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Old 07-03-2006, 05:04 PM   #1
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Why Work So Hard On A Career?

Money doesn't buy happiness

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Happy? Let's Sum It Up
Researchers tap the `dismal science' of economics to quantify well-being. It isn't money that leaves you feeling like a million.
By Stuart Silverstein, Times Staff Writer
July 3, 2006

Midway into his career as a professor, USC's Richard Easterlin deduced something that seemed astonishing, at least for an economist: Money doesn't buy happiness.

Grandparents and sages have said as much through the ages. Yet when Easterlin published his first happiness research in the 1970s, fellow economists brushed it off. "People don't take this as serious stuff," he said. "They think it's maybe cocktail party conversation."

Things are looking up these days for Easterlin, 80, and the small but increasingly visible network of researchers relying on the so-called dismal science of economics to find the keys to happiness.

If earning more money generally does surprisingly little or even nothing to make societies happier, they wonder, what works better? Good health? Marriage? Sex? By one reckoning, boosting the frequency of sex in a marriage from once a month to once a week brings as much happiness as an extra $50,000 a year.
Contentment is priceless
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Old 07-03-2006, 09:25 PM   #2
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I'm not a frequent FYM poster, but I caught this topic at the bottom of a page and just had to read and respond because I was discussing this very subject with my teenaged niece yesterday.

Interesting that an economist finally comes to this conclusion at the age of 80. Better late than never, I guess.

From 1990-2001, I probably would have been considered a "success" by mainstream America. I called upon and worked with CEOs, mayors and other community leaders. I made a generous salary and as a single woman, much of it was discretionary. I bought lots of clothes, traveled often, and traded in my car every other year.

But I was continually stressed, under pressure, lonely, and took so many vacations because I needed to escape my real life.

I decided to move to one of the most boring states in America to participate in the lives of my niece and nephew. I now live in a small apartment and make an hourly wage at a fairly routine job.

But when I walk out that door at 5 pm, the evening is mine -- no take home work, no planning for the next day, no board meetings, no volunteer training. For the first year of my move, I delved into even more books and developed my photography talent because I could not afford cable TV or internet. I feel loved by my sister's family and I take more of an interest in the personal lives of my co-workers. I'm now feeling a renewed pull towards spirituality that I had totally lost along the way.

I can't say that I am always "happy" (an overused and simplistic term in my opinion) but I am usually satisfied and content -- words that have received bad press in this materialistic and overachieving world. I'm not saying there weren't times along the way when I thought I had made a huge mistake, but I feel like I am in a much better place than when my paycheck was double what I earn today.

Sorry if I got a little lengthy, this realization is still pretty new to me, also.

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Old 07-04-2006, 02:05 AM   #3
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While I've never been close to your level of affairs careerwise (at least as you describe them), I feel much the same Popdaisy. I never could relate to all this stuff. I have watched people at close quarters who do the career thing (particularly the I'm-going-to-start-a-million-dollar-business people), and their quality of life seems, in a word, appalling.

I would not describe myself as particularly happy, but it's not because of lack of 'achievement'.
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Old 07-04-2006, 02:30 AM   #4
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I think what's far more important is that you have a job that you enjoy, not one that makes you rich. If you hate your job, you will be miserable.
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Old 07-04-2006, 06:16 AM   #5
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If I've won th 25 million dollar Ozlotto draw tonight, I can guarantee I'll be happy.



But seriously, it's the simple things totally.
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Old 07-04-2006, 06:53 AM   #6
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Yes we'd all love to win the lotto angie. hell, i would too. It would make a difference, as the asinine ads claim: it would be nice. But that social opiate doesn't come after 20 years of forgoeing your weekends and personal life. It's the ultimate fuck-off to everything, and by god, yes I'd love to win. But I'm not in it.
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Old 07-04-2006, 11:02 AM   #7
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It's funny that probably the only people who make these kinds of claims make at least $100K a year. So, frankly, I take it with a grain of salt.

However, I will say that there's probably such a thing as "diminishing returns," so once you have money, more money isn't going to make you any happier.

Maybe we should tell the "robber barons" of our time that, so they don't have to waste our legislative time all the time squealing over tax cuts for themselves and their cronies. It might save a lot of unnecessary unhappiness.

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Old 07-04-2006, 11:23 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by AtomicBono
I think what's far more important is that you have a job that you enjoy, not one that makes you rich. If you hate your job, you will be miserable.
I definitely agree with this. Sometimes, however, the career field that you choose in the beginning changes over time.

Rather than being vague, I'll just clarify things and explain that I was in non-profit management. Professional fundraising, at the end.

When I began in this field, I felt good about what I was doing. I was raising money that people wanted to willingly give towards a college, a health organization, Scouting. There weren't unrealistic expectations on hitting certain levels, we didn't pester the same people repeatedly within the same fiscal year, and we didn't solicit people who had absolutely no connection to the organization.

Through the years, however, that all changed. Fundraising became much more like sales and marketing. Quotas were established, "no" wasn't an acceptable answer, mailing lists were purchased, and completing reports and answering to boards, committees and vice-presidents were taking a bigger chunk of the day.

Although I enjoy talking to people, I am at heart more of an introspective soul. More and more, my superiors were pushing me to become an extrovert, a cheerleader, urging me to place pressure on potential donors, and expand our territory. I finally realized that professional fundraising was a totally different animal that what it had been, and I no longer fit in.

I'm certain that there are plenty of other occupations that have changed so drastically that people no longer feel they "fit" -- computer processing and social work to name just a few. Nothing remains static and although it's easy enough to say one has to change with the times, sometimes things change so drastically that an entirely different direction has to be explored.
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Old 07-04-2006, 11:49 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by AtomicBono
I think what's far more important is that you have a job that you enjoy, not one that makes you rich. If you hate your job, you will be miserable.


I've learned that lesson.
I may not make the same salary as before, but I am much happier at the end of the day.
My life is richer now that I am not spending it on something that I was not enjoying anymore.
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Old 07-04-2006, 12:28 PM   #10
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If earning more money generally does surprisingly little or even nothing to make societies happier, they wonder, what works better? Good health? Marriage? Sex? By one reckoning, boosting the frequency of sex in a marriage from once a month to once a week brings as much happiness as an extra $50,000 a year.
True dat, I guess right now I´m just as happy as someone who earns an extra $350,000 a year.
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Old 07-04-2006, 11:20 PM   #11
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when I started to work I wasn't thinking about how much money I was going to make. I would be really stupid If I though that working as an illustrator would make me rich... even less in a place where the editorial industry isn't very kind with the artists and designers, In fact when you say that you are a freelance illustrator they think you are some kind of hippie hehehe. But you know?... I can't imagine myself doing something different, I'm doing what I love and I have met wonderfull people in the way. Obviously I've had some problems, I demand a lot from myself and sometimes I'm a little tight of money, but I don't feel envy for those people who are in those big ad agencies, working like donkeys and without getting any credit, although they win more money than me.
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Old 07-05-2006, 06:40 PM   #12
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Thank you PopDaisy for sharing your story. I think this is representative of middle America where many earn under $100,000 a year, yet fully realize joy and contentment in life.

There will always be those intent on transitioning to higher levels of social class (to the extent we can actually define such classes) who may view such contentment as stupid or an example of brainwashing. Overtime, the values change and success is defined by what is significant, not by what is of material value. It is a process we all go through.

AtomicBono also points out an important component to the equation: a job you enjoy. Given that a good third of our adult lives is spent on a job, the quality of the job place is of huge significance. Unfortunately, this is usually not a priority when leaving the education world for the working world. After time, however, one begins to understand the value of the quality of a job over the size of a paycheck.
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Old 07-06-2006, 12:48 PM   #13
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Just a thought. Do you think the whole concept of a "job you love" is more the province of those of us who are college-educated and relatively affluent and in a sense can pick and choose.

Aren't the many jobs that no one would enjoy doing. Are there really that many people who would gain deep satisfaction from making garments or in a meat packing plant. If everyone did 'what they loved' wouldn't a lot of those "bottom feeder" jobs go unfilled?

And so for such people, one would hope they are looking outside of work for satisfaction, contentment, and joy.

Another thought. Isn't interesting how you hear from people who have dealt with the desperately poor how many seem to have such joy despite their severe lack of material wealth? (Having worked outside of the U.S. in poor countries, I've seen this too). What do you make of that?
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Old 07-06-2006, 01:31 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
Just a thought. Do you think the whole concept of a "job you love" is more the province of those of us who are college-educated and relatively affluent and in a sense can pick and choose.




great insight. notions of happiness, or even having the time to ponder notions of happiness, are often luxuries afforded to those of us with the time to ponder such things.
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Old 07-06-2006, 04:02 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
Just a thought. Do you think the whole concept of a "job you love" is more the province of those of us who are college-educated and relatively affluent and in a sense can pick and choose.
Yes. Some people don't have a choice and they're the ones stuck with jobs that no one else will do.
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Old 07-06-2006, 04:10 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
Just a thought. Do you think the whole concept of a "job you love" is more the province of those of us who are college-educated and relatively affluent and in a sense can pick and choose.

Aren't the many jobs that no one would enjoy doing. Are there really that many people who would gain deep satisfaction from making garments or in a meat packing plant. If everyone did 'what they loved' wouldn't a lot of those "bottom feeder" jobs go unfilled?

And so for such people, one would hope they are looking outside of work for satisfaction, contentment, and joy.
I definitely think affluence and college education are connected to it, but I'm not sure just how direct the relationship is. Certainly I've known people who have neither, but love and take great satisfaction from what they do...though all that I can think of either worked for themselves or for small businesses: a caterer, a freelance carpenter, a dog breeder/trainer, a mechanic. That cog-in-the-wheel, assembly-line syndrome is what sucks the joy out of it for a lot of people, I think. For that matter, I can even think of an emergency-med doc I know who loathes the whole system she works in (HMOs, etc.), hates being a cog in the wheel, will allow that she finds satisfaction in having the knowledge and skills to help sick or injured people, but really lives for her art and the fantastic paintings she has time to create when she's not off on another 36-hour shift. Closer to home, I've seen many professors wind up leaving academia--or worse, limp through it for decades with a sour attitude--because, after all that time and money spent earning a PhD, they realized that they really don't enjoy teaching and, pipedream fantasies about becoming the next Chomsky or Friedman or Dyson etc. aside, the truth is if you want to be a professor you had better love teaching. You might think that anyone who had the will to make it through whatever kind of professional training to begin with must surely love that job for life, but that's not always how it works out.

Personally, I can't really relate to the "live for what comes after I clock out" philosophy, but quite a lot of people seem to happily enough live by it. Nonetheless, I do think some amount of satisfaction with what you do, and some sense that you're valued by the organization you work for, is necessary for anyone for a balanced life's sake. Are the insults of being a "bottom feeder" INHERENT in meatpacking or garment making? Or is it just the way we've chosen to organize these types of work?
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Another thought. Isn't interesting how you hear from people who have dealt with the desperately poor how many seem to have such joy despite their severe lack of material wealth? (Having worked outside of the U.S. in poor countries, I've seen this too). What do you make of that?
Well I don't have your level of experience with "developing world" poverty; I spent a year doing fieldwork in Indian slums and that's basically it. I certainly don't agree with the notion that "the simple life" explains whatever happiness desperately poor people have; there is nothing remotely simple about being poor--everything from transportation to cooking, or communication, or household repairs, or keeping small children occupied, or washing your clothes, finding a little privacy, etc. etc. etc. is far more complicated for poor people (including here) than it is for others. Also, while growing up with the knowledge that you'll probably always be poor and there's no remotely likely way out of that can paradoxically bring a certain peace of mind and freedom from anxieties about "proving" yourself, nonetheless, this generally comes at the cost of accepting a constant if (usually) subtle burden of resigned shame at your low station in life...at least, if you live somewhere where NOT everyone is poor. Having freely chosen to step outside The Fast Lane and spend the remaining half of your life focusing on what "really" matters (as opposed to having spent your entire life constantly preoccupied with what REALLY matters, because you can't afford to be preoccupied with anything else) is simply not the same.

I suppose I think that to the extent very poor people(s) are happier than we are, it's mostly because they have fewer expectations from life, and relatively little to defend, and no one really to impress, and all that other self-important/self-loathing stuff that walls people off from themselves and each other. Still, having seen the appalling kinds of misery that all too often intrude into such environments, pains far far worse than our garden-variety angsts...the vulnerability of it all...I would not want to switch places and I would strongly question idealizing any of it. Because it really is all of a piece.
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Old 07-06-2006, 05:36 PM   #17
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I think we all go through a stage where we are not in a job we love, and believe that the key to getting to a job we love is increase income, or the financial ability to stop and seek that job we love. It certainly fits the world’s message that money = happiness. To the contrary, I have found many people who talk about previous jobs as “the jobs they loved,” leaving those jobs in search of more money. Of course, this is all from the unique wealthy perspective of the United States.

As for what constitutes a “job one loves” – it all depends on life circumstances and the intangibles that go along with the job. For some, a job is simply a means of support, and the life outside the job defines their existence. For others, the job is their identity. The reality is that we all have more of an ability to pick and choose than we may be willing to acknowledge. There may be some abstract comfort in thinking our circumstances control what we do, but a good deal of our circumstances are things we choose to do.

I think it is a good lesson for us all to see and understand the fortitude and joy of those experiencing severe poverty. It may be difficult to understand from our reference point of gross wealth – but it is a reality and something we may do well to learn. From my own experience, there is a genuine joy in the hearts of the children of Garbage City in Cairo that does not exist in the malcontents walking through the malls of the United States.
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Old 07-06-2006, 10:46 PM   #18
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Quote:
Originally posted by maycocksean
Just a thought. Do you think the whole concept of a "job you love" is more the province of those of us who are college-educated and relatively affluent and in a sense can pick and choose.

Aren't the many jobs that no one would enjoy doing. Are there really that many people who would gain deep satisfaction from making garments or in a meat packing plant. If everyone did 'what they loved' wouldn't a lot of those "bottom feeder" jobs go unfilled?

And so for such people, one would hope they are looking outside of work for satisfaction, contentment, and joy.

Another thought. Isn't interesting how you hear from people who have dealt with the desperately poor how many seem to have such joy despite their severe lack of material wealth? (Having worked outside of the U.S. in poor countries, I've seen this too). What do you make of that?
Wouldn't your last paragraph contradict your first?
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Old 07-07-2006, 03:17 AM   #19
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Wouldn't your last paragraph contradict your first?
Well, it very well could!

I wasn't asking questions I already know the answers to in order to be "smart" Those were real questions, just off the top of my head.

My first question was about whether having a "job you love" defines happiness for everyone.

The last paragraph wasn't about jobs, but more about the story you hear about how "these poor people in 3rd World Country X have nothing and yet they're so happy!."

I guess the folks in the last paragraph would likely have the kind of jobs mentioned in the first paragraph, and yet are happy. . .so I don't think it's contradictory?
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Old 07-07-2006, 03:23 AM   #20
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Originally posted by yolland



Well I don't have your level of experience with "developing world" poverty; I spent a year doing fieldwork in Indian slums and that's basically it. I certainly don't agree with the notion that "the simple life" explains whatever happiness desperately poor people have; there is nothing remotely simple about being poor--everything from transportation to cooking, or communication, or household repairs, or keeping small children occupied, or washing your clothes, finding a little privacy, etc. etc. etc. is far more complicated for poor people (including here) than it is for others. Also, while growing up with the knowledge that you'll probably always be poor and there's no remotely likely way out of that can paradoxically bring a certain peace of mind and freedom from anxieties about "proving" yourself, nonetheless, this generally comes at the cost of accepting a constant if (usually) subtle burden of resigned shame at your low station in life...at least, if you live somewhere where NOT everyone is poor. Having freely chosen to step outside The Fast Lane and spend the remaining half of your life focusing on what "really" matters (as opposed to having spent your entire life constantly preoccupied with what REALLY matters, because you can't afford to be preoccupied with anything else) is simply not the same.

I suppose I think that to the extent very poor people(s) are happier than we are, it's mostly because they have fewer expectations from life, and relatively little to defend, and no one really to impress, and all that other self-important/self-loathing stuff that walls people off from themselves and each other. Still, having seen the appalling kinds of misery that all too often intrude into such environments, pains far far worse than our garden-variety angsts...the vulnerability of it all...I would not want to switch places and I would strongly question idealizing any of it. Because it really is all of a piece.
Oh no, Yolland. You're experience in the slums of India easily trumps any poverty I've seen in the Pacific.

I thought your post was very insightful. I learned a lot from it. Thanks for your thoughtful response to my questions. I think your observation about the "cog-in-the-wheel" as being the type of work that no one enjoys was particularly interesting. Also your analysis of what any apparent "happiness and contentment" as well as your challenging of the sterotypical visions of the "simple life" of poverty were quite compelling.
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