Is the rat race beneficial or detrimental to our happiness? In an article by Forbes blogger, Jenna Goudreau, entitled “Why Working is the Secret to Happiness,” she argues that stress-free living is not a clear path to happiness; instead, such peace and stillness might be making us miserable. In support of that statement, Ms. Goudreau cites economist Todd Buchholz, who states that “The idea that our entire society needs to de-stress is treacherous.” According to Buchholz, our brains are wired to thrive in the rat race, and once we leave it, our brains essentially turn to a state of mush. Finally, he argues that rushing around and frequent activity converts into energy and revives us.

Work as a Source of Happiness
I get what Mr. Buchholz says about work. Being satisfied with your work is a critical component of happiness, according to noted happiness researcher, Ed Diener. Diener explains that whether people love or hate their jobs can add to their psychological wealth or bankrupt it (Diener, & Biswas-Diener, 2008). In addition, researcher Amy Wrzesniewski suggests that the difference between work satisfaction and dissatisfaction is the way employees view their work. Some people elect to just “punch the clock” while others find a way to tap into what is meaningful about their work. These people who view their work as a calling are passionate about what they do. They like their time off, but are also excited to return to work post-vacation. According to Wrzesniewski, approximately one-third of people in any given occupation view their work as a calling (Wrzesniewski, 2003). Great workplaces offer their employees more than just a good salary and benefits package. Great workplaces give employees opportunities for personal control over some or all aspects of their day; they give them consistently challenging work; they give people respect and reward a job well done; and they set clear expectations. If you aren’t working for such a company, and I suspect that many people are not, it becomes imperative for each individual to build the skills he or she needs to thrive on the job.
Work as a Source of Stress
Research by the Gallup Organization shows that only one-third of people strongly agree with the statement, “At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day” (Rath, 2007). Over $300 billion dollars is lost annually due to disengagement in the workplace according to Gallup, and 55% of employees are stressed to the point of feeling extremely fatigued and out of control (2009). Jennifer Robison, a senior editor for the Gallup Management Journal, reports that among those workers with the lowest scores in well-being, the annual cost of lost productivity due to sick days is $28,800 per person (Robison, 2010). In addition, USA Today recently reported that only 45% of Americans were satisfied with their work (2010). This is the lowest level reported since the Conference Board research began researching the issue in 1987. Finally, studies show that approximately 20% of a company’s payroll goes toward dealing with stress-related issues. Americans cite work as their most significant source of stress due to heavy workloads, uncertain job expectations, and long hours (Avey, Luthans & Jensen, 2009). Further, managers and employers are looking for top performers who can thrive in uncertain environments and proactively learn and grow through hardships. The bottom line is that employees need to not only survive, cope and recover through the inevitable difficulties, but also thrive and flourish, and they need to do it faster than their competition (Luthans, Youssef, & Avolio, 2007).
Final Thoughts
The pressure is on! My hope is that at some point we can strike a middle ground. Work that is engaging and makes you happy without the need to feel like you’d cut off your left arm just to take two days off to relax, along with an understanding and appreciation that stress in and of itself is a good thing, but without proper management, can quickly turn detrimental to your health and well-being. Rushing around and frequent activity can be beneficial if it’s purposeful and energizing, but raise your hand all you mom’s out there if you would appreciate some time off from the daily grind of shuffling your kids back and forth to and from multiple activities. Former college football coach Lou Holtz once said, “No one has ever drowned in sweat.” Meaningful work with enough stress to make life interesting is critical for your happiness, but a world full of people who have run themselves into the ground is not the answer.
Americans’ job satisfaction falls to record low. (2010, January 6). USA Today. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Avey, J.B., Luthans, F., & Jensen, S.M. (2009). Psychological capital: A positive resource for combating employee stress and turnover. Human Resource Management, 48(5), 677-693. Catalyst (2009, March). Work stress. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the mysteries of psychological wealth. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Luthans, F., Youssef, C.M., & Avolio, B.J. (2007). Psychological capital: Developing the human competitive edge. New York: Oxford University Press. Rath, T. (2007). StrengthsFinder 2.0. New York: The Gallup Organization. Robison, J. (2010, June 9). The business case for wellbeing. Gallup Management Journal. Retrieved June 21, 2010, from Wrzesniewski, A. (2003). Finding positive meaning in work. In K.S. Cameron, J.E. Dutton, & R.E. Quinn (Eds.), Positive Organizational Scholarship (pp. 296-308). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.]]>