You do not need to have an intellectually challenging job in order to be happy in your job. You need to feel like you are meeting a core need by being at your job.
I interviewed Sonja Lyubomirsky, assistant professor of psychology at University of California at Riverside, who studies what makes people happy. She stressed to me that research shows that a wide range of jobs make people happy.
For example, in one study, a janitor was happy in his work because he knew he was helping people by keeping his building clean. He had a core need to help. “People have important goals that come from inside themselves – for example, personal growth, community, or relationships,” says Lyubomirsky. “Jobs that allow you to meet intrinsic goals will lead to more happiness.”
When I was playing professional beach volleyball, I trained at the beach and the gym for eight hours a day. In the evenings, my job was to shelve books at a bookstore. It was pretty mindless, but what I needed during that time was contact with other people, and a chance to slow down. So I loved the job because it filled those needs.
Newsweek’s My Turn is by Kathy Kallenbach Clark, a woman who is at home with her kids all day, and although she has a master’s degree, she chooses to deliver pizzas at night. I love this essay because it challenges our snobby views of what kinds of jobs we should look for. (Though I have to add that the headline is sophomoric and irrelevant and borders on insulting the writer.)
I can totally understand why Clark wants to deliver pizzas after spending a day with kids. I spend a good portion of my days with my young sons, and there is no time to think. Kids require constant, low-level brain power and there is no chance to do any deep thinking. A pizza job is glorious thinking time to a mom who has very little otherwise.
When you are trying to figure out what kind of job to look for, think about what need you are really looking to fill. Be honest with yourself. Put your job snob away, and address your core needs.