Recently, the New York Times published an important piece by Robert H. Frank, an Economics professor at Cornell University: The Incalculable Value of Finding a Job You Love.
While I will summarize a few of the findings, you should read the entire article. It includes some fascinating thoughts on the connection between money and happiness.
But I was most intrigued by the connection made between work and life satisfaction. In the article, Frank explains the importance of finding work you love and its vital role in enjoying a satisfying life. And when nearly 70% of U.S. employees are miserable at work, his thoughts are important.
Frank defines some of the key elements (other than salary) that contribute to work satisfaction: attractive working conditions, greater autonomy, better opportunities for learning, and enhanced workplace safety. I might also add some of these factors that I first wrote about six years ago.
But Frank doesn’t end there. He also adds two important criteria not often considered in job selection: 1) how you feel about your employer’s mission and 2) your natural propensity to develop deep expertise in your work.
Finding a career that aligns with your values obviously spurs satisfaction. But in Dr. Frank’s analysis, so does finding a career in which you enjoy the daily tasks and are therefore more likely to become proficient in them.
We are most satisfied in life when we are most proud of the work we do—both in purpose and in quality. (tweet that)
Using these criteria, it is wise for each of us to evaluate our current work and determine if we have chosen careers that align with these realities. We only get one life. And to the best of our ability, we should try to find work that complements and adds value to it.
Often times, however, people make the wrong assumption when they hear advice to “find work that increases life satisfaction.” Too many people assume this requires a career change.
But for most people, finding satisfaction at work does not necessarily require a career and/or employer change. Sometimes, the solution is as simple as a shift in mindset.
The quickest way to begin finding greater satisfaction in work (and subsequently life) is to begin asking ourselves a new question about the work that we currently do.
Most people ask themselves, “What do I receive from the work that I do?” They weigh the salary, the benefits, the freedom, or the opportunity for early retirement. But at its core, this is a selfish question—it keeps the goal of work focused entirely on what it brings into my life.
A far better question to ask about our work is, “How does my work benefit others?”
The answer to this question begins to shift the focus at work from selfishness to selflessness. We begin to see our work not as a selfish endeavor, but as a selfless one—one that loves and serves society by offering our talents and experiences.
How does your hard work benefit others?
This shift in mindset is more available than you might think. A farmer uses his talent to grow food for hungry people. A doctor uses his skill to bring healing to the sick. An accountant provides financial advice for those who need it. An auto mechanic fixes vehicles for those who can not. A landscaper creates beautiful places for people to live. A grocery store cashier allows fresh food to be distributed.
While there are a few exceptions, almost every job benefits others. This is a realization that quickly contributes to life satisfaction. Our work is not for selfish pursuits—our work provides value to the people around us.
Drawing from the conversation prompted in The New York Times, we can see how this shift in mindset also affects our life satisfaction. The more we focus on how our work benefits others, the more we begin to see how our values align with our employer. And the more we see how our work genuinely benefits others, the more we are drawn to effectiveness and proficiency in it.
There is certainly a time and a place for changing careers (or employers) to increase life satisfaction. But often times, the quickest solution is to shift how we think about it altogether.