If you ask most people if they like their jobs, they’ll say yes. Alan Kreuger — scintillating economics professor at Princeton, whom I interviewed this morning — says that this is not because people have jobs they like, but because people have cognitive dissonance and are hard-programmed to like what they have.
On the positive side, this hard-wiring to be happy means that we can get through our days. Life is really difficult, and if we weren’t predisposed to think it’s fun, we would all jump off bridges. But Kreuger says that the cognitive dissonance could harm us in our work world if we could actually make a better decision for ourselves.
And, of course, most of us could choose better. If nothing else, you could look at the reams of new research I spew on this blog and make a decision about your job based on that. And here’s a little more research. Three more ways to think about career happiness:
1. Many people want fame, but it’s bad for you.
An article in today’s New York Times (read it now, because you’ll need a subscription in a few days) says that fame is a key motivator for people. Forty percent of people think they’ll be famous, but in reality, only one or two people in a hundred achieves fame.
Additionally, seeking fame will probably make you unhappy. “The participants in the study who focused on goals tied to others’ approval, like fame, reported significantly higher levels of distress than those interested primarily in self-acceptance and friendship. Aiming for a target as elusive as fame, and so dependent on the judgments of others, is psychologically treacherous.”
2. Rich people are not happier but they say they are.
Kreuger and a bunch of other economists and psychologists developed a new way to find out how happy people are — instead of asking them, have them report how they are feeling at short intervals throughout the day. The findings, published in Science magazine: More affluent people say they are, on balance, happier and less affluent people say they are, on balance, not as happy. But in fact, day in and day out, ones level of affluence does not make one happier.
3. Keep your commute short and your TV off.
Duh. These are so obvious, but so few people really do it. Which is the core problem with all this research. If you want to increase your happiness, you need to make significant changes in your life. Sorry. It’s bad news, but it’s true.
But it may console you to know that when I was talking to Kruger about how few people make changes –even though the advice stems from strong, scientific, psychological research — Kreuger said that when it comes to following advice “the psychologists are just as bad as everyone else.”