The Happiest Job in the World

Happy carpenter

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How you view your occupation helps determine its meaning.

If you had to guess what’s the happiest job in the world, what would your answer be? Movie star? Wealthy NFL player? Footloose and fancy-free travel writer? We have the science-based answer.

Most of us spend more than a third of our waking lives at work, so figuring out how to make that time happy and productive is important. Given that we are in the midst of some of the highest levels of work dissatisfaction and lowest levels of engagement in recorded history, it’s a question we must look at now.

While researching this topic, we asked people what they consider the “least happy jobs.” The responses ranged from janitor in a retirement home to tollbooth operator, trash man and doctor for kids with terminal cancer.

Which job is right for you?

If you’ve seen Mike Rowe’s TV show, Somebody’s Gotta Do It, you know there are a lot of dirty or difficult jobs out there. But the problem with this list of “worst jobs” is that it’s often made by people who do not actually work in those fields; rather, they only envision how miserable they would be if they did.

Just like with the research about which country is the happiest, when we attempt to determine the happiest job, we fall into a trap. The research might tell you what would make the average person happy, but not whether you would be happy living there. Most people might be happy in Denmark, but if you hate the cold with a vengeance, then you might be miserable in scientifically one of the happiest countries in the world.

A job or a calling?

So in our quest to find the happiest job in the world, the question becomes: What job would make you happy? Being a travel writer sounds great, unless your spouse and kids can’t travel with you and you’re away from your loved ones all the time. Playing football for the NFL sounds like a blast, unless you need job security, because the average career lasts three years. And not all movie stars are happy, as we’ve witnessed through the daily dramas unfolding in entertainment news.

Therefore, it is all in how you view your job. According to the brilliant researcher Amy Wrzesniewski, Ph.D., associate professor of organizational behavior at Yale University’s School of Management, people view their occupations one of three ways: as a job, career or calling. A job is merely something we endure in order to get a paycheck. A career is work that also gives us prestige or position within society. A calling is work that you view as integral to your identity and meaning in life, an expression of who you are and a feeling of fulfillment in the present.

You can be very happy in any of these categories. In fact, Amy’s research shows nearly every profession has a nearly equal number of people who view it as a job, career or calling Therefore, it is not the occupation that determines the meaning or the happiness you feel at work—it’s how you view it. Our research in positive psychology shows that, scientifically,
happiness is a choice. At an unconscious or conscious level you can choose how you view your work and the satisfaction you draw from it.

If you’re feeling like you don’t have the happiest job in the world, here are three proven ways to turn it into one:

1. Ask yourself, "What's the point?"

To be motivated at work, consciously identify ways in which your work has meaning. Are you able to connect with people at a deeper level because of what you do? Do you have an opportunity to brighten someone’s day occupation. Many of us romanticize our future desired employment to the detriment of our current happiness. For those of us who are career-oriented, the key to being happy now is investing in the present while continuing to strive for advancement. Instead of dreaming about future successes, be fully present to maximize your experience today.

Plan small, actionable steps to work toward your goals. Our research shows the happiest among us are 40 percent more likely to receive a promotion in the next year. Finding ways to make the most of your job, career or calling will not only help you find greater happiness, but investing in your happiness today is worth big dividends in the future.

Whether you’re a CEO or a janitor, doing so will help transform your job into the happiest one in the world. through your work interactions? Are you helping improve the world in even a small way? Journaling each day for two minutes about a meaningful experience at work helps your brain not only identify these moments, but also to see a trajectory of meaning at work.

2. Remember, you're there for the paycheck

Many people work to fund their life, and that brings them happiness. Yet, ultimately, we all work to pay our bills and to have some extra spending money. (Unless we are independently wealthy!) Reconnect with all you can do with your income outside the office. Invest in painting lessons or plane tickets for a vacation or to visit your grandkids. Don’t forget your job transforms your personal life, too.

3. Stop dreaming, start doing

Don’t get stuck waiting for future happiness. We’ve found this to be the greatest barrier to finding happiness in your current occupation. Many of us romanticize our future desired employment to the detriment of our current happiness. For those of us who are career-oriented, the key to being happy now is investing in the present while continuing to strive for advancement.

Instead of dreaming about future successes, be fully present to maximize your experience today. Plan small, actionable steps to work toward your goals. Our research shows the happiest among us are 40 percent more likely to receive a promotion in the next year.

Finding ways to make the most of your job, career or calling will not only help you find greater happiness, but investing in your happiness today is worth big dividends in the future. Whether you’re a CEO or a janitor, doing so will help transform your job into the happiest one in the world.

From the February 2015 issue of Live Happy magazine.

 

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