How to choose a career: why a "good job" can make you miserable

I asked my father for his definition of a “good job”.  Without looking up from his paper he replied, “good pay.”

The profit maximisation paradigm has been the dominant approach to business and to choosing a career for the past century.  Indeed, the Kelly Global Workforce Index found that the main driver for career change among Generation X and Generation Y workers is the need for a higher income.

But here’s what’s interesting.

Your granny was right, money doesn’t create a happiness.....

Research linking  pay to happiness is mixed at best. A 2010 meta-analysis of over 1000 separate studies concluded that the relationship between salary and job satisfaction is weak or non-existent.

In 2009 a group of researchers at the University of Rochester asked a bunch of graduates about their aspirations, before following them out into the real world. Their responses belonged to one of two categories; those who had ‘profit goals’ such as wealth, prestige or fame, and those who had ‘purpose goals’ such as to grow and learn. The researchers found that after two years, those who were achieving their ‘purpose goals’ reported higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of anxiety. No surprises there. But wait.  Those who had set ‘profit goals’ and were achieving them were not only no happier than in they were in college but actually reported more depression and anxiety than they had before.

 In other words, goal attainment isn’t everything; if you set the wrong kinds of goals, and achieve them, you may actually end up feeling more miserable. The single-minded pursuit of external or profit rewards can, much like drug addiction, feel insatiable and leave us empty and unfulfilled.

...But money can make your misery more bearable

In the 1950s a leading theorist named Herzberg proposed what’s known as “Two-Factor theory”. He claimed what while money may not make us happier, not having it can sure make us unhappier. What's really motivating us to land that higher salary deal it seems, is not to thrive but to avoid the stressful possibility of not making ends meet.  

To be happier he proposed, we need to rely on those things that really drive us on an internal and emotional level, such as achievement and personal growth.

Choosing the right career

The Theory of Work Adjustment tells us that the right fit between who you are as an individual and the environment you work in is a vital component of happiness. Leading Career Expert and Author for Forbes and the Huffington Post, Kathy Caprino, says that when it comes to choosing the right career you need to ask yourself one pivotal question.

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"What are my most amazing talents, gifts and abilities that I possess, enjoy and are EASY to use, and whom do I most wish to serve with these gifts?"

The Gift of Service

This notion of service is critical yet too often overlooked by people making career decisions. Aristotle proposed that happiness can be derived through service to others, and Positive Psychology pioneer Martin Seligman tends to agree.  He claims that using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are is the secret to a happy life.

Human beings cannot be reduced to profit maximising machines. We habituate to our surroundings as well as our positions and sooner or later all that we have can become a little flavourless. So if you want to be happy at work, and in life, wealth is not enough.  

Even Steve Jobs, the legendary epitome of success for so many,  reportedly made the following remark on his deathbed; “non-stop pursuit of wealth will only turn a person into a twisted being, just like me.”  To choose a "good career" it's important to look inside yourself, look outside yourself and tap into what you feel you are here for.  Ask yourself:

How can I help?