Our Love/Hate Relationship With Work


“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it.”

The statistics concerning work in America tell an interesting story. On one hand, we hate work. On the other hand, we can’t seem to get enough of it.

For the most part, Americans are dissatisfied with their jobs:

  • 70% of employed Americans are disengaged from their work.
  • 18% of workers are actively disengaged—meaning they aren’t just unhappy; they are busy acting out their unhappiness.
  • 74% of employed workers would consider a new job opportunity if one was presented.
  • The 4-Hour Workweek has spent 7 years on The New York Times bestseller list.
  • Americans count down the years to retirement at age 65 and CNN defines early retirement as the ultimate “American Dream.”

Americans are not happy with their work and do not enjoy it. But we refuse to slow down and take any break from it:

  • Compared with other industrialized nations, U.S. workers rank 1st in hours worked (1,800 hours annually).
  • The typical American middle-income family works an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than it did in 1979.
  • 53% of adults check work messages at least once a day over the weekend.
  • Americans leave a half billion vacation days unused each year.
  • We struggle to find even one day of rest each week.

These statistics paint an interesting picture of our love/hate relationship with work: We don’t like our jobs; but refuse to spend less time at them. Why is this the case?

Most likely there are a number of reasons. Sometimes, our legitimate financial needs require us to work long hours. Sometimes, our jobs require us to be on-call and available at a moment’s notice. Other times, our employers simply do not provide us that type of flexibility.

But I think there is something deeper going on here. After all, all of this is happening in one of the most productive and wealthiest nations in the history of the world. Why then, given our vast supply of opportunity, do we work such long hours in jobs we hate?

If we could discover the deeper reason for this discontent, we could find relief in both areas: both a greater appreciation for our work and more space for rest.

The real reason we have such a love/hate relationship with work in our society is because our motivation for it is all wrong. We do our work for the wrong reward.

Typically, we do our jobs simply for the purpose of earning a paycheck at the end of the day. Work is that thing we do through which we make money so we can do all the other things we really want to do.

But money as a means to fulfillment will always fall short. It will never fully satisfy the longings of our heart—in their own right, power and reputation and fame never satisfy either.

When money is the reward, we can never earn enough. We are always left desiring just a little bit more.

This is a problem with our modern understanding of work. If we are only doing it for the sake of the paycheck every two weeks, it will never be enough. We will always be left searching for more—putting in just a few more hours, skipping another day of vacation, heading back to the office on another Saturday morning.

Do we work because we love our jobs and find fulfillment in them? No. We do it because we believe the paycheck makes it all worthwhile—or at least, a little bit bigger paycheck will make it all worthwhile.

But it never does.

We were designed to work for something greater than money and possessions and property. (tweet that)

Instead, view work as contribution to others—this is the reward. Our work contributes to the good of society. It moves us forward. It makes us better as people. It enriches our lives.

Whether we are bagging groceries, delivering mail, sweeping streets, or managing others, we can view our work as an act of love to the people we serve.

And when we change our motivation, we discover work is not something to be avoided—it is meaningful.

Please don’t view your work as something to be endured or avoided. Don’t view it merely as a means to a paycheck. Change your focus. Develop a deeper appreciation for the contribution you are making (or find a job that will).

This will always result in a new love/love relationship.

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

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

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  1. says

    Pain comes from my spouse living just as you described above. It’s a vicious cycle. The fear to change exacerbates the cycle. It’s such a bummer when the beautiful reasoning in this article doesn’t break through that fear. The unhappy worker loses and those close to that one.

  2. says

    I have spent a huge proportion of my life focused on finding a job that fulfills me, rather than a job that just provides me with a paycheque. But I never thought about it the way you described it. Taking every job as a means to contribute to the world no matter if it is what you love to do at the moment. That’s a really interesting and gratifying way to look at it. Thank you for the post!

  3. says

    Good article Joshua. The paycheck for many is the means to an end – it was for me for several years until I began the process of simplifying and de-cluttering my life, which is what you discuss.

    What many people practice is backwards, but is commonly preached. For many who aren’t unemployed or underemployed we work hard to buy more stuff. When we are tired we want to treat ourselves with another purchase. We even buy stuff because we want to show it off.

    The stuff adds up, and it gets to a point in which we not only despise our job, but now we feel trapped since we need the job to pay for all the stuff and bills.


    • joshua becker says

      You are absolutely right about that. Consumerism holds us hostage to many desperate acts.

        • Judy says

          I know what you’re saying…

          I often think about Europe and the simpler lives people live. I saw on TV a family that lived at the foot of Mt. Vesuvius in a beautiful little house. They grew veggies/fruits and celebrated life each day with homemade bread and wine and cheese. They sat at a table outside and relished in their beautiful surroundings…remembering the ancient Romans. :)

          • Justyna says

            Actually, we here at Europe are pretty disengaged and working long hours as described in article. You can always choose living in a small village, but for multiple reasons people dont do this that often ;)

    • says

      You are right here! I personally know people who brag about how much money they make and all the stuffs they just bought. And knowing from them that they got stuffs (boats,motorcycles,four-wheelers,iphones,etc) at a very low interest makes me think they work so hard just to pay for them and I’m sure they don’t like their job,some barely spend time with their family.

  4. theresa says

    What about a job that actually should be one where an employee can feel he or she is contributing to the greater good? I am married to a teacher who tells countless stories of the lack of appreciation and downright disrespect from both students AND parents, as well as administrators, across the board, at the school where he works. Morale is so low that I think any of the teachers there would leave in a heartbeat if they could find a place in another career. And I know that it is the state of employment of teachers in the US, in general, not just his school. So many teachers feel like they have wasted their lives.

    • says

      I am a teacher (albeit not in the US) and feel exactly the same. Our profession has changed, from actually teaching and educating the whole person, to form filling and box ticking. On top of that, as you mention, at the end of the day we get very little appreciation (though I realise other jobs are pretty much the same, which is why I make a point of saying ‘thank you’ at every possibility).

      I am due to go on a sabbatical for a year, to finish a book I have been working on, as well as trying to find alternative, more fulfilling career, but I realise that is a huge privilege I have, as my husband is also employed and we can live on his salary for a while (and believe me, it’s not going to be easy)! As you said, most teachers at my school, including myself, started teaching as we found great meaning it, yet as years go by and expectations change, find it a burden to go on…

    • joshua becker says

      The world will never give you the respect or accolades you so desperately desire. They are all too busy fighting for their own. You will need to find it elsewhere.

      • theresa says

        I concede that fact; however, it’s the blatant disrespect and demeaning disregard teachers are given that is really the source of most of that “What have I done with my life?!?” feeling which permeates the staff at most schools. And who would hire a teacher of 18 years to do something (in a new career) they could pay a 22-year old with fresh college knowledge to do for far less? Alex@lifeandotherweirdtales is fortunate to have a spouse who can support her while she makes those changes. Most cannot.

        • Elizabeth says

          Great post, Joshua. I’ve been following you for about a month and I’m really enjoying your blog.

          I am a teacher as well and felt the need to comment here. Firstly, I understand how tough teaching can be and how unappreciated teachers can feel. I’ve been there many times myself. However, It is so important to have a tiny spark of joy in your day to keep you going, whatever that may be. My happiest and proudest moments as a teacher are made up of the little successes: getting a smile out of a shy kid, seeing a struggling student finally ‘getting’ something, even just having my naughty class all turn up on time one day!
          I made myself a promise at the start of my career that I would leave when I stopped enjoying teaching: it does no one any favours for you to feel miserable and frankly, the job’s too hard to suffer through. Look past the paperwork, the broken system and the negative colleagues: focus on the kids. It’s not easy, but that’s what I’m trying to do. If you can’t, be kind to yourself and move on.

          • Marilyn says

            My first thought in response to Josh’s post was, “I’m so lucky that I’m a teacher!” I find enormous meaning in my job every day. If I were able to do it all over again, I know I’d choose being a teacher. It’s not a job, it’s a calling. If people connect with others and build relationships, it is a spectacular thing. Of course there are difficulties but so, so worth it.

  5. Zelda says

    Money may be the major motivator for working long hours, but those of us who hate our jobs and don’t care how much we make (so long as it’s enough to cover our basic needs) have other reasons we hate our jobs – emotional trauma as a result of abuse that prevents us from actively engaging people and work out of fear rather than joy and a sense of fulfillment.

    • joshua becker says

      Zelda, are you taking intentional steps to find different work? I would hope so. You are in a great position to do so if you are content with only basic needs being met.

      • Zelda says

        Sort-of. I put in a resume and application at the encouragement of my supervisor to brush up on my skills and even scored an interview, but was not offered the job. It wasn’t something I really wanted to do anyway, but at least I pushed myself to get out of my comfort zone. Truthfully, I’m absolutely terrified of “breaking out” of the “rut” I’m in despite my dislike of where I’m at.

  6. Jill says

    Perhaps the best contribution a worker can make to others is to push back against an employer’s demand for more and more hours for less and less pay. Workforce participation has dropped to an appallingly low percentage of adults. It seems that half the population has given up even finding a job, while the other half is working insane hours and resenting it mightily. Take back your power, people.

  7. says

    I love this Howard Thurman quote: “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

    However, I do understand that not everyone knows how to make money at what makes them come alive. Until we find what makes us come alive, I really like your approach to finding meaning in any job, or move on.

    I personally think the other side of the argument is that we feel stuck at jobs because we need that paycheck and therefore become resentful and feel we have lost our freedom.

    A few years ago, I started becoming a minimalist… not to save money, but to bring more peace and happiness into my life. I was making a 6-figure salary, so I could have easily afforded lots of ‘stuff’, but I feel ‘stuff’ takes away my freedom. By living a simple life and creating multiple streams of side income, I now work part time as a professional consultant because I WANT to be working, not because I HAVE to be working. This makes a HUGE difference in workplace engagement for me.

  8. says

    I think this issue can be tackled in two ways:

    1. Find out where those paychecks are going. Besides the needs, work on eliminating any expense that you don’t value. This lessens the burden.

    2.Design a road map that work towards a target. A target that would set you free financially. While you’re working towards this, start looking for what you would really like to do and do it at night even in small steps.

    The first point reduces the negative pressure that revolves around the need to do a job and the second point makes sure we work towards developing something we love.

  9. says

    Interesting. I have been working on my husband to get out of the love/hate relationship. Although he is much better these days he still has a strange addiction to work. He actually loves what he does (developer/builder) but takes workaholic to a new level. There is some type of pull for him and it is really hard for him to separate work from personal life.

    To reduce some of the work stress, I personally have changed my thoughts to the intention of being wealthy (with visualiztion and positive thinking) instead of focusing on making more money right now and all the negativity that comes along with it.

    If you truly need money, it will come your way.

  10. says

    Joshua, The idea of seeing our work as an expression of love and service to others is beautiful. At the same time, a great deal of work that goes on in the U. S. isn’t really designed to serve others, but to accumulate wealth for a few.

    So, I think we also need to come to terms with that and see whether our personal work is part of the problem or part of the solution. Of course, we can still personally do our work with a love and caring attitude. That is the best of all and I appreciate how you cut right to the core of what is important in this life.

    I think another factor underlying our obsession with work is the need for personal affirmation or even affirmation of our existence. It seems like so many are missing this basic need that was never give freely to them in childhood. It’s a very subtle form of need that we may never be aware of but it keeps us on the treadmill doing more and more and more.

  11. says


    Can’t agree enough. When you said we are designed to work for something greater than money and possessions and property, you hit the nail on the head.

    Sure, Americans dislike their jobs. I believe it’s mostly because they are dependent on them and naturally, we don’t like to be dependent on things for our livelyhood. Throw in the fact that we “have” to be there and the negativity there and you’ve got yourself a problem.

    I believe we can all put ourselves in a position where we can choose to work on what makes us happy by both living on less and always taking action and making progress towards our goals.

    I’m doing this and watching many, many others take action as well. I think things are changing and they’re changing fast.

    Great post and keep up the great words of wisdom.

  12. says

    I agree with this post. I began working strictly for the job I wanted. An upper management person told me one day. We sell ourselves to the highest bidder in our working career. I dwelt on that for a while, my job offerd perks for my hard work. Then our company was sold. The new boss had his own goals and ideas about what the company should be. We sometimes wonder if the employees that came with the company was a part of it at all anymore. Never the less, we all began to do things the new way. Today we all have a different perspective about the company. There aren’t as many of us as there use to be, and the boss isn’t replacing any of us as we go. I keep trying to find ways to make myself happy and stay, but the truth is I think I’m suppose to go!

  13. Livesimplecolorado says

    I spent most of my life trying to fill myself up with my job. My job had to be my passion (I am a designer, illustrator) but after several years my jobs always ended up being just a means to an end (funny how that happens). I still look at work as a means to an end (how much does it pay, what are the benefits). It is not that I hate my job, I actually work at a very cool place (art school) and work a nice flexible gig with very awesome co-workers. But the bottom line is, it is still a “job” and sometimes I feel very uninspired despite the fact that technically I really am positively impacting others (creating classes for our online environment). I guess the problem is that now I am pushing 50 and work is still… work. How nice to be able to treat work as optional, that is what i spend a lot of time day dreaming about. So I have been saving more, downsizing and really beginning to look at other options as I get older. Ideally, I would love to spend my time volunteering and running trails, maybe one day :) Thank you for the post!

  14. April says

    Joshua, thank you for a beautiful post that really resonated with me. Do you know Skidelsky’s book ‘How Much Is Enough?’ It describes the same idea (at much greater length!), that of working just enough to pursue ‘The Good Life’ rather than perpetuating the endless cycle of earning as much as possible in order to keep up with everyone else’s levels of consumption. I can’t recommend this highly enough.

    Maybe all of us here are the start of the revolution – could the minimalist way break the cycle and become the new normal?

  15. says

    Great article Joshua! Work should start with the idea of service.

    Unfortunately, we live in a society that has taught us to value money and possessions over more important things. And we seem to be spreading that idea to other cultures. Fortunately it seems like at least some people are starting to wake up and understand that money and possessions can’t lead to happiness, nor a full life. But wholesale transformation will take a while.

  16. says

    Wonderful post : We, my husband and I, are at this very moment trying to make it so I don’t have to go back to work after my maternity leave. We have decided it would be better if I stayed home until the kids are in school and then, I would find work again. We know that when we make the final decision and announce our choice, reactions will be varied and most likely negatively received. Some of the people I’ve already shared our idea with have literally tried to talk me out of it : How will I define myself, how will we live, will I be happy doing “nothing”… like raising a family isn’t a job worth doing.

    This was just the article I needed to read tonight to remind me of the importance of my choices.

    Thank you!

  17. says

    There are people who really love their job and a lot of us don’t because of few factors: money,passion or just simply no choice. Like me, I wanted to use the skills I have but it would mean taking our kids to daycare which costs a lot. I have to find job where we live (only three minutes away,actually),it’s not the best job in the world but the reward I get is priceless and that is to watch our little girls at home rather than take them to a babysitter/daycare.

  18. says

    I’ve been following your blog for some time now, even on FB, and haven’t commented much. I just wanted to say thanks a lot for always giving me something fresh and something provoking to meditate on. I am constantly in a cycle of trying to stick to my values of simplicity and minimalism, but find myself surrounded by pressures of what this world says is the “right way” to live your life. Anyhow, your words and photos are always inspirational and motivational. Mahao nui loa!

  19. Judy says

    I agree, Joshua and before I leave for work I ask God to let me be a blessing in someone’s life each day. It’s not my “ideal” job…but for now (due to other obligations) it is what it is. I do have a love/hate relationship with my job, for sure. Come fall, I will get those other obligations in check and actively seek new employment. I need fair compensation. I do work hard…but for very little pay. Good thing I’m a minimalist…I’d never make it if I weren’t! :)
    Love your inspiring posts. Thank you.

  20. says

    I hear you about there being many reasons behind people’s love-hate relationship with work, yet still wonder. All reasons taken together, aren’t they “just” differing reflections of the basic relationship we have with happiness and unhappiness respectively?

    Unhappiness requires zero effort. Happiness takes guts.

    Hardship cases excluded, I feel to have guts or not to have guts is the question, i.e. at the root of life decisions that lead to doing work you hate, or conversely to creating satisfaction for yourself and for other people.

    Of course, unhappy people are every bit as courageous as happy people are – when what’s preventing it is eliminated. When asked to point at themselves, even people who hate work point to their heart, but when guts are demanded and the universe rewards speed – then they switch to their minds instead. Even though the switch is simple, it’s damn hard to get across.

    Best done by leading by example – so hats off to your doing just that with your post and your blog and elsewhere probably, too.

  21. ZenPumpkin says

    I see where you’re coming from with this article and it is a positive idea. On the other hand, if someone really hates their job I don’t think it would always be wise to try to push back that feeling with “I am doing this for others.” If your inner voice is saying “I am uncomfortable here, something isn’t right,” that feeling is valid. Burying it under self sacrifice could just serve as a way of denying the problem. Some like myself are dissatisfied not because they aren’t making enough per se (but that too) but because they’re not being rewarded in a way that is of equal value to the time they put forth (Like the minimum wage I make which isn’t enough to live on without help – and I’m a minimalist). I don’t think it’s wrong to dislike work not suited to you, or to expect fair monetary value in return for the most precious thing you have — time — or selfish that helping customers (though it can be momentarily rewarding) doesn’t necessarily alleviate that feeling — you still have to take care of yourself first. Otherwise if you’re running on empty what good are you to anyone? Just a thought, no disrespect meant. I have been reading your blog for years now (mostly lurking!) and I think you’re an excellent writer. You’ve certainly influenced my life for the better.

  22. ZenPumpkin says

    Apologies for writing a novel but where I wrote about fair monetary value in exchange for your time I feel I need to add “as fair as that exchange is ever going to be”.

  23. Craig says

    All these issues with ‘work’ stem from capitalism. And this naive drivel about ‘being a good worker for others’ is dangerous and just perpetuates the ideology and practices that recreate capitalism. Those that work the most are the poorest. Their jobs are horrible. This is a collective issue, not individual. If we could change jobs and follow our passion we all would, but the reality is that stories like Joshua’s and the minimalists are anomalies in a world where most folks are over worked or desperate.

  24. Lea says

    Very interesting article. One of the most loved jobs I ever had came about through volunteering at an animal shelter. This was never a “job” to me but a labor of love. It was meaningful work. It wasn’t sexy or glamorous. It was physical and emotional. It was outside work, rain, shine, hot or cold and I loved it. It didn’t pay much in money but gave me so much more than I’ve ever had from a job. I wanted to be there every day and I LOVED my work and the animals I served.

  25. Lila says

    My son who is 32 has embraced this way of living from the start of his working years. He writes and enjoys his free time to write, read, and just enjoy his free time. He lives on his own, pays rent, and all his expenses, yet does not have a car, he rides a bike, eats healthy, yet simply, and works employed enough each year so as to support himself throughout the rest of the year. This is usually in a proportion of 8-4… At first, being a baby boomer, I was distraught at his choices… and worried sick about his “future”. I have learned to respect his honesty and his clarity to be true to himself. Like he has told me: “you lived to work, I work to live”. To him, his greatest asset is his time to do as he wants. And me… I am starting on this path, I am trying to cut down on everything, get rid of clutter and unclutter my mind, live with more freedom and less things and money… to gain my time and freedom. Thank you for your life story. You are inspiring.

  26. don godson says

    very well said.. in my case the pay check is always the motive… but i am changing slowly… and hope i work for joy and not for the paycheck …

  27. says

    I wholeheartedly agree that we shouldn’t do our work because of the money we earn and instead do something that makes the world better. BUT I will say it can be a motivator in job choice. My mother in law taught English to 7th graders for 40 years! She came across thousands of students in her lifetime and influenced hundreds for their lifetime; she is a legend in our community. She has one of the most important jobs and I will say over and over that she didn’t get paid enough! Unfortunately our society shows their value to contributing members with money and consequently, severely undervalues teachers. With that being said it can make a job more rewarding when you get compensated appropriately. I’m a nurse with an equal amount of schooling as a teacher and have a job that is just as demanding, but I get paid significantly more. Probably a little off topic, but maybe food for thought. ;)

  28. Glenn says

    I love my work. It allows me to contribute something in this world. Work regardless of what it is, is noble. You cannot get what you want all the time. We work also so we can provide to ourselves and to our family. People just need to change their attitude towards work. Minimalism is not always the answer or spending less because these two are arbitrary depending on where you’re at in your life. Right attitude and right perspective will always make work or life easier.

  29. Zap says

    There are so many important related issues around this topic and I think I’ve experienced most of them. For example, even when you enjoy the job itself, it can be other people’s toxic behaviour, peers or boss, that make the job unbearable. Unhappiness is catching!

    Another issue is being able to know when your current job is great and NOT to accept a promotion or go elsewhere. A promotion can look attractive in terms of status and money, but can place you in a position where you’re no longer doing what you love, where the skillset is now very different from what you imagined.

    Yet another issue is how people look forward to ‘retirement’, but realise when they get there, they’re too old, chronically ill or burnt out to enjoy retirement anyway. Some of us don’t realise that some activities we dream of doing when retired need to be nurtured for many years, especially when the brain and body is younger and more flexible. Eg, art, music, dance, hiking around the world, etc… It’s important to set aside time in your working life to practise the skills you need to do what you love when you have more time.

  30. Sally Chapman says

    All fine and good if you only define work as paid labour, which is all you do. How would your article be different if you acknowledged and took into account the vast amounts of unpaid work that occurs in families? Why not write about THAT life/work challenge?

  31. Mikael says

    I sincerely doubt that U.S. workers rank 1st in hours worked, compared with other industrialized nations.

    Shouldn’t some Asian country be ahead of them?
    At least china?

    Maybe it’s per person, but then shouldn’t some place with a low unemployment top the list in that case?

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