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Life Balance (Part 2): Work is not there to make you happy. It gives life meaning, and that's better

80% of Americans hate their jobs. I forget where I heard that statistic, but can anyone doubt it? Work can feel like the embodiment of meaninglessness, but I believe that is due to a confusion of the concepts of "unhappiness" and "meaninglessness." If you think your job is supposed to make you happy, you are placing yourself at the center of the universe. The purpose of your job isn't even to make others happy, which is perhaps even more selfish--that's the source of burnout for a lot of therapists, by the way. The purpose of work is the same as the purpose of marriage, or hobbies, or social involvement, or any life activity, which is, as part of creating and experiencing a meaningful story. Sharing that is the basis of friendship, in fact.

Does your life feel like a bad novel? It's likely because you're letting other people write it. If you hate your job, make yourself the most valuable employee, and see what happens. You might get a raise or a promotion, but if your hard work isn't appreciated, get a new job. You may need more education--that's not difficult in this country, even while working. All of that might take a while, but your life will have been more meaningful even during that frustrating time, just for having taken charge of your story. It's easy in this country to give up on any ambition of having meaningful employment, even to simply stop working. But that attitude is fueling the misery of meaninglessness. Five years of social work employment showed me that, even before Covid.

Two caveats: 1) if the rest of your life activities aren't treated in the same way--marriage, friendships, social involvement, religion (if present), whatever--don't expect work to be meaningful. It's about balance within and among life areas. Work will seem even meaningless when other areas of life have been neglected. 2) "Stay-at-home Mom" is a job! One estimate based on the tasks and hours, and what these skills are worth in the market, is that a good full-time mom should make $300,000/yr.

Here is a great article on the relationship between happiness and employment (click on the link below). Happiness is not meaningful (drugs make you happy); however, happiness is one natural response to a meaningful life. What's more important than happiness is a deep sense of fulfillment from participation in a meaningful story that is your very own. If you want a short snippet of the article I'm referencing, I've printed that below the link.

From this article:

Being unemployed is miserable

One of the most robust findings in the economics of happiness is that unemployment is destructive to people’s wellbeing. We find this is true around the world. The employed evaluate the quality of their lives much more highly on average as compared to the unemployed. Individuals who are unemployed also report around 30 percent more negative emotional experiences in their day-to-day lives.

The importance of having a job extends far beyond the salary attached to it. A large stream of research has shown that the non-monetary aspects of employment are also key drivers of people’s wellbeing. Social status, social relations, daily structure, and goals all exert a strong influence on people’s happiness.

Not only are the unemployed generally unhappier than those in work, we find in our analyses that people generally do not adapt over time to becoming unemployed. More than this, spells of unemployment also seem to have a scarring effect on people’s wellbeing, even after they have regained employment.

The experience of joblessness can be devastating to the individual in question, but it also affects those around them. Family and friends of the unemployed are typically affected, of course, but the spillover effects go even further. High levels of unemployment typically heighten people’s sense of job insecurity, and negatively affect the happiness even of those who are still in employment.


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