Five things that may surprise you about finding a satisfying career

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An abundance of studies have been carried out to try and figure out what makes people happy. In fact, in the US Constitution, Thomas Jefferson declared it an inalienable right of Americans to seek, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Much research on happiness has centered on job satisfaction –possibly because, according to the US Department of Labor, Americans clock about 8.9 hours on work-related activities per day – more than we spend doing anything else.1 Despite that, a Gallup poll in 2014 found that almost 90% of workers were either “not engaged with” or “actively disengaged” from their jobs.2 Perhaps this is because, apart from the obvious incentive of financial compensation, too many jobs lack qualities that keep people motivated. Millennials, in particular, tend to want more meaningful work, and this year they will outnumber Baby Boomers.3

Here are a few facts that might help in the search for a satisfying career:

  • Most people find meaning (and happiness) from helping others

    A prominent Yale study by organizational behavior professor Amy Wrzesniewski and colleagues found that hospital workers derived great satisfaction from helping their patients, beyond financial considerations. Another notable study, by Wharton management professor Adam Grant, examined motivation among professional fundraisers. People who wereable to meet the scholarship students for whom they were raising money actually improved their fundraising efforts by 171% afterward.4 These and other studies indicate that people are oriented towards helping other human beings.

  • Income is only one factor in happiness
    Research has shown that, beyond a certain level ($75K per year) having a higher income doesn’t lead to stress reduction or in the number of bad feelings people experience on a typical day. Once you have paid your bills, money does not necessarily buy more happiness. Other studies indicate that people derive greater satisfaction from spending their money on experiences rather than on material possessions.5

  • Great jobs have certain things in common
    Bestselling author and noted motivational speaker Malcom Gladwell has observed that all great jobs have 3 qualities: 1) Complexity, 2) Autonomy and 3) A clear relationship between effort and reward. In his view, being engaged in challenging work, taking ownership over the outcome, and having the ability to reap the rewards of success can create meaning, which brings an outcome of personal commitment.6 If this concept is appealing, entrepreneurship might be a path to consider. 

  • The right job for you might be surprising

    Everyone is different. Some careers require advanced university degrees or many years of training – but these don’t make up the entirety of satisfying jobs. In a list of the top 25 jobs in 2015 compiled by the US. News and World Report which considers compensation, future prospects, and manageable work-life balance, only half of the jobs would be described as part of the traditional caring professions such as dentist, doctor, etc. The other jobs in the top 25 ranged from Web Developer to Cost Estimator to Financial Advisor.

  • You may be able to find satisfaction in your current job

    Changing careers isn’t always the best route to finding meaning. There may be factors you can work on in your current position to find personal fulfillment. Your manager may be open to letting you modify or expand your role to one you’d find more satisfying, especially if you’re willing to accept more responsibility or perform extra tasks. Give them a good enough reason by framing your transition in terms of efficiency or profitability. An accredited career coach can help you craft skills in public speaking, interpersonal communication, or in setting priorities and benchmarks that will increase your effectiveness.8

Finding satisfaction in your career is a worthwhile pursuit. Research has discovered that happier workers are at least 12% more productive.9 There’s no straight line between hard work and success. However, finding passion and meaning in your work have been identified by the likes of Steve Jobs, Warren Buffett, and Mark Zuckerberg as being the key factors that moved them ahead.10 Who knows what could happen if you find a career that provides the type of rewards that would motivate you, especially over the long haul? Stay open and consider the many factors that could add meaning to the life you want to create.

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, “American Time Use Survey: Time use for an average work day for employed person ages 25-54 with children,” United States Department of Labor, Oct. 26, 2015 

2,4  Barry Schwartz, “Rethinking Work,” New York Times, Aug. 28, 2015 

3 Richard Fry, “This year, Millennials will overtake Baby Boomers,” Pew Research Center, Jan.16, 2015 

5 Paula Plant, “How Money Can Buy You Happiness,” US, April 16, 2015 

6 Jenna Goudreau, “Malcolm Gladwell says All Great Jobs Have These 3 Qualities,” Business Insider, Nov. 10, 2014 

7 Ida A. Graves, Laura McMullen, “The Best Jobs of 2015,” U.S. News & World Report, Jan 13, 2015 

8 Marty Nemko, “How to Get the Most Value from a Career Counsellor,” Time, Nov. 17, 2014 

9 Jonha Revesencio, “Why Happy Employees are 12% More Productive,” Fast Company, July 22, 2015  

10 Amy Rees Anderson, “Does Being Passionate about the Work You Do Increase Your Chance of Success?Forbes, Mar 27, 2013