The Science Behind Great Work: Job Satisfaction
Welcome back to class! We’re here with the third installment in our five-part series on the science behind great work. Here, we’re exploring a) what is going on in your brain during the processes that prime you for focus and creativity b) how to use that feedback to ultimately create meaningful work that makes you happier, more productive, and successful in your job.
Missed parts 1 & 2? Catch up here!
Part 3: Job Satisfaction
Meaning is the ultimate driver of human emotion — and work. When you find purpose in your work, you’re not only more satisfied with your job, but you’re also more resilient. In fact, the impacts are so rewarding that not even a raise compares. Hear us out.
Why is job satisfaction so important?
Did you know that a typical career lasts 80,000 hours? That’s a significant portion of your life. Let’s say you want to improve just 1% of your career. That means spending 800 hours figuring out how to do that. Realistically, that would be 100 workdays (if you work 8 hours a day) or 20 weeks or 5 months. Sounds like a lot, but since adults spend most of their waking hours at work, the fulfillment and joy you get from your job can heavily influence — and drastically improve — your life even outside the workplace.
Meaning is the new money
Scientists have spent many years investigating how meaningful work makes people happier. Those who find meaning in what they do report greater work satisfaction and even tend to work longer (often unpaid) hours. In fact, studies show that 9 out of 10 people would take less money to do more meaningful work.
The Harvard Business Review even went so far as to pose the question: If you could find a job that offered you consistent meaning, how much of your current salary would you be willing to forego? This is what they found: On average, American workers said they’d be willing to forego 23% of their entire future lifetime earnings in order to have a job that was always meaningful. Consider that Americans spend about 21% of their incomes on housing. This means that people in the 21st century are willing to spend more on meaningful work than on putting a roof over their heads.
Purpose is a powerful antidote
Going one step further, research scientists have proven that having a meaningful impact eases physical pain. One study recorded in the Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences of the United States used functional MRI to test how helping others may neutralize the effects of unpleasant conditions. Here’s how they did it: A group of people asked to make donations and a second group asked to make various other kinds of decisions were both subsequently administered electric shock. Researchers observed that following the altruistic donation, brain activation of classic pain-related areas was significantly reduced during electric shock. And the people who felt their altruistic contribution made a difference even experienced less pain from the shock than those who simply felt their contribution had made little difference.
Having an impact, especially when the contribution is valued, can be very motivating and rewarding. When you engage in activities in a meaningful way, perceived unpleasantness or dissatisfaction is greatly overpowered by a feeling of purpose, giving you a much more meaningful experience in work and in life.
Liv Huntley is a Content Writer at Surprise.com. Born in the Midwest, raised on NFL and Miles Davis, and lives on Google Drive. A serious journalist, a not-so-serious copywriter, and a social psychology nerd, she formerly wrote for a women’s magazine and always enjoys a bit of storytelling tomfoolery. You can catch her skiing in the winter and chasing cold climates year-round.