Excerpt from Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, by Tal Ben-Shahar.
The psychologist Abraham Maslow once wrote that the most beautiful fate, the most wonderful good fortune that can happen to any human being, is to be paid for doing that which he passionately loves to do. It is not always easy to discover what sort of work might yield this good fortune in the ultimate currency. Research examining the relation people have toward their work can help.
Psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski and her colleagues suggest that people experience their work in one of three ways: as a job, as a career, or as a calling.
A job is mostly perceived as a chore, with the focus being financial rewards rather than personal fulfillment. The person goes to work in the morning primarily because he feels that he has to rather than wants to. He has no real expectations from the job beyond the paycheck at the end of the week or month, and he mostly looks forward to Friday or to taking a vacation.
The person on a career path is primarily motivated by extrinsic factors, such as money and advancementby power and prestige. She looks forward to the next promotion, to the next advancement up the hierarchyfrom associate to tenured professor, from teacher to headmistress, from vice president to president, from assistant editor to editor in chief.
For a person experiencing his work as a calling, work is an end in itself. While the paycheck is certainly important and advancement is, too, he primarily works because he wants to. He is motivated by intrinsic reasons and experiences a sense of personal fulfillment; his goals are self-concordant. He is passionate about what he does and derives personal fulfillment from his work; he perceives it as a privilege rather than a chore.
The way we are oriented toward work whether we experience work as a job, a career, or a calling has consequences for our well-being at work and in other areas. Wrzesniewski finds that satisfaction with life and with work may be more dependent on how an employee sees his or her work than on income or occupational prestige.
It takes a conscious and concerted eff ort to find our calling, because we are usually encouraged to pursue what we do well rather than what we want to do. Most career advisers and job placement tests, for example, focus on our strengths rather than our passions. Questions such as What am I good at? are, of course, important in selecting our path, but we must ask them only after we have identified what gives us meaning and pleasure.
When our first question is What can I do? we give priority to quantifiable currencies (money and the approval of others); when our first question is What do I want to do? (that is, What gives me meaning and pleasure?), our choice is driven by our pursuit of the ultimate currency.
Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, New York Times-bestselling author of Happier, taught the largest course at Harvard on “Positive Psychology” and the third largest on “The Psychology of Leadership,” attracting 1,400 students per semester—approximately 20 percent of all Harvard graduates. Ben-Shahar graduated from Harvard with a degree in philosophy and psychology, and for the last fifteen years has been teaching leadership, education, ethics, happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, and mindfulness.