As we grow older, our life experiences change, and we continue to find happiness in different forms. There are many factors that can help us on that ‘pursuit of happiness’ that certain founding fathers have discussed, and in this day and age, there is one factor that is extremely influential: job satisfaction. Job satisfaction is certainly something that exists on a continuum, much like our overall happiness. This can be summarized in the chart known as ‘the happiness smile’.
The trend of this can be seen across multiple countries below, and paints an interesting picture. To understand exactly what is going on, think about snapshots from someone’s life. When we’re born, we’re carefree, and every need is attended to by someone else. As we grow older as children, we start to have more responsibility. Chores, homework, and other factors contribute to higher stress levels which cause us to lose some of the care free happiness from our youth. And then maybe for a brief time before entering the job market, we have independence, and enjoy it, before embarking on the path to our career.
It’s at this point where we may hit a low point. After graduating, most young professionals find entry-level jobs with long hours, and now struggle to maintain the balance between work and life. As time goes on however, if you are able to demonstrate value as an employee, you get promoted and begin to have more control over your work life. You can start managing your hours, or at least have more creative freedom to tackle your job duties as you see fit. As we finally get comfortable in a career, most retire around 55 or 60, and then begin the upswing at the end of the chart that would see you stereo-typically retire to Florida and play golf for the rest of your life, or perhaps stay family local and relish in the joy of grandchildren and watching them grow up. Whatever the retirement story is, it’s usually relaxing and happy.
While the middle portion of this story may seem like a cautious tale to scare you away from the workforce, it really should do the opposite. The people who find themselves on the late 20s early 30s downswing in happiness have likely taken jobs because it’s something they feel obligated to, or maybe they’re just interested in the salary. However, there is a way to mitigate this downswing, and it involves following your passion. We all have things we are extremely passionate about and enjoy doing, and if you can find a way to translate that into a career, then you’re well on your way to enjoying your life in the workforce. If you’re in sales, make sure you’re selling a product you truly believe in, so you can feel good about introducing it to customers. If you’re in management, try and make the workplace productive, but also fun, a place where employees are excited to show up and come together as a team.
These are just examples, and the lesson is to try and find a way to bring excitement back into the workplace every day. Even if you’re not able to do that, find time for your passions. When you get home at 5:30, start writing that novel you’ve always wanted to. It’s easy to get stuck in the work grind, but fighting that attitude will pay back on itself ten times when you find new enjoyment in your work that you never knew could be there.