Job Satisfaction and Happiness – There IS a Connection

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Have you ever known anyone who absolutely hates his or her job? People who do are usually not particularly happy about their lives overall either. It’s not hard to figure out why. There is an intimate connection between job satisfaction and happiness in life in general.

A Gallup Survey came out recently that listed America’s five most contented cities (actually it listed ten, as well as the ten least contented cities). There was a common theme in the most contented cities that people had a high level of job satisfaction.

Among the top ten cities in contentment, five ranked high in various categories of job satisfaction. In Lincoln, Nebraska – rated the most contented city in America – residents were “the most likely Americans nationwide to enjoy their work environment. More than 94% of survey respondents were satisfied with their job and work, almost 68% felt treated like a partner at work and nearly 86% felt they worked in a trusting environment.”

Job Satisfaction and Happiness - There IS a Connection
Job Satisfaction and Happiness – There IS a Connection
Does job satisfaction have a big part in Lincoln being the happiest city in America?

If you think about it a bit, it all makes sense. For a variety of reasons, it’s almost impossible to be content in your life without a solid measure of job satisfaction.

Work is your primary activity in life

With the possible exception of sleeping, work is the primary activity that most people engage in. Using the 40 hour work week, we spend approximately 25% of our lives (168 hours per week total)) working. If you base it on waking hours alone, work easily consumes more than one-third of our lives, and that doesn‘t even reflect commuting time or the extra hours that many people spend on the job.

Given that we spend so much of our time working, and that is usually the primary activity in our lives, it’s perfectly logical that if you are not happy on the job you will not be happy in life either. Whatever misery that you endure in your work will almost certainly carry over to the everything else that you do.

Knowing that what you do in your work matters

As human beings, we need to know that what we do matters – that it makes a difference in the world. While we often think of compensation and working conditions as the most basic elements of job satisfaction, if we don’t believe that what we actually do matters, we may not be particularly happy about our work.

Since most of us today are so removed from the final product, the customer, and the decision making center of the organization, we may experience a considerable amount of confusion about our contributions. Work can take on an assembly line nature, causing us to question what we’re doing and even who we are as people.

A sense of accomplishment

In career planning, we are naturally concerned with income level, job stability, and the likelihood advancement. But I think the human spirit has a built-in desire to accomplish. While other factors measure our external progress, accomplishment is a measure of what we can do and even who we are.

Accomplishment is highly underrated when it comes to work, and it is one of the reasons why so many people don’t like the jobs they have.

I like to use the analogy of growing a vegetable garden when it comes to work. If you’ve ever had such a garden yourself, you’ll probably quickly recognize the point I’m trying to make.

We all need food, and we all consume food. We buy our food at the grocery store – or already prepared in a restaurant – then eat it, and our need for food has been filled.

But let’s say that you have a vegetable garden. In the spring you till the soil and add fertilizer in preparation for planting. Then you plant your seeds and begin watering the garden as needed. Plants begin to grow, and as they do so do the weeds. You begin meticulously pulling the weeds out of your garden to allow your vegetables to grow healthy and strong.

By late summer, your plants have grown and are producing vegetables – corn, tomatoes, peppers, lettuce, beans, and other foods. You pick them, prepare them, and eat them. And when you do, there is a deep satisfaction that comes from knowing that you grew your food from out of the ground. That sense of satisfaction goes well beyond merely satisfying your need to eat.

That is a sense that we all need to feel in regard to our work.

What happens at work spills over to your personal life

When you are at work, if you live for lunch breaks, for 5 o’clock, for weekends, and for vacations, in reality you are wishing away a big chunk of your life! This is damaging enough by itself, but I also think that there is a strong likelihood that you may carry this attitude into your private life. It’s easy to do because wishing away the time is a habit, and all habits tend to have universal application.

Taken to the extreme, there are even people who wish away the time in their lives in the expectation of retirement. I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that I think this may have something to do with the current obsession with retirement planning. So many people are unhappy with the work that they do, that they are using retirement as the final escape hatch.

Would escape even be necessary if you like what you do for a living? I took that chance myself and found work that I really like. Your entire perspective on life changes when you do.

What to do if you don’t like – or even hate – your job

To some this may sound idealistic, but I think it is important not only to work, but also to like what you do. We all spend too much time working for it to be any other way. If you enjoy your work, there’s a greater likelihood that you will enjoy your life.

This has applications beyond work too. Living in even a low level of perpetual misery has a way of breaking your health, your relationships, and even your will. This happens not only because you are not happy with the work you’re doing, but also because you may feel trapped by it. This is common among people who work primarily for the money, the benefits, or the perception of security. Satisfaction is not found among those perquisites, but misery often is.

Each of us needs a certain sense of control over the work we do, over our future direction, and over our levels of contentment. You cannot achieve any of that when you feel beholden to a job you don’t like.

Not everyone can up and quit a job that they don’t like, and it isn’t even advisable. But there are steps that you can begin to take that can gradually improve your situation:

  • Decide what kind of work will really make you happy
  • Begin to gradually move in that direction – start with some research, get some training, and begin apprenticing through part-time work or a part-time business
  • Take as much time doing this as you need to get comfortable with your chosen work
  • While you are doing that, you should also begin rearranging your finances – save money and pay off debt so that you will be fully prepared to make the transition when the time is right
  • Reduce your standard of living to accommodate the work that you will be doing – that might involve getting rid of a few toys, such as an oversized home or one or two late-model cars

Pay close attention to that last point. People often try to insulate themselves from the misery of a distasteful career by padding their lives with luxuries. You may have to decide that those luxuries will be part of the price you have to pay to find truly satisfying work. But if you find work that you love, you won’t need those luxuries anyway.

Have you ever thought about doing something this radical?

( Photo by donireewalker )

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8 Responses to Job Satisfaction and Happiness – There IS a Connection

  1. It is so true, if you find a job that you love, it doesn’t seem like work. More times than not, I look forward to getting up so that I can work. If only more people felt that way.

  2. You probably also do your work better and with more enthusiasm. And I’m guessing you’re a lot more pleasant to work with.

  3. As someone in the creative industries (known for being the kind of thing you do for passion rather than pay) I’m in the middle on this. Everyone’s balance is different. For me, there are a LOT of factors that play into work satisfaction – work hours/schedule, commute, coworkers, environment, stress level, compensation, non-monetary perks… oh, and the actual work.

  4. I see your point, you have to find a balance in there somewhere. But if you like the work you do, there’s a better chance that you’ll find ways to make the other stuff work. If you don’t like the work, all the side issues will become obstacles that will feed your unhappiness even more.

  5. Nice post Kevin! I live in Omaha…about 45 minutes from Lincoln and can attest to the findings of the survey. That said, I was someone who hated my previous job – on several levels. At the end of the day it was not what I wanted to be doing and they were demanding that I do morally questionable things. After much thought and discussion with my wife I left and could not be happier. We run the business she started together and is so much more rewarding and we get to directly benefit from our hard work and help the community around us.

  6. Hi John, as someone who’s done work I really didn’t like, I think it’s critical to do work that you like. You can always fake it – lots of people do. But if your heart isn’t in it, it will always seem as if you’re carrying a burden. For me, self-employment is the best way because I feel control over what I’m doing. Even if I don’t like what I’m doing today, I can do something different tomorrow, or begin charting a different course completely.

  7. I love the steps you outlined at the end Kevin. Too often people get so fed up with their work, they give their two weeks notice and quit without any real plan of where they will be headed next. Then they can’t find a job and end up in a real financial mess. If you want to switch careers you may have to ride out your current job for a year or two while making plans for the transition. Most people don’t want to do that.

  8. Hi Brian–I also think that just the fact that you start implementing changes – long before quitting your job – the job itself will become more tolerable by virtue of the fact that you have begun taking steps in a positive direction.

    So much of the misery people feel about their job owes to the sense of powerlessness they have. But when you start moving in a positive direction, you can’t help but feel better about everything else in your life.

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