A recent study conducted in London found that of the 1000 men and women questioned, 47% wanted to switch jobs, with 20% of those intending to do it within a year. It is incredible to think that nearly half of people of the 8 million people in the UK’s capital do not enjoy what they do. It is thought that the average person spends about 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime, which is much too long to be doing something that does not make you happy.
It is, therefore, important that you carefully choose exactly what job you want. It needs to be something that brings in enough money for you to live as comfortably as you’d like. Some people think that this is the greatest priority when looking for a job: they are happy to do something they hate as long as they get rich. However, you have to wonder whether the psychological toll of doing a job you hate is greater than the material wealth you may be able to amass as a result. But what exactly contributes to a person enjoying their job?
Abraham Maslow wrote in his seminal 1943 paper ‘A Theory of Human Motivation’ that people were intrinsically motivated to acquire certain things. The first motivation is to secure what Maslow describes as basic physiological needs such as food, water, warmth, and rest. In modern, Western, capitalist society, the way of achieving these things is by getting a job and paying for them.
Employment is a motivation in that sense, but it is a fait accompli at that stage in so far as it does not really matter what job you have if your only needs are such basic ones. Maslow theorized that once a person had met their most basic needs, their motivation would be to secure their own safety and security. The third motivational tier falls under the bracket of psychological needs: everybody needs to feel loved and as if they belong. Next, they need to have self-esteem. The feeling of having accomplished something is important to everyone.
The final tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is one that is often spoken of today: self-actualization. While this may remind you of lightweight self-help books, it simply refers to the need of a person to achieve their full potential, including any creative ambitions that they might have. It is important to realize that Maslow suggested that these needs existed in a pyramid structure. You could not think about fulfilling your creative desires if you do not have enough food to eat (the idea of the starving artist may well be a rather romantic sketch after all). Since everybody has to work, the secret to finding a job that you enjoy is finding a job that can fulfill your intrinsic needs.
However, the problem is that while everyone has the same needs, fulfilling them is different for each person. While someone may find satisfaction in the quiet order of an entire database system, for example, others would find that interminably boring and would need to see someone smile before they knew that had done something worthwhile. It is perhaps no surprise therefore that statistics show that teachers and nurses consistently rank amongst the jobs that make people happiest.
Being a teacher can be an incredibly stressful job. The rationale behind the education systems of many the most developed nations around the world can seem rather skewed: the emphasis seems to be on grades. Children are reduced to numbers and their supposed success later in life is seemingly decided on the day that they receive their results. This is, of course, not the case. While governments spend immense amounts of money educating their youngest citizens exactly because they are training them to be employable members of society who will pay back that money in the form of taxes, a teacher is not just a tool for creating a worker.
They get to inflame a young person’s imagination and see them progress and grow in confidence as they become humane, considerate, thoughtful young adults. It is a job that can make you happy exactly because you are doing something worthwhile. It is sometimes cruelly said that ‘those that can, do, while those who can’t, teach’. However, this reductionist viewpoint misses out that teachers do something special and unique every day.
It is easy to see why nurses would be happy in their jobs too. As Maslow describes, the greatest motivation in a person’s life is their physiological needs, and this includes being healthy. A person cannot actualise their ambition or desires if they are ill. Helping them and caring for them so that they can live their life again must be incredibly fulfilling.
While being a nurse is also a stressful job, especially, one imagines, when a patient is in great pain or dies, it is also a beautiful thing to see someone recover or at least live what life they have left in the best possible way that they can. Becoming a nurse is not that difficult either. You can study nursing courses online, and there will always be a demand for nurses so finding a job will not be that difficult either. All you need then is your scrubs (you can learn more about it here).
Karl Marx, the so-called father of communism, wrote at length about what he called the ‘alienation of labour’. There are four types, but one particularly interesting one is the alienation of the worker from the act of production. Under capitalism, a worker can lose the capacity to choose the direction of their own life: they are deprived of the ability to decide on the nature of their actions, how those actions interact with others, and most importantly, they cannot use or own the value of what their actions produce.
In Maslow’s conception, they are not able to find self-fulfillment, an intrinsic need. If you want to enjoy your job, you should find something where you can see the value you create every day, whether that is seeing a child understand something, or a person start to feel better after a long illness. A job that you hate may yield a wage, but you will not profit.