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Happiness Research, Things To Try

A Matter Of Perspective?

Amy Wrzesniewski is a researcher who was curious about what the difference was between unhappy and happy workers. So she interviewed all the staff at a single hospital, everyone from cleaners, technicians, nurses, administrators, doctors and surgeons, and found that it was a matter of perspective*. Across the board, people had one of three work orientations:

    1. Being in a job. These people do not enjoy the tasks they do at work, and are motivated by money. They consider work as an exchange of their time for a source of income to support their activities out of work (family, hobbies etc). These people look forward to not being at work.
    2. Being in a career. These people may enjoy or not enjoy the tasks they have to do, but are motivated by advancement. They see work as a ladder, a progression toward greater pay, status, and responsibility. Job satisfaction comes primarily from continuing advancement.
    3. Being in a calling. Those people that saw themselves in a calling had a unique motivation, in that they saw themselves contributing something worthwhile to the world. They truly believe in the mission of what they do, and their ability to make a difference. Seeing work as a calling, a person derives satisfaction from the work itself.

As you would suspect, it is the last group, those in a calling that got the greatest satisfaction from their work. This is because when you are operating in a job or in a career you are vulnerable to the highs and lows of the working week. If you see your job as a series of tasks, then you will be happy when they go well and unhappy when they are difficult. If you define success as promotion and advancement, then you will be happy when you succeed and gain recognition and distressed when you fail or are overlooked. These two orientations rely on what you get out of your job, and this external reward or gratification can only ever be temporary. And so your working life becomes a series of pleasant and unpleasant experiences.

However, when you see yourself in a calling, you are more concerned about what you are giving, to the job and those around you. Your focus is not on the individual tasks or temporary successes, but in the overall contribution you are making. This broader perspective acts as an antidote against life’s highs and lows. Also, giving makes you feel good, and if you feel like you are making a difference in people’s lives then you get an intrinsic inner glow that is far more motivating than money and status, and that no-one can take away from you.

What was interesting was that in the research conducted in the hospital, the occupation did not have any effect on the work orientation. Surgeons were split 1/3 between a job, career and calling, just as were the cleaners, nurses and administration staff. So, it does not really matter what your occupation is, it is your perspective that has an immense influence over your enjoyment of, and happiness at work.

Things For You To Try

So, how can you make your job a calling? Here are some things for you to try:

• Take a helicopter view. Take some time to think about the greater good resulting from your work. For example, one of the cleaners at the hospital saw themselves as the most important person in the hospital, because their job promoted cleanliness, and without this there would be no health.

• Identify those parts of your job that you enjoy, and where you feel you are really making a contribution, and see if you can craft your job to do more of these things. For example you may be able to negotiate with you manager to go to more meetings with clients or customers. You could ask to participate in a project team working on a topic you have an interest in. You could arrange to dedicate a portion of your time at community events. Hairdressers are a great example of people that craft their job naturally. Those hairdressers that see themselves in a calling believe they are changing the world one haircut at a time, through their connection with others. These are the hairdressers that take the time to talk and connect with their clients, and over and above the haircut, this is what makes them happy.

Dr. Shine is a character that has an amazing perspective on his job, and you can read more about him at: https://howtobehappyatwork.wordpress.com/2011/06/02/an-inspiration-dr-shine

*”Jobs, careers, and callings: People’s relations to their work.” Journal of Research in Personality, 31, 21-33.




  1. Pingback: The Power of Gratitude « How To Be Happy At Work - June 24, 2011

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