just that unflappably cheerful. Maybe they enjoy contributing to society by doing simple and/or unpleasant jobs necessary for a functioning society that few others are willing to do. Maybe it doesn't matter how miserable the work is, as long as they get to work with (or for) their friends. Or maybe they just genuinely enjoy the work. A more cynical variation is when one employee is a Lazy Bum who enjoys their job because they can push their work off on more responsible co-workers.

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Sometimes used as An Aesop to teach people that finding enjoyment in your work is more important than your salary.

Of course, such a character may be hiding his true capabilities or intentions — and might even secretly work with others who do likewise.

Often a character like this will be contrast to a "conventionally" miserable co-worker of similar rank.

A more extreme version of this is Happiness in Slavery. If a character's dream is to obtain one of these jobs, it's Humble Goal. Compare Call to Agriculture, where a powerful character wants to retire to work on a farm. Contrast Soul-Crushing Desk Job, a job that leaves people miserable despite generally having better pay.


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Examples

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     Comic Books  

     Film - Animated  

  • In Monsters University, after Mike and Sulley are expelled from Monsters University and lose any chance of achieving their dream of being Scarers at Monsters Inc., Mike reminds Sulley that they're always hiring in the mail room. They wholeheartedly enjoy their jobs sorting mail at the mail room and even earn a "most mail delivered" award, and perform various other jobs such as "can wrangling" and serving food at the cafeteria. Eventually, they fulfill their dream of becoming Scarers when the company hosts scare tryouts.
  • In Toy Story 3, it's revealed that Sid's become a garbage man in between the events of Toy Story 1 and 3. He takes on his job with newfound enthusiasm, listening to music, scatting to himself and drumming on the garbage cans while dumping the garbage. It just goes to show how much Character Development he's gone through after being scared straight by Woody (and, if one interprets the Monsters, Inc. comics as canon, Mike and Sulley).

     Film - Live Action  

  • In American Beauty, middle-aged Lester Burnham quits his corporate job and goes back to flipping burgers, a job he finds far more satisfying than his previous one, as he gets to screw with customers and spend a lot of time at home smoking pot.
  • Ed from Good Burger is a Kindhearted Simpleton who loves working at the eponymous restaurant. He's acts as a foil to Dexter, who hates his job and only has it to pay back his parents for damaging their car in a joyride.
  • Stan, the janitor in UHF, loves his job so much that after he gets the chance to be a TV star, he accepts only on the condition that he can continue his normal janitorial duties.
  • In Brazil Sam Lowry is perfectly content with working on Information Adjustment as a lowly drone (that his boss Mr. Kurtzman is friendly and trusty to), daydreaming away. His mother insists on trying to use her influences to place him in a higher position to his constant protesting. The only reason he accepts a transfer to a higher office is because it's the only way he will get the security clearance to read Jill's file.
  • At the end of Office Space, Peter quits his Soul-Crushing Desk Job so he can spend his days as a construction worker just like his neighbor Lawrence. He appreciates the physical exercise and being outdoors all day. A Deleted Scene that expands the epilogue subverts this, though, by showcasing that Peter's boss at the construction company is a perfect clone of Peter's previous and highly annoying boss Bill Lumbergh, down to the exact same way of talking. Meaning Peter traded his old white-collar hell for a similar blue-collar hell. The scene cuts just as Peter starts to feel depressed again as he processes this revelation.
  • A running theme in Clerks and Clerks II with character Randal, who thinks his cashier job is perfect "if it weren't for the fucking customers", unlike his friend Dante who feels like he should be doing more with his life. Though he seems less happy with his fry cook job in II, especially when he finds out Dante is going to move to Florida. It reaches a head at climax when Randal admits he'd want to buy the video store he used to work at so he could go back to that job.
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     Literature  

  • In Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Greg's mom tells him to study hard to become a doctor when he grows up, or he'll end up with a low-paying job, such as being a garbage man. This warning doesn't seem to stick with Greg, who writes that the teens who take out the garbage on his block seem to enjoy their jobs, playing loud music and smoothly passing the garbage cans to each other, while doctors are stuck "suctioning mucus out of childrens' noses".
  • In The Stormlight Archive, the side character Mem takes great pride in her job as a washerwoman and her ability to restore almost any garment to perfect condition. She even gets high praise from her boss, a ranking member of the Ghostblood Ancient Conspiracy who gets some very weird stains on his clothes.
  • The narrator of the Maya Angelou poem Weekend Glory compares herself proudly to pretentious keeping-up-with-the-Joneses types who don't even appreciate the luxurious status items they bankrupt themselves to buy.
    My job at the plant ain't the biggest bet, but I pay my bills and stay out of debt. I get my hair done for my own self's sake, so I don't have to pick and I don't have to rake.
  • One of the Foundation novels (Forward the Foundation) included as a sub-plot the murder mystery of who killed Galactic Emperor Cleon I on the very highly-guarded grounds of his palace. After a long time looking over multiple men who wanted him dead for reasons both personal and political and dealing with the fallout of the assassination, it turned out that the murderer had been one of the palace's gardeners, who had killed the Emperor in a moment of impulsiveness over being angry at the idea of being upgraded in rank to chief gardener (which would involve a pay increase but also having to micro-manage any substitutes and becoming a Desk Jockey — yeah, he loved tending the garden that much), even after he very fervently asked the Emperor not to raise his rank and the Emperor insisting. The gardener at least has the decency to have a My God, What Have I Done? reaction once all of the facts finally catch up to him and the Foundation's agents have a massive Oh, Crap! moment when they figure out that many of their plans have gone to hell thanks to this idiot.
  • A brief scene in Good Omens mentions a cook in one of Famine's fast food restaurants. (Famine sells food that have been scientifically stripped of all real nutrients, to the point that eating too much of it could cause someone to die from malnutrition, an irony that Famine finds delightful.) Said cook happily whistles and sings while he works, blissfully unaware that simply taking pleasure in doing his job is annoying Famine enough to plan on firing him. Between the physical description of the cook and some other tidbits in book, it's strongly hinted that the man is Elvis Presley.
  • Discworld:
    • Thief of Time: Lu-Tze the Sweeper is a supremely powerful History Monk who once beats down Time itself. Despite being a textbook Almighty Janitor, he also remains a sweeper (the lowest level in the hierarchy short of novices) with only the Abbot and some higher-ups knowing just how strong he is, and once described his salary as "two pence and all the kicks I can't dodge".
    • Unseen Academicals: Mr. Nutt is a brilliant Polymath who's quite happy to work in the Unseen University candle vats for modest room and board. It's still a huge step up from a childhood spent chained to an anvil in a dark forge. Internalized Categorism due to being a Token Heroic Orc might also have something to do with it.

     Live Action TV  

  • Scrubs
    • One episode featured one of the hospital's menial staff who loved his job because he felt that supporting the doctors was quite a meaningful vocation. He has to be fired because of budget cuts.
    • Another example is the character of "Cabbage" who flunked out of medical school and later turned up as a barista where he admitted he was much happier because it was less pressure and more enjoyable doing that than being a doctor.

     Music  

  • In the video to Reel Big Fish's "Sell Out," the band appear very fond of their jobs in a greasy spoon hamburger joint and laugh off a record executive's offer of a recording contract... until he brings out the obligatory Briefcase Full of Money. They wind up back in the greasy spoon at the end of the video.

     Newspaper Comics  

  • Frazz, the custodian at an elementary school, reveals in one strip that he has a degree in biochemistry; he's also known to be a successful songwriter. He appears to be a Brilliant, but Lazy man who sticks with his low-paying job because he enjoys interacting with the kids that much. Queried in that strip why a janitor needs a biochemistry degree:
    Frazz: You want to be a janitor who isn't afraid of losing his job.
  • Dilbert's garbageman is the Smartest Man in the World, and is quite happy being a garbageman, the joke being that we aren't qualified to question the Smartest Man in the World's decisions.

     Tabletop Games 

  • The Exalted setting book for Autochthonia describes Ruvonia, a factory worker who became famous for her rousing work songs. Because of that, the more prestigious lector caste offered to make her one of them. She refused because it would've gone against her artistic spirit; she was proud of her place and her crew's usefulness.
  • A Pyramid article about 0-point GURPS characters included a waiter named Herman "Jiffy" Ross:
    Herman (please, call him Jiffy!) is a waiter at a medium-quality restaurant, and this is the single defining fact of his existence. Ever since "Jiffy" was a small child, he knew what he wanted to do in life, and now he does it. He loves his work, which may make him unique among the waiters of the world. With a song in his heart and a dance in his step he serves his customers, and no one is happier than he.

     Western Animation  

  • The Amazing World of Gumball: Rocky likes his job as the school janitor/bus driver/cafeteria worker because he's a congenial kind of guy who's One of the Kids. He only tries to get another job when he thought he had to impress his dad.
  • Bojack Horseman: Out of the many jobs that fall into his lap in season 2, Mr. Peanutbutter takes the one with the lowest payment in his career: Lady Footwear as a clerk. Surprisingly, Mr. Peanutbutter's content there doing his own thing and attracting people by juggling shoe boxes and dishing out compliments. This only reinforces what he likes the most: attention. It also shows what he lacks: foresight. If Princess Carolyn hadn’t seen him, it’s unlikely he and Diane would have been able to maintain their lifestyle, something that hadn’t quite dawned on him.
  • DuckTales (1987): Scrooge McDuck's employees never get paid very much (Mrs. Beakley is explicitly stated to work for room and board, at least at first), but none of them seem to mind a lot. Part of this is probably because of their Undying Loyalty to Scrooge and his family; they just want to stay near them.
  • Gravity Falls: Despite Stan being a Mean Boss who never listens to his ideas, Soos loves working at the Mystery Shack, as he's a perpetually cheerful Manchild with an overly worshipful view of his boss.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes:
    • K.O. loves working at Gar's Bodega, mostly because he's a Cheerful Child who loves being helpful. Enid and Rad are a more downplayed version; they can find the work tedious (Enid especially, since she deals with Unsatisfiable Customers constantly), but still like each other and find Mr. Gar enough of a Benevolent Boss to look up to. It helps that part of the job is fighting the robots that periodically attack the store.
    • Brandon loves his retail job at the frame store, seeing it as a very easy job where he gets to hang out with his co-worker and best friend, A Real Magic Skeleton. For his part, A.R.M.S. enjoys hanging out with Brandon, but is clearly taking the lion's share of the workload, and has considered looking for a better-paying job.
  • The main cast of Regular Show are generally satisfied with their jobs as park groundskeepers, in part because they're close friends with each other. Even though Mordecai and Rigby constantly avoid doing work, which Benson berates them for, they appreciate that he never actual fires them. Skips in particular enjoys his job, and regularly goes out of his way to help people. It probably helps that he has the occasional supernatural incident caused by Mordecai and Rigby to resolve.
  • The Simpsons:
    • "I Married Marge" shows that, when Homer and Marge were still dating, Homer had a job at a mini-golf course. He enjoyed his work, mostly because his boss didn't mind/notice his incompetence, and thought the incredibly small chances for advancement made it "a job with a future". Only after Bart is born does Homer go for a better paying but more grueling job at the Springfield Nuclear Power Plant—which he specifically gets by promising Mr. Burns he'll be a huge doormat.
    • Similarly, "And Maggie Makes Three" shows Homer cleared his debt from his house and first two kids, quit the power plant in grandiose fashion, and happily moved to a much lower paying job at a bowling alley. Shortly afterward, he found out Marge was pregnant with Maggie, which forced him to beg for his old job back.
  • In SpongeBob SquarePants, Spongebob enjoys his job making Krabby Patties at the Krusty Krab despite the rude customers, his surly coworker, and his greedy boss. He willingly takes on all the extra jobs Mr. Krabs gives him without expecting extra pay. In one episode, it's even implied that Spongebob pays him to work there.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Sadie and Lars fit the "friendship" version, despite their constant arguments. They started working at the Big Donut for the summer, but stayed on for years because they enjoyed each other's company—though Lars also enjoys that Sadie's willing to pick up his slack. Once Lars can't come to work anymore, Sadie's job becomes harder and very lonely, so she quits entirely to join a band.
    • Eventually, after Bill Dewey loses his job as mayor to Nanefua Pizza and does a lot of aimless wandering around Beach City, he becomes the employee taking Sadie's place in the Big Donut under Steven's suggestion, and he actually feels fulfilled.

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