A 7-Step Path to Enjoying Work

enjoying-work

“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.” ― Thomas A. Edison

The average person will spend 20% of their lives at work. This statistic factors in 21 years of preparing for work and 13 years afterwards (retirement). During our actual years of working (ages 21-67), this percentage goes up to 25-30% based on a typical 40-45 hour/week. Subtracting sleep, on average, we spend 33% of our waking hours working. You can find more details on these statistics here. But don’t worry too much about the method of statistical computation. They tell us what we already know:

We spend a significant amount of our life working. It is a large piece of our life. And it is important to think thoughtfully and intentionally about it.

I have known countless people who are happy with their work. They find meaning, significance, and joy in it. Additionally, I have met many people who are unhappy with their work and choose to spend an additional percentage of their life complaining about it.

Interestingly enough, these differences in attitudes have little to do with the actual work being done—in fact, two people in the same field can have completely different responses to the same job.

This is helpful because it means enjoying work has less to do with your actual job and more to do with your attitude towards it. Changing our attitude towards work is often far easier than changing jobs. It also means that, with only a few exceptions, you can be happy in your work today. You can find joy and fulfillment in it.

And sometimes, this can come with a simple change in thinking.

A 7-Step Path to Enjoying Work

1. Realize you were designed to work.

Whether by creation or evolution, humans are designed to work. This is an important part of our nature. It explains our drive to grow as individuals and as a society. It explains the internal satisfaction we experience when completing a task. It makes sense of the positive emotions we experience when resting after a hard day of work. And it may help us understand why some studies indicate early retirement has an adverse impact on physical and mental health.

The realization that we are designed to work is an important first step in finding fulfillment in it–even though “work” looks different for each of us. If we are designed to accomplish work, it is not something to be avoided. Instead, it is something to be sought, welcomed, and enjoyed.

2. Understand work takes place in an imperfect world.

Our world is imperfect because we exist in a universe full of people who often fall short. Though we each have an ingrained desire to accomplish good for the sake of others, in reality, we often function with selfish desires and intentions. These imperfections always lead to less-than-ideal working conditions. As a result, work includes overbearing bosses, deadlines, stress, under-resourced projects, tasks we do not enjoy, and often, anxiety.

The realization that these imperfections are always going to be present in our workplace allows us to accept them and move forward. Now just to be clear, this present reality does not mean we don’t fight for equality and justice when appropriate. But it does mean we can stop looking for joy in the perfect work environment because it doesn’t exist. And it opens the door to finding joy in our existing one.

3. Use work to supply provisions for yourself and your family.

In its simplest definition, work is a bartering tool. We work our jobs in exchange for money. This money is then given to another in exchange for growing food, producing clothing, building shelter, or discovering new medicine to keep us healthy. Because of work, we are freed to spend our days doing what we love and are good at. In exchange, we receive goods (money) to trade with someone else who used their giftedness to create something different than us.

This is the goal of work. This is also the prescribed means of providing for those who are dependent upon us. Looking for shortcuts (lottery, dishonest gain, unnecessary dependence on others) to supply provisions is often a foolish direction for life.

4. Notice how your work contributes to the common good.

If the goal of our work is to contribute good to society in exchange for provision, then our work ought to benefit society. We should spend 40-45+ hours/week producing a benefit for others. We should grow healthy food, produce quality clothing, intentionally parent children, create beautiful art, build strong shelter, develop new life-enhancing technology, research medicine to prolong life, educate others, govern society honestly, or any other countless opportunities to contribute to the common good of our neighbor and our society.

This step results in 1 of 2 possible outcomes: First, it forces us to view work differently. It allows us to wake up on Monday morning with a positive attitude and opens up the door to finding new joy in our role. We are not solely working for the Net Income box on our paycheck…  we are working to benefit society. Or second, this truth forces us to find new work. If, for whatever reason, we do not believe our job is contributing good to society, we must find a new one. No dollar amount can ever equal the satisfaction and joy experienced in contributing good to the world around us—for this is the purpose of work.

5. Work ethically.

Work done ethically and honestly with proper balance will always result in more enjoyment than the alternative. These same principles of life hold true to every aspect—including the 20% we spent working.

6. Humbly and proudly accept honest compensation.

We each have skills and talents this world needs. There are other people willing to compensate us in exchange for them. Therefore, we ought to work hard at proudly developing our craft and humbly learning as much as we can from others who have gone before. It is also wise to discipline ourselves around the improvement of these skills and talents. The greater we develop them, the greater worth we are to others. And the greater worth we are to others, the more honest compensation we should receive for providing them.

7. Remove the pursuit of riches.

While honest compensation should always be sought with both humility and pride, the pursuit of riches and wealth as an end goal is always a losing battle. Riches will never fully satisfy… we will always be left searching for more. People who view their work as only a means to get rich often fall into temptation, harmful behavior, and foolish desires.

The intentional understanding of steps 6 and 7 provide great freedom for us to enjoy work on a whole new level. When we replace the desire to get rich with a more life-fulfilling desire to receive honest compensation, we open our hearts to find peace in our paychecks and greater value in our work.

Indeed, may each of us find greater value and fulfillment in our work. And in so doing, may we increase joy in this important (and essential) aspect of our lives.

Image: Vince Alongi

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

Follow on TwitterLike on Facebook

Comments

  1. says

    I have a really hard time with the concept with work as it is in the modern-day world. People have replaced their lives with work. They do not talk about living their life, as they do about work. Everything, even happiness is replaced by work. Maybe I am being a little bit too dire about the situation, but I find this constant obsession with work has to stop. Work should be a small part of your life, not your entire life. Thank you for some amazing points that remind me why I’m working – to achieve the financial freedom that we all crave.

    • Mira says

      I agree with you completely.

      However, I do think this post offers some valuable advice in terms of adapting our outlook to minimise suffering.

    • joshua becker says

      Thanks for the comment. Certainly this is not a post promoting obsession with work. I do make mention of remembering the importance of balance and work. If there was a motivation behind this post, it was written in response to the notion that happiness is found in avoiding work altogether. This, I believe, is an incorrect pursuit. Happiness is not found in the avoidance of work. Happiness is found in the correct motivation and attitude towards it.

      • says

        I totally agree – Happiness cannot be found in avoiding work. Work is absolutely necessary in order to live the lives you wish to live in modern-day society.
        There are some who are trying out the concept of living without money or work, and I find that they are unable to live without relying on the generosity of others who do work. Thanks for the clarification.

  2. Benjamin Wagner says

    “1. Realize you were designed to work.

    Whether by creation or evolution, humans are designed to work. This is an important part of our nature. It explains our drive to grow as individuals and as a society. It explains the internal satisfaction we experience when completing a task.”

    This is a statement with very loose foundation. Even if it was somehow proved that humans are “made” to be active in different ways, it certainly is not a fait accompli that we are fit to work in the same kind of system we have today, often repeating uncreative tasks. The amount of time per day that we are set to work is also reasonable to question.

    • sandy says

      I agree, Benjamin.

      If anything, we were designed to be hunter-gatherers.
      Are we meant to move? Yes. Are we meant to sit in a chair at a desk for 8-12 hours per day? Nope.

      “Our drive to grow as individuals and as society” is actually people trying to both avoid pain and capture pleasure. This “satisfaction” from completion… is usually ego driven (accomplish, win, be important, control, acquire, prove etc).

      Only when enough people realize and demonstrate that our natural state is one of “being” not “doing” will this or anything else important surface and sustain.

      In the meantime, love your work, hang with good people, laugh often, and know that all of this crazy world is a huge gift to us. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.

      Yes, we still chop wood and carry water and take whatever actions are needed in the moment.

    • joshua becker says

      Benjamin and Sandy, I appreciate your comments. Thought #1 is entirely foundational to my understanding of work—indeed, the entire argument of the post rests upon it. As a result I tried to spend a bit more time on it than the other points. That being said, the foundation upon which that point is made is deeply rooted in my understanding of the universe and humanity.

      Theologically speaking, I believe God created mankind with a desire to work. Evolutionally speaking, I believe the same argument should be made. Only a species that chooses to work and provide and contribute would be fit to withstand. What that “work” should look like and/or the amount of time that should be contributed towards it is certainly debatable. But I do not believe the assumption that mankind is created and/or designed to work is a debatable point. It is also the first necessary thinking required to find joy in it.

  3. Mark says

    This is a great article. A great look at how we can reframe our minds and focus to find more joy and fulfillment. Thank you for your words, observations, and wisdom.

    -Minimalist In Training

  4. Kuwanna says

    Thank you for #4. I work a lucrative job that I have felt for some time does not allow me to positively impact any individual’s life. I do what I can…I am there for my coworkers when they need to talk, share what I know about nutrition…for their benefit…but what pays for my gas and food (i.e. what I am here 9 hours for each day) doesn’t require me to do these things. So I have been considering a career change, and reading what you said in #4 really makes sense to me. Thank you.

  5. Kuwanna says

    And #6…while many of my friends and colleagues expect raises and bonuses that keep them competetive with their counterparts in other companies, I have always been thankful for whatever raise or bonus I get and remember that many out there aren’t as blessed as I am. Who cares if the bonus is a little less than someone else’s? It’s nice that the company is recognizing any of us in the first place!

  6. says

    I enjoyed this, especially #7. Somehow I always feel that I could only ever work for a non-profit. Not that there is inherently anything wrong with making a profit, but like you said, riches and wealth as an end goal is always a losing battle.

    Kate

  7. says

    Thanks for some great insights here some reminescent of the Protestant Work Ethic…surely applicable to much of North American society but perhaps not so much to the global community. Do all cultures employ the greeting/question “what is your name and what do you do?” or “what do you want to be when you grow up?” I imagine not. I “work” with many clients who are chronically unemployed and homeless, often due to mental illness. The human need for contribution may be a more common ground cross-culturally.

    • Jamil Popatia says

      Karen, this is a great point. I am a Vancouverite who has lived in 5 foreign countries and visited many others. You are ‘bang on’ about those questions. If you ask the average rural Moroccan, for example, about who they are and what they do, answering endlessly about their careers would be far from their minds. Excellent observation, Karen. Bless.

  8. carmina says

    I have recently accepted a part time job for 3 months teaching. It is a great job professionally speaking. However I leave my young son at the sitter while at work. After the first month I miss him so much that the money I earn is not worth it. I was offered two different positions for next year and I politely declined. I want to be with my son and once he grows I will have time to teach again. I will go back to living with less but with joy in my heart because my son and I will be together. The extra money is nice but I don’t need it to provide basic necessities.

    • Tanya says

      Never dismiss the notion of mother’s work (or father’s work). It is very important and contributes to mankind and society in a grand way. Work is not solely that which is paid for.

  9. Rachel says

    Really enjoyed this article….especially because my work as a schoolteacher is unbelievably challenging and today was one of those ‘consider a career change’ days….thank you!

  10. Abril says

    You made my morning with this!
    Now, I’ll be in charge of the rest of the day,

    Regards from México City,

  11. says

    Thank you for this post. I have been giving a lot of thought lately to this idea of work. There is work and then there is Work with a capital W. I have been out of the workforce for more than 15 years now, raising my children. I don’t make any money directly to provide for my family. However, my work does enable my husband to provide for the family, so my work indirectly provides for my family. My work also directly provides for my family in the sense that I am providing my presence for them. This is the Work with a capital W, the important stuff. The Work that helps to benefit humanity by adding three more beautiful citizens of the world. We all have Work with a capital W that is not directly compensated monetarily. This is the work you are advocating here. This is the important Work. I despise laundry and cooking and cleaning, especially without a paycheck, but this is the Work I need to do to provide for my family. When I embrace that as being for the greater good of my family and subsequently for the communities my children will be a part of, it makes the Work more tangible and affirming.

  12. Kristann says

    Joshua, thank you so much for this. I have been having a rough time lately at work and I realized why … it’s because I’ve been thinking far too much about me and not enough about others (and how I can be helpful). Between this post and the link to the link you provided to the NY Times article about how givers get ahead at work, you have added tremendous value to my life. I am quite sure I never would have seen the NY Times article if not for you. I am really grateful for you and your blog. At work, I posted up a link to this blog on our social network and hope my colleagues also get value from it (and hopefully get introduced to your great blog).

  13. says

    loved the post! Off late, I have not been too happy about my job. But frustration is not the answer.I have categorised my work in two parts- materialistic one is my regular job which I treat as the means to earn livelihood and sustain myself. I try to work honestly & sincerely giving it my 100%.The second is my volunteer work with an NGO called Art of Living which is for my inner satisfaction & for doing something for the society in whatever capacity I can.
    I need both to lead a balanced life-A regular job to give my son a good life & volunteer work as my responsibility towards my community.

  14. Earving says

    “We were designed to work”, yes. Hunters-gatherers used to work, hunting and gathering. Those activities were not like playing. That was work. When I am sitting 8 hours I am gathering the goods for my family. Great, great article. The notion that happiness only can be found avoiding work is the foundation of a lot of suffering. Thank you very much for this article.

  15. Alicia Woodward says

    Thanks, Joshua. For 26 years I’ve gotten up every day to go teach kids how to read and write. Recently, I have found myself comparing (I know!) my retirement savings with someone who, say, worked the last 26 years making a lot more money. Your article helps me feel blessed for my work and ready to get up and do it again tomorrow.

  16. Marcus Smith says

    I just shared this post with all 28 people in my organization here at BYU Radio. Joshua, you’ve offered fantastic perspective. I served the wrong objectives for half of my life, thinking work was an impediment to joy. I know know from experience that work is integral to ever accessing joy in any regular and satisfying way. A necessary but insufficient condition for joy. Not to diminish the necessity in any way. It’s at the core. It’s an essential part of the recipe. Love the post!

  17. says

    The one thing I have found to be missing in many peoples’ work….FUN!
    Life is too short to be stuck in some routine, dead-end job that feels like the movie “Ground Hog Day”. I see it every day on the roads. People are “asleep” in their lives. They either found some high paying job, and now just “live” there, or lost the “fire” for life years ago and are now just coasting through life, with 0 passion. GET OUT!!!…NOW!!! WAKE UP!! THIS IS YOUR LIFE!! You only get one spin on this rollercoaster, so make it a good one. Life can be EXCITING and yes, even FUN! when you are doing something you love. You don’t need a J-O-B, You need something that you lose track of time doing, because you love it so much, you’d pay to do it. I use the “rocking chair test” for every action in my life. Imagine you are now 99 years old and you are looking back over your life. Did you live life to the fullest and “Go FOr It!” or just take some “joe job” and fall asleep for 40+ Years. When I was 19, I was working at the city school district as a janitor. It was a dismal boring job with too many hours and terrible pay.
    One day the Head Janitor called me in for a “review”. He told me I was getting a raise and would be on the 40 year fast track to success…can you imagine? Lucky for me, my Mother taught me how to think “outside the box” early on. He smiled and said,”So what do you think?” I told him this was my two week notice and I was moving to Hollywood to live my dream of playing in a ROCK BAND!
    Fast forward 20+ Years, I ran into the Head Janitor again, and he asked me how things were going… I told him I had a blast in LA, and now play in a rock band putting out CD’s, Travelling and teaching kids how to play guitar. He tells me, and I will never forget this “I’m almost done with my 40 years, and THEN I’ll start living”. I hope he makes it. Don’t Wait, GET OUT NOW!!!
    (Life is too short….my 2 pennies)

  18. says

    I enjoyed this post as someone who struggled to find my passion and find a career that gave me the ability to live authentically. The only point of concern that I had was #6. I was with you all the way up to the point when you said that some skills make some people of greater worth. I believe that we are all inherently valuable and one of the biggest problems the everyday person faces in our society is assigning of value based on categorizations and the allotment of money based on such categorizations. In many ways, I feel like people begin to act our deny themselves their true happiness because of the stories they have created for themselves and a culture that reinforces it. When we live and work together in a society, everyone’s contribution is equally important. You might argue that doctors have a valuable skill and should be greater than others, but if we only had doctors and no other skills like teachers or farmers, we would be no better off. We need to stop telling people their value is assigned based on the work that they do and remind everyone that each person is unique and inherently valuable all the same.

  19. Josh says

    As always, it was a pleasure reading your post! Great article, and I really appreciate everything that you do on becomingminimalist.com. I really enjoy this website, and look forward to your next post!

  20. Leila says

    I don’t know. I was really feeling down about this today. While I agree with some of the points in theory, in reality the happiest times of my life have always been the times when I was not working for income (the six months in 2012 when I got laid off and got to enjoy summer in Vermont with my two-year-old [now three] daughter, with no time constraints, were some of the happiest of my adult life). Not that I don’t work at all, I always have multiple projects going on that are productive and that I love (organic gardening, firewood processing, jewelry making, writing, photography, traveling, outdoor recreation, cooking/food processing, and many many more), but working for money, under someone else’s terms and schedule, has been really difficult, no matter how I try to reframe it as “service” or practice gratitude or try to be positive about it. Worse than that, because my husband and I took on so much debt for our undergraduate and graduate student loans, we have a lot of financial stress and struggle to make ends meet, even though we both work full time at professional jobs and make good money on paper. I do try to stay positive and count my blessings, but on bad days it feels a lot more like indentured servitude than empowerment.

    I worked for ten years in renewable energy, and now, natural resource protection. Both great fields, both doing creative work that provide important services and that align with my values. But this is not what makes me happy. I want to be home with my three-year-old daughter, or out in the woods doing photography, or growing beautiful food in my gardens, or even at my stove, cooking up something awesome from scratch on a snowy winter day. I constantly feel like the things I want to spend my time on are squeezed out by the things I have to do, and it does cause a lot of dissonance, not to mention guilt.

    Maybe this is one of those times that I just have to accept that things will not be as I want them to be, but it is difficult to find joy in today when every minute that I am at work feels like a minute away from the people and activities that I really want to be spending my time with/on. While I do agree with you that work and service to others is crucial to our happiness, my experience has been that there is a huge divide between the concept of “work” and the reality of “paid employment.”

    Thanks for posting (and listening to me ramble, lol), I always look forward to your blog posts.

    • Jamil Popatia says

      Leila, I could not help but respond here because I share those same sentiments with you as a father, husband, religious leader, etc.

      Ibn Khladun, the world’s first known sociologist said that the two worst ways to earn a living are playing games of chance and employment. This man lived centuries ago and saw that when people work for others there is an inherent “indentured servitude” aspect to their work.

      Working for oneself is liberating and is the path (I believe) to feeling that sense of honor and accomplishment alluded to by Joshua in this article.

  21. Mike says

    “Remove the pursuit of riches”

    The irony here is that if you’re not perusing your own riches, you are working for a company that is. Why work so hard so that someone else enjoys the fruit of your labor? Work for yourself.

  22. Fifi Bee says

    There seems to be an assumption here that we all agree what the term ‘work’ refers to. I like what @Kristen Cochran describes: work=paid job and Work=the jobs we do to take care of ourselves and others: the unpaid Work related to keeping a home, raising a family, caring for loved ones. Both forms require a positive attitude and sense of purpose and the 7 STep path can apply to both forms. I struggle with the fact that monetary work is valued above unpaid Work. Taking care of our well-being in this society is a job in itself! Cleaning our homes, caring for our health, providing food etc. – Western society does not value this as Work! Its only since I have started the process of minimising my life – leaving a highly demanding stressful paid work of regular 60+hr weeks – that I now recognise and respect the other jobs i do onto of a paid job. I now try to balance my paid work with my unpaid Work and value both equally, creating more joy and harmony in my life :)

  23. craig says

    Work is an ideological symbol that only seems natural in a capitalist system. We are forced to sell our labor in order to have basic human needs met. This is an absolutely irrational system and certainly not minimalist. We need to actually change the system rather than try and ‘make work better’.

  24. debbie says

    As an elementary Montessori teacher this is how I approached teaching the children in my class about work. I agree with all that you have written. I know longer teach elementary aged children, now I work with toddlers in a Montessori setting. As an assistant in Early Childhood Education my work fits everything you write about except I have to quit to find a better paying job. Reality is that the work that fits my strengths is all work that is not valued by society, meaning society doesn’t feel the that that profession should be paid a living wage. I am 46 years old and am going to go into debt to go to nursing school so that I can use my skill set to still work at a job that contributes to society. But it will hopefully be a job where I am paid a living wage. My fear is that nursing isn’t going to give me the same satisfaction as working with children, but I have to make the change in order to be financially stable.

  25. Heather says

    5. Work ethically.

    Work done ethically and honestly with proper balance will always result in more enjoyment than the alternative. These same principles of life hold true to every aspect—including the 20% we spent working.

    And this is why I am changing jobs. It’s a start up and already, the ethics are lacking. I try to just be happy and go to work but I ethically cannot continue in this field. I will be moving on soon.

  26. says

    Im fairly new to the minimalist movement. I got into it because i realized the things that i owned were starting to own me, i found myself unhappy and joyless because i had to work extra hard to maintain those things that owned me. It wasnt till i was laid off my job that i started to really get into this minimalist additude. I realized that i didnt need an excess of things to keep up with the jones or to be subjected to materialism. I found out i could easily take a job and make less money and live within my means. So thats what i did. I agree with the fact that humans are mean to work but what i dont agree with is staying at a job you dont like just because you make a great salary. Im more happier now than i ever was now that i took my power back and got out of a materialistic mentality and now living with in my means at a job that makes me happier. I would say if you dont like your job dont make rash decisions like quitting instead find something that makes you happy and work towards to getting to that it will come in time.

  27. says

    Dear Joshua, thank you for what you share with us. Your blog has been a blessing for my whole life. I also watched your sermon on the topic. It is really inspiring. I thank God for you.
    God bless you richly, keep up this good work.
    Blessings from Italy

  28. Rob says

    I applaud the author in helping us to reframe one’s “job” as a vocation and to see the bigger picture of how participating in the economy (not just as consumers, but also as producers) is a healthy and vital part of life. Further, I would agree with the author that we need to push back against the myth that happiness=leisure.

    However, while we are pushing, I also would push back against the nebulous target of “40-45+” hours. Why not be a bit more clear that the sweet spot is probably somewhere in the 25-45 hours range? Why leave the upper limit unspecified and, hence, unbounded? Workaholism is as real, salient, and structural a problem (in the U.S.) as underemployment. This article — http://www.recruiter.com/i/what-is-the-ideal-work-week/ — is a helpful foil to the author’s post.

    Bottom line: If we experience our working life as something toxic, then that is something to ponder. Do we need to change our attitudes? Change jobs? Change habits? Negotiate a healthier work-life arrangement within the context of our current job? Downsize to a cheaper house and older vehicle (or take on a roommate, or move to a multiple-breadwinner household arrangement) so that can spend less time at a paid job? The assessment and solution will depend on the circumstances and the available alternatives.

  29. ralf says

    1. realize you work to get paid.
    2. Get paid enough to survive from an 8h day (unions have fought long and hard for that ).
    3. Get training from your company to do the job safely and correctly. So as to give good results to customers and make them come back or never come back but send their friends and family (if you work in the medical field)

Sites That Link to this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *