How to choose a job that will make you really happy

“How to build a lifeis a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, addressing questions of meaning and happiness.


Esame year, Gallup asks a sample of American adults what may seem like a pretty loaded question: How much do you love your job? The results might surprise you. The proportion of people who say they are “fully satisfied” at work has increased dramatically over the past two decades, from 41% in 2001 to 55% in 2019. In 2020, despite millions of Americans turning their backs on towards working remotely, 89% said they were either “completely” or “somewhat” satisfied.

I teach graduate students who have carefully considered their ideal career, many of whom are training for jobs in business or government. They find this statistic surprising because, like many of us, they generally assume that in order to be satisfied you need to have the job of your dreams – a job where your skills meet your passions, you earn a lot of money and you are looking forward to each work. daytime. No way 89% of people have that, right?

But this belief is based on a misunderstanding of what brings job satisfaction. To be happy at work, you don’t need to have a fascinating job that represents the pinnacle of your academic achievement or the most prestigious use of your “potential”, and you don’t have to earn a lot of money. money. What matters is not so much the “what” of a job, but rather the “who” and the “why”: job satisfaction comes from people, values ​​and a sense of accomplishment.

NOTor doubt a A large part of the job satisfaction percentage is due to the fact that having a job makes people happier. Unemployment is one of the biggest sources of unhappiness people can face. Using data from the General Social Survey, I found that American adults who said they were “very” or “somewhat” likely to lose their jobs in 2018 were more than three times more likely to say they were. ‘They were “not too happy” with their lives than people who felt they were “not likely” to be let go. Several studies have linked a country’s unemployment rate to rising suicide rates. In 2014, economists found that a one percentage point increase in unemployment reduces national welfare by more than five times more than a one point increase in the rate of inflation.

When you have a job, the factors that most affect satisfaction have little to do with the line of work. First, there are the uncontrollable variables: a study in the Journal of Applied Psychology Identical twins raised separately have found that about 30 percent of job satisfaction is genetic. Then there are the practical variables: Economists have found that wage increases increase job satisfaction, but only in the short term. The effect diminishes rapidly over time. In all careers, regular pay increases are better for happiness than infrequent, larger increases.

Some of the most delicate aspects of a job are also those that make it the most rewarding: the values ​​held by your company and your colleagues. Research has shown, for example, that all over the world, job satisfaction depends on a sense of accomplishment, recognition of a job well done and work-life balance. Teamwork also has a strong influence in collectivist cultures, but less so in individualistic cultures. The late Harvard psychologist Richard Hackman found that job satisfaction was strongly, inversely related to leader-centric orientation: opportunities than leaderless string quartet players.

Decades of studies have shown that the people who are most satisfied with their jobs are those who find a fundamental fit between their employer’s values ​​and theirs. This is especially true when the values ​​have a particular moral, philosophical or spiritual significance. For example, a 2012 study of Iranian nurses found that the happiest people believed their work was “a divine profession and a tool through which they could gain spiritual pleasure and satisfaction.” Many of my colleagues feel the same about the vocation of higher education, and as the late philosopher Michael Novak wrote, this sense of a vocation can also be found in business.

Researchers who have sought clear relationships between job satisfaction and the type of actual job one holds have overwhelmingly given up. CareerBliss, a company dedicated to helping people find greater happiness at work, released the results of a survey of “happiest jobs” and “most unhappy jobs,” rated by those who hold them. Its most recent rankings, dating from 2018, show that the happiest professions are quite disparate: educational assistant, quality assurance analyst, net developer, marketing specialist. The most unfortunate jobs are also out of control and little related to education and income: accountant, security guard, cashier, supervisor.

When my graduate students ask me for advice on choosing a job or a career path, not telling them to find the best possible match between their interests and their specific tasks. Obviously, they shouldn’t be signing up for something they hate. But I tell them that satisfaction is found in all kinds of vocations. After all, how many kids say, “When I grow up, I’ll be a quality assurance analyst”? Rather than relentlessly pursuing a “perfect” career that will certainly make them happy, a better approach is to remain flexible about the exact job, while seeking the values ​​and culture that match theirs.

Whatever job they find themselves in, finding a sense of accomplishment in it is crucial for job satisfaction. It helps to set goals in their work, such as increasing skills or responsibilities. However, some goals lead to more happiness than others. While salary increases temporarily increase satisfaction, money as a career goal doesn’t. Volumes of research show that pursuing extrinsic rewards for work, such as money, actually hurts your interest in the job. For real satisfaction, you must pursue intrinsic goals, two in particular.

The first is deserved success. You can think of it as the opposite of learned helplessness, a term coined by psychologist Martin Seligman to refer to the resignation people feel when repeatedly enduring unpleasant situations beyond their control. Rather, deserved success gives you a sense of accomplishment (which Seligman has shown to be a source of happiness and which strongly predicts happiness at work) and professional efficiency (the idea that you are efficient at your job, which strengthens commitment to your profession, also a good measure of job satisfaction). Employers who give clear advice and feedback, reward merit, and encourage their employees to develop new skills are most likely to give you these feelings. Look for a boss who acts this way and if you have the chance, to be that kind of boss.

The second goal to pursue at work is service to others– the feeling that your work makes the world a better place. This doesn’t mean that you have to volunteer or work for a charity to be happy (my own research has shown that working for a nonprofit is no more satisfying on its own than working for a for-profit organization. or for the government). On the contrary, you can find service in almost any job. One of my students explained this point better than I did, in an op-ed he wrote explaining why he had given up jobs in his field of university study to become a waiter in Barcelona. As he says in Spanish, his clients “are all important and equal. They are the same at the table and must be the same in the eyes of the waiter… It’s good to be able to serve the politician on the front page of the newspaper as well as the kid leafing through the news while waiting for his girlfriend. “

geven if job satisfaction depends on rather amorphous criteria such as people and values ​​instead of concrete characteristics such as tasks and money, it should be noted that a good job can turn into a bad one without any changes that would be obvious to a stranger.

One of the most famous examples of this comes from the early history of the Bible. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, God – who had recently created Adam and judged his creation to be “very good” – gives Adam a blessed vocation which is pleasing to both of them: he “put him in the Garden of Eden. to work it and take care of it. “A chapter later, after the inconvenience with the serpent and the apple, God throws Adam and Eve out of Eden, cursing them:” With the sweat of your brow, you will eat your food until ‘you return to the ground.

The above research sheds light on all of this: Adam and Eve were still farmers in both cases, but you could say that their relationship with the boss had deteriorated, and they went from gaining their success to dragging themselves out. work to pay the bills.

Okay, to say that job dissatisfaction is the price of human downfall may be a little high, but it’s pretty bad. And while a good job might not be as idyllic as the Garden of Eden, when we know the secrets of a truly satisfying career, the job can truly be a joy.


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