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How A Satisfying Career Can Contribute To Psychological Well-Being

By on May 13, 2019 in Blog with 0 Comments

Intriguing data from the Gallup World Poll is changing the way we think about work and happiness in the modern world. For many years a paucity of high-quality data meant that much of what we thought we knew about careers and happiness was based on studies with severe limitations and largely intuitive guesses.

The famous Grant Study is an oft-cited example of longitudinal research investigating outcomes related to education, career, and happiness. However, despite the best acknowledgments of the social scientists involved, the Grant Study does not offer any magic bullet or fast and easy solutions to finding meaning and fulfillment at work and in life (not least because no women feature in the study indeed when the study began, women made up only a tiny fraction of the workforce). Nevertheless, today the way we approach our understanding of work and happiness is evolving fast and for the better.

Female worker smiles and folds her arms

Over the years a lot of trite observations have been routinely wheeled out by analysts and so-called self-help gurus. On the whole, these observations were based more on common sense than resounding evidence. Job security, higher earnings, and doing the things we love, it was posited, must be linked to greater well-being. Beyond these self-evident truths, however, Gallup Poll data has revealed a great deal of more nuanced and therefore more interesting findings of great significance today. Among them:

  • Professional workers rate the quality of their lives more highly than blue-collar workers. This holds true across the world’s major regions. This finding appears to hold true even after controlling for factors such as age, education, income, and marital status.
  • Self-employment is a double-edged sword. It may seem counter-intuitive when taken at face value but business owners in developed countries simultaneously report higher overall life satisfaction and a greater propensity to daily stress and worry.
  • The destructive effects of joblessness extend beyond income and into wider feelings of ostracization and low social status. Interestingly, people who have suffered prolonged periods of unemployment appear to have lower well-being than would otherwise be expected even after regaining employment.
  • Workers in the Anglosphere nations, Western Europe, and South America are more likely to agree that they are “satisfied” with their jobs than workers in other parts of the world. Higher incomes do not appear to be the only contributing factor. Indeed, work-life balance, job variety, individual autonomy, job security, and job safety are all thought to play a key role.
  • Alarmingly, across both the developed world and the third-world, only a small minority of workers describe themselves as “actively engaged” in their work. This finding captures a possible discrepancy between feelings of overall contentment and a lack of captivating job opportunities in all corners of the globe. What is noteworthy, however, is that twice as many workers in North America/Australia/New Zealand describe themselves as actively engaged by their jobs as workers in Western Europe (~25% vs ~12%).

This All Begs The Question: How Can We Plan Our Career To Maximize Well-being?

This is the million dollar question being asked by billions of people in all four corners of the world. Although the factors that will lead to higher career satisfaction and overall life satisfaction differ between individuals, large-scale data have given us fascinating insights applicable to people from all walks of life. After parsing reams of data ourselves here at MentalWellnessToday.com we’ve managed to come up with what we believe are three of the truest tips for finding work-life balance and career satisfaction:

Tip #1: Not All Employers Are Made Equal

Some employers excel in offering opportunities that fulfill one or more of the criteria we discussed above linked to higher work and overall life satisfaction. IBM excel in job variety, H&R Block is great for work-life balance, and the U.S. Armed Forces offer unbeatable job security. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that more fulfilling and better-paid jobs inevitably come with fiercer competition.

Before submitting your application to any one of these highly-rated employers its well worth your time to research their hiring practices, such as the assessment center utilized by IBM and the strict physical fitness tests employed by the Army.

Tip #2: Define Your Goals And Stick To Them

Floundering in mid-life because of poorly defined goals in your early career can derail your happiness at a time when those around you are enjoying the fruits of their labor. Identifying what you’re good at while you’re still young and then developing and exploiting these skills improves job stability and life satisfaction in mid-life.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who do things that they’re good at report higher satisfaction than people who work in an area that isn’t their strong suit. Meanwhile, setting realistic and achievable goals is a key element of deriving fulfillment from your career.

Tip #3:  Investments In Education Pay Off Handsomely

While further education seems to have slipped in and out of vogue as a path to more satisfying work, the calculations still firmly suggest that time spent in college is well worth your investment. Stories of high-achieving dropouts like Mark Zuckerberg and scholarships such as the one offered by Peter Thiel have fueled the perception of wasted years spent in the classroom.

Nonetheless, what we see time and again is that college degrees and postgraduate degrees pay for themselves many times over on average. STEM fields and professional degrees like medicine are particularly reliable in their pay-offs. However, before jumping into life as a doctor, consider the fact that medical workers have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. This may be a classic case of monetary rewards being balanced out by corresponding negatives like overwhelming job pressures.

Work-Life Balance: More Leisure vs More Career Advancement

We wrap up this article by considering one of the most significant decisions many of us will make during our career, particularly after childbirth. That is — should we work part-time and give priority to our family, or work full-time and advance professionally to the fullest extent possible?

Pros Of Full-Time Work

  • In a single-income household, in particular, you may only be able to sustain a reasonable standard of living with a full-time paycheck. Remember, happiness generally increases up to a household income of around $75,000.
  • Some part-time workers express feelings of guilt and regret at having forgone possible promotions and career advancements. If you are motivated by career success you may suffer feelings of remorse by making an unwise switch to partial hours.

Cons Of Full-Time Work

  • Work-life balance is a key driver of happiness and many parents feel a sense of profound well-being at being able to feature more prominently in their children’s lives.
  • Dual-income households may surpass the “magic number” beyond which happiness appears to increase only marginally with further financial resources. If you and your partner are above this level you may find a hollowness in pursuing only material goals.
  • If your job is grating, unsafe, and/or stressful you may find that additional hours sap you of your emotional reserves and make you less pleasant an influence in the lives of your loved ones.

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About the Author

About the Author: Tom Andrews BSc is the editor of MentalWellnessToday.com. He devotes his time to psychology and mental health research and also enjoys climbing, hiking, and team sports. Tom is a contributor to several other highly regarded health magazines and blogs.

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