Even More on Happiness: The Overlooked Value of Work
I hope you are not tired of this topic quite yet!
A day doesn’t go by where one social scientist, reporter, or self-help guru doesn’t pass judgment on this simple idea—we are entitled to happiness. Yet this simple notion turns out to be quite complex. And like many simple things, elusive.
Since 1972, social scientists at the University of Chicago have surveyed Americans on this subject every other year. For the last forty years, roughly 1/3 of Americans say they are “very happy” and half report being “pretty happy.” Only about 10-15 percent typically say that aren’t too happy at all (A formula for happiness by Arthur Brooks, New York Times, December 14, 2013). So it appears that most Americans consider themselves happy.
Genes appear to be a big factor in happiness. Identical twins who were separated as babies and raised by different families are our biggest source of data on genetics. Researchers at the University of Minnesota found that around 48% of happiness may be inherited. My mother was always pretty happy and so am I, so I guess I can give her the credit.
What about good fortune? —or a big accomplishment? Does landing your dream job, getting a big raise, or finding the perfect house brings long lasting happiness? Apparently, one-time events, while satisfying in the short run, lose their luster over the long term. I was overjoyed when I got my doctorate in psychology, but after a short while, I took it for granted.
So Mr. Brooks estimates that the remaining 10-15% of one’s happiness is dependent on four basic values—faith, family, community, and work. The first three are self-evident. Individuals who have a strong sense of spiritual faith, close connection and involvement with their family, and are involved in a community have a deep sense of meaning and purpose. These three values in action bring well-being. It can bring contentment, which is a close cousin to happiness.
The last value, work, is often overlooked as a source of happiness. And this has little to do with money. Researchers have found that once individuals achieve a modest level of income, big financial gains don’t provide much increases in happiness. So don’t count on winning the lottery as a way of finding happiness!
Interestingly, according to social surveys, three-quarters of Americans wouldn’t quit their job if they won the lottery! The author of the New York Times article notes, “Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others.” Mr. Brooks calls this “earned success.” Individuals who feel that they are successful at work are twice as likely to say that they are happy than those who don’t feel that way.
I agree with this observation. In modern business language this is called “employee engagement.” When adults feel connected to their work, their company, and their company’s values, they are more likely to experience a high degree of job satisfaction. And when they feel successful in their job and receive appreciation from their managers, they are more likely to feel happy.
All too often I hear adults tell me how much they hate their job, their company, or their boss. They feel trapped by good pay and benefits and a bad job market. I often think to myself that it would be better to live in a small apartment and look forward to going to work everyday, then to hate your job and live in a mansion!
We can’t do much about genetics. One-time events bring short-lived joy. But by nurturing our involvement with family, spirit, community, and worthwhile work, we can water the seeds of happiness. These seeds will bring forth beautiful flowers.
What contributes to your happiness?