Road to Happiness Part-4 : How Your Work Can Make You Happy

In the last three articles, I introduced the concept of achieving happiness following the five W’s that I have thought through. These are

The world’s most remote Port Lockroy post office is located on Goudier Island, Antarctica, roughly the size of a football field. There are special people who not only work here but enjoy their work too. So, I wonder how work can make us happy despite the brutal conditions? In their classic book, The Meaning of Work and Retirement, Friedmann and Havighurst (1954) developed a five-point typology of the meanings of work. They argued that these are the reasons why people feel accomplished. 

  • Source of income structure and Routine
  • Being away from home stress and socializing
  • Source of personal status and Identity
  • Personal Growth and Meaning

The eminent sociologist Peter Worsley wrote: “Work is central to our culture. When someone asks, “What do you do?” they really mean “What work do you do?”. When a woman is asked, “Do you work?”, what is meant is “Are you doing a paid job?” Yet many people without a paid job carry out other productive activities.” Being productive and busy makes you happier. Our work starts from the kinder garden when we study to prepare ourselves to work for the next 30-50 years. Unfortunately, no one pays for you to go to school! 

Source of Income: Most of you know that money does not make you happy, but boy, having no money will surely make you unhappy. The following blog will discuss money and its role in happiness. 

Structure and Routine: Doing nothing tends not to be very good for us over the medium to long term. We can benefit from rest days, but life tends to require more purpose and structure than this. A regular routine can also give you a psychological sense of progress throughout the day and give your activities shape and structure. This can also reduce the sense you can sometimes get of being ‘lost’ with what you are doing. The recent pandemic has given a different meaning to the word languishing. Routines keep bad habits away and brings a sense of control and familiarity in your life. It also prevents procrastination and, in turn, reduces your anxiety.

Being away from home stress and socializing: Home life with kids can be stressful. People in their child-rearing age are more unhappy than older aged. Some people work to kill their loneliness. 

Source of personal status and Identity: We take pride in our work and role at work. You do not have to be a professional to do it. Many low-paying job workers have this identity that they show, like a badge or uniform. Our personal identity and self-esteem are closely bound up together. They derive from a sense of personal value, personal worth, and being needed and loved for what we are, not just from our work, though. 

Personal Growth and Meaning: The word “vocation” reflects the religious heritage, coming from the Latin word vocare, “to call.” For most of Western religious history, vocation referred to the belief that God called people to engage in a religious vocation. Protestant Reformers embraced the idea that people could be called to any line of work as long as it served a greater purpose and a greater good. Meaningful work that benefits local and global communities is not solely a religious concern.

The term “calling” includes the idea that people have been summoned to meaningful, socially valued work by a transcendent call. This calling could be from God, society’s needs, or a sense of spiritual connection with a type of work.

Unemployed: Unemployment reduces the probability of a high life satisfaction score (Subjective Well-being) by 19% and a high overall happiness score by 15%. Unemployed men, middle-aged and educated suffer most in reach countries. Being unemployed was associated with a twofold to a threefold increased relative risk of death by suicide compared with being employed. Being fired creates a “scarring” that may mimic PTSD subsyndrome. 

But work can be detrimental for some, increasing their physical and mental health burden. 

Burnout: Burnout is common in every profession. Most often, the reasons cited are:

  • Too many bureaucratic tasks.
  • High working hours (Lack of work-life balance).
  • Computerization.
  • Lack of respect.
  • Lack of control.
  • Insufficient compensation.  

Life after retirement: Research by Kim & Moen suggests that three factors contribute to subjective well-being after retirement. These are:

  1. Economic resources.
  2. Marital and Social relationships.
  3. Personal resources like health, personality, and high prestige job held at the time of the retirement.  

So how do people avoid burnout at work?  

  • Find a work that fulfills your “meaning of life.”
  • Find a work that makes you get up in the morning
  • If you cannot change your job, think about ways you can be creative, change the ways you do things
  • Always look for opportunities and challenges and enhance your resume
  • If you are a boss: find people’s strengths and create a team

Happy work, happy life, Happy retirement

Tarak Vasavada, MD

Medical Director

Live Well Foundation of Madison County Medical Society