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Discovering the Formula for Being Happy at Work

Mar 31 2023
Discovering the Formula for Being Happy at Work

Beyond the Perfect Match: Achieving Job Satisfaction Through Earned Success and Service to Others Many people believe that job satisfaction is only attainable through a dream job that perfectly aligns with their passions and skills and offers high pay. However, Gallup's annual surveys of American adults reveal a different story. In 2019, 55 percent of respondents reported being "completely satisfied" with their job, up from 41 percent in 2001. Even in 2020, a year marked by a massive shift to remote work, 89 percent of respondents reported being either "completely" or "somewhat" satisfied. 

Job Satisfaction: It's Not Just About the Job Title 

Many people believe that job satisfaction comes from finding the perfect job that fully utilizes their potential. However, research has shown that job satisfaction is not solely determined by the job itself. As a result, it's possible to find fulfillment and enjoyment in a role that may not be your dream job. 

These findings often surprise graduate students training for careers in business or government who assume that job satisfaction can only come from a prestigious job that fully utilizes their potential. However, job satisfaction is influenced by a range of factors such as the people you work with, the values you share, and a sense of accomplishment. 

Therefore, it's important to remain open to the possibility of finding job satisfaction in unexpected places. By prioritizing factors such as personal growth, meaningful work, earned success, and service to others, individuals can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction in their careers. Remember, it's not just about the job title - job satisfaction can be found in a variety of roles and industries. 

A significant portion of the reported job satisfaction percentage can be attributed to the fact that having a job, any job, generally makes people happier. Unemployment is a major source of unhappiness, as studies have shown that individuals who are "very" or "fairly" likely to lose their job are over three times more likely to report being "not too happy" with their life than those who feel secure in their employment. Unemployment rates have also been linked to increased suicide rates in some countries. In addition, economists have found that a one-percentage-point increase in unemployment can decrease national well-being by more than five times as much as a one-point increase in inflation. 

However, once a person has a job, the line of work becomes a lesser factor in determining job satisfaction. Uncontrollable variables, such as genetics, play a role in determining job satisfaction, with about 30 percent of it being attributed to genetics, according to one study. Practical variables, such as wage increases, can also raise job satisfaction, but only in the short term. Regular wage increases, regardless of size, have a stronger effect on happiness than infrequent, larger raises. 

The squishier aspects of a job, such as the values held by the company and co-workers, can have a significant impact on job satisfaction. Research has shown that a sense of accomplishment, recognition, and work-life balance are important factors in job satisfaction across cultures. Teamwork is also important in collectivist cultures, although it has less of an impact in individualist cultures. Richard Hackman, a Harvard psychologist, found that job satisfaction is inversely tied to leader-centricity, with employees in symphony orchestras reporting 21 percent less satisfaction with their growth opportunities when many conductors rule with an iron fist, as opposed to those in leaderless string quartets. 

Arthur Brooks and Jenn Lim, CEO of Delivering Happiness, discuss the barriers that prevent individuals from feeling that their work serves a higher purpose. Research spanning decades has consistently shown that individuals who find a strong alignment between their own values and those of their employer experience greater job satisfaction. This is particularly true when those values hold a special moral, philosophical, or spiritual significance. For instance, a study on Iranian nurses found that those who believed their work to be "a divine profession and a tool for gaining spiritual pleasure and satisfaction" were the happiest. Similarly, many of my colleagues in higher education feel a calling to their work, and philosopher Michael Novak has suggested that this sense of purpose can be found in the business world as well. 

However, attempts to establish a clear link between job satisfaction and the type of job one holds have largely failed. CareerBliss, a company focused on improving workplace happiness, has published survey results on the "happiest jobs" and "unhappiest jobs" as rated by those who hold them. The most recent rankings from 2018 reveal a wide range of careers among the happiest jobs, including teaching assistant, quality-assurance analyst, net developer, and marketing specialist. Similarly, the unhappiest jobs are diverse and not necessarily related to income or education, with positions such as accountant, security guard, cashier, and supervisor. 

When considering career paths, many people believe that finding the perfect match between their interests and job duties is crucial for job satisfaction. While it's important to avoid a job that you hate, satisfaction can be found in a wide range of vocations. Instead of solely seeking a perfect match, it's helpful to remain flexible on the exact job and prioritize finding a values and culture that align with your own. 

Regardless of the job you end up in, finding a sense of accomplishment within it is key for job satisfaction. Setting work-related goals, such as expanding your skills or taking on more responsibility, is an effective way to achieve this. However, not all goals have the same impact on happiness. While temporary pay increases may boost satisfaction, prioritizing money as a career goal can actually harm your interest in the work. Pursuing intrinsic goals, such as personal growth and meaningful work, are far more likely to lead to genuine satisfaction. 

Personal growth, the first intrinsic goal, involves challenging yourself to learn and improve in your job. Seeking out new responsibilities or projects that push your abilities is a good way to foster personal growth. Employers that offer training and development programs can be especially helpful in facilitating personal growth. 

The second intrinsic goal is finding meaning in your work. Feeling that your job is contributing to something larger than yourself can increase job satisfaction. Whether it's working for a company that aligns with your values or contributing to a specific cause, finding meaning in your work can lead to greater fulfillment. 

In summary, while it's important to consider your interests when choosing a career, job satisfaction comes from more than just the job itself. Flexibility, personal growth, and meaningful work are all important components in achieving career satisfaction. 

When considering job satisfaction, it's important to look beyond just the job itself. Flexibility, personal growth, and meaningful work are all crucial components in achieving career satisfaction. However, two specific goals are particularly worth pursuing at work: earned success and service to others. 

Earned success is the opposite of learned helplessness, a term coined by psychologist Martin Seligman to describe the resignation people feel when faced with unpleasant situations beyond their control. Earned success gives you a sense of accomplishment and professional efficacy, which are important sources of happiness and job satisfaction. Employers that provide clear guidance and feedback, reward merit, and encourage skill development are more likely to foster these feelings. Finding a boss who embodies these qualities, or striving to be that kind of boss yourself, can greatly enhance job satisfaction. 

The second goal worth pursuing is service to others, the sense that your job is making the world a better place. This doesn't necessarily mean working for a charity or volunteering, but rather finding ways to serve others in almost any job. As one student explained in an op-ed about his decision to become a waiter in Barcelona instead of pursuing a job in his academic field, serving others can provide a sense of equality and importance to every customer, regardless of their status or background. Finding meaning in serving others can be a powerful source of job satisfaction. 

In addition to earned success and service to others, personal growth and flexibility are also important in achieving job satisfaction. Pursuing intrinsic goals, such as expanding skills or taking on new challenges, can help foster personal growth. Remaining flexible and open to different job opportunities can also increase job satisfaction by allowing for new experiences and opportunities. 

Overall, job satisfaction is a multifaceted concept that involves more than just the job itself. By prioritizing earned success, service to others, personal growth, and flexibility, individuals can find greater fulfillment and satisfaction in their careers.