Everybody wants a good job, but here's an important question for you -- what makes a job good? There are tons of surveys to consult if your metrics are the size of your paycheck or the security that comes from seeking an in-demand profession.
But most of us know a truly good job isn't just one that pays the rent and doesn't unduly raise your stress levels (though those are, of course, a great place to start). It also gives you a sense of fulfillment, the feeling at the end of the day that you've done work that actually matters.
So where do you find a job like that? Soul-searching is no doubt required, as one person's dream job is another's personal nightmare, but according to one huge national survey of 27,000 people, there's one characteristic that's far and away the most likely to make a gig satisfying.
What do priests and security services salespeople have in common?
When the classic survey crunched the numbers, here are the 12 jobs in which workers reported themselves the most satisfied:
- Physical therapists
- Education administrators
- Painter, sculptors, related
- Special education teachers
- Operating engineers
- Office supervisors
- Security and financial services salespersons
That, as you will immediately note, is a pretty diverse list. But according to Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago and the study's author, despite the obvious differences in the day-to-day routines of office supervisors and sculptors, ministers, and salespeople, there is one characteristic that unites almost all the jobs on this list.
"The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others," he commented, according to PsyBlog. Or to put it even more succinctly, the happiest jobs are those that involve giving to others.
But your mom already told you that ...
That shouldn't be a huge shock. Thinkers as diverse as Aristotle and (probably) your mom have advanced the idea that it is better to give than to receive for centuries, but science is finally catching up with this ancient wisdom and finding objective evidence that the most fulfilling activities are those that allow you to give back.
"A burgeoning field of research" shows "that prosocial behavior--voluntary behavior intended to benefit another--can boost happiness," report business school professors Melanie Rudd and Jennifer Aaker in Scientific American. They cite studies showing "volunteer work is associated with greater happiness and less depression," research demonstrating "that performing five random acts of kindness one day a week (for six weeks) can increase your happiness," and findings showing that "if you more strongly feel that your work made a positive difference in other people's lives, you feel more positively at bedtime," among other research results.
So if you're looking for a satisfying job, go ahead and weigh all the practical concerns as well as the quirks of your personality, but don't forget this essential truth -- if you don't feel your work is helping others in some way (and there are way more ways to help others than you probably imagine), chances are good it won't make you truly happy.