A Guide to Having Meaningful Work

Posted by Donald Latumahina 21 Comments

How do you spend your time? Everyone has a different answer, of course, but I’m sure there is one similarity: work is a big part of it. We spend a big chunk of our time at work. That is why your work plays an important role in your happiness.

Meaningful WorkI recently read a book titled Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. I like the book because it talks about happiness based on scientific research and not just opinions. Among others, it also talks about how to derive authentic happiness from your work.

But what is authentic happiness? Put simply, there are two kinds of happiness: momentary happiness and authentic happiness. Momentary happiness is the fleeting feeling you get from having fun. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, is the enduring fulfillment you get from doing things that are true to yourself.

The book says that there are three levels of how we view our work. The higher your level is, the more authentic happiness you will get from your work. Here are the three levels:

  1. Job
    This is the lowest level. Here you view your work primarily as a way to make money. Money becomes the primary motivation. If there is no money in it, then you won’t do it.
  2. Career
    Here your motivation is the advancement you get. As long as you can move to a higher level, you are motivated. But when the advancement stops, you are no longer motivated to do the work.
  3. Calling
    This is the highest level of all. Here your motivation is the inner fulfillment you get from doing the work. External rewards like money or advancement are not your primary motivation. In fact, you will still do the work even if you don’t get any external reward. The work is rewarding by itself.

From the description above, which one do you think applies to you? Do you view your work as a job, a career, or a calling?

Even if you now view your work as a job, that’s fine. After all, we all have needs to meet and families to feed.

However, to live your life to the fullest, you should move beyond that. Your goal should be to make your work a calling. That’s how you can have meaningful work. That’s how you can have work that is fulfilling beyond what external rewards could give.

Here are four tips to make your work a calling and thereby making it meaningful:

1. Be content

You can’t make your work a calling if you constantly worry about making more money. Yes, you need money to meet your needs. But beyond meeting the essential needs, studies show that additional money brings little to no happiness. It’s just not worth fighting for. So you should learn to be content instead. Being content frees your mind to focus on the more meaningful things.

2. Find the intersection between your cause and strengths

To make your work a calling, you should have a cause that’s bigger than yourself. What is it that matters to you? What is it that you want to contribute to?

In addition, you also need to find your strengths. What are the things that you are naturally good at? What are the things that feel enjoyable and effortless to do?

After you find your cause and strengths, you should find the intersection between them. Find ways to use your strengths to contribute to your cause.

3. Exercise your strengths

Now that you have found the intersection, you should constantly exercise your strengths. Try to use them every day. The more you do this, the more gratification you will get. This is where authentic happiness comes from.

If you work for someone else, you may need to talk with your boss about it. Ask him or her to assign you to the area of your strengths. Explain to them that it will benefit the company because you will be able to contribute more. Another solution is to start a side business where you can exercise your strengths.

4. Think in terms of helping people

A calling has a sense of contribution attached to it. So one good way to make your work a calling is to think of it in terms of helping people. How can you help people through your work? How can you make the world a better place through it?

***

I am lucky because my work more or less fits the description of a calling. Take this blog, for example. When I started it back in 2006, I didn’t have any motivation to make money. I simply loved personal growth and writing. As time passed, however, this blog started to earn some income. Eventually I was able to quit my day job.

I would still love to write here even if I didn’t get any income. The nice thing about having that mindset is that, more often than not, the money eventually comes.

It wasn’t always like that though. There were times when I did some work merely for the money. It didn’t feel good. It took extra effort to get through the days. Moreover, most of what I did also failed.

Making a calling out of your work is the better path to take. Yes, I probably won’t be rich, but I will have a meaningful life. That’s something that even wealth can’t buy.

Photo by Paul Bica


Categories: Purpose, Working

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  • http://elusivelife.net Mark Bosma

    This is an excellent post – I had a related conversation with one of my colleagues at the end of our workday just yesterday.

    I think that a lot of people struggle to get past Tip #1, possibly feeling stuck in work that doesn’t reveal their strengths. The stress of trying to make enough money distracts them from the question of what might truly make them happy.

    For people that feel stuck on Tip #1, it might help to give some deep thought to Tip #2, and ask others for input on what your strengths are. I think that being aware of your strengths and a greater cause are one way to achieve contentment despite financial stress.

    Seligman’s book may be one that I need to investigate myself!

    • http://buildbettersleep.com Doug

      What about those of us who have found Tip #3, but can’t seem to get Tip #1 out of it …. you do what you love, but still haven’t “cracked the code” on making a living from it….

      • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

        You should find the intersection between your strengths and what the market wants. Find a need that you can meet with your strengths. The Internet opens a lot of possibilities here; you just need to think creatively.

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      That’s good advice, Mark. People shouldn’t wait until they make enough money before they start identifying their cause and strengths. In fact, knowing their cause and strengths can help them find a solution for their financial situation.

  • John B

    @Doug-then that means you are not ready to make it your calling. When you are, you will find that it is not about the money.

    That is why for some, their calling remains a hobby or sideline.

    For others, they do not fully pursue their calling until later in life when they have their retirement funded.

    For others, those with gumption, they do not care about the money or what others think. They just do what they believe they should do. It may mean living on a friends couch for an extended period of time, but they are in control of their life.

    A final comment. I have been around long enough to realize that you can make money off of anything. It is up to the individual whether they wish to pursue their desires with enough vigour to succeed.

    jb

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      I agree with you. You can make money off of anything these days, especially with the Internet at hand.

    • Mihaela

      This means that you think people cannot make a living by their calling? Do you think that people making money out of something they love, they are not pursuing their calling? Really interested in your reply.

  • http://lifewhack.com/ Peter Ewin Hall

    Really helpful post. There are always opportunities within a work situation (that might just appear to be a job) to help others and to use the abilities we have. Doing this can be the start to moving from just having a job to something a little more.

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      That’s right. You don’t have to get a new job in order to make your work more meaningful. You can start with where you are now.

  • Ed

    I love this article! One thing that I think is put perfectly is the fact that you can make what now is a job into a calling. I believe relationships are essential for happiness and that goes along with helping people. Great Work!

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      Thanks, Ed!

  • http://www.internationalnursesupport.com Joyce

    When I started working where I am now, I was at level 2. It was a career and I was looking for advancement. Then every promotion or opportunity I applied to was turned down by my immediate Boss. I was so frustrated and started my Calling on the side. I love doing my calling. my career is now at level 1- A job to pay the bills.
    I look forward to the day my calling will pay enough so that I get out of the job. I have a lot of peace though, Since I have my priorities figured out now.
    Thanks for an excellent post.

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      Glad to hear that you started doing your calling. That’s an important step in the right direction. Just keep working on it and I’m sure you will make it!

  • http://www.greatlivingnow.com Maya Ackerman

    What a great article! I love the delineation between a job, career, and calling. It’s very profound.

    It is also interesting to note that it has been found that job satisfaction is the best predictor of happiness. So if we want to be happy, working towards our calling just may be the best thing to do.

  • Maria

    Well, I agreed with most of the article except for the part re: money. One has to be careful about being “content” in that department. We’re in an era where employers think nothing of instituting pay freezes and even giving pay cuts to long term employment and saying well it’s either the pay cut or being laid off and we’re supposed to be oh-so-grateful. When people get too “content” that can be a sign to management that they won’t mind getting screwed over.

  • http://www.skipprichard.com Skip Prichard

    What a great summary of a terrific book. As you move up the spectrum from job to calling, you start to see “work” as fun and it changes everything. And I especially agree that helping others is one of the keys to your own happiness.

  • http://JackGrabon.com Jack Grabon

    Great post, Donald.

    I have a suggestion though: while a calling is largely about finding your strengths to contribute to your cause (I love how you put that), it’s also a great chance to work on your weaknesses. In fact, I believe that that’s where much of authentic happiness can come from – challenging ourselves to transcend our own limitations. Perhaps that wasn’t your focus here, but I thought I’d mention it as obstacles (e.g. intimidation) can keep a person from their pursuing their calling or giving up early.

  • http://weonlydothisonce.com Tony@YouOnlyDoThisOnce

    I am so happy I came across this blog! What great posts.

    I have been very fortunate that my passion, my calling, my job and my career are all one and the same. I am thankful for this every day, although it has taken a ton of work (and still does!).

    Wonderful writing here…

  • http://exploringyourmind.com Bill Widmer

    Wow, I have to say, this was a great post. I know the feeling of having a job just for the money, and it sucks. I worked for fast food and I was even getting depressed because of it. Since then I’ve gone on to college where I’m at now, and I was lucky enough to find a better job. And I have my own blog I’m working on for the same reasons as you; personal growth. I have to say, finding your calling definitely is the most important thing you can do in life. Keep up the good work, I’m glad you found yours!

  • http://techtravelandtalks.blogspot.in/ Anirban Chatterjee

    One of the most beautiful and motivational articles I have read ever, Mr. Donald. I often share things I learn from your blog with others, and recommend others to read your articles themselves. But indeed, this one can rightly be called the best.

    I am a student of science, and through many ups and downs of my life, I’ve finally concluded that enjoying the work I do is the most important thing. Although my attitude isn’t strictly that of a calling yet, I believe I will be successful in doing that one day.

    Really thanks,
    for sharing such wonderful pieces of advice.

    Anirban Chatterjee

    • http://www.lifeoptimizer.org/ Donald Latumahina

      Thanks for sharing the ideas with others, Anirban! I appreciate it.

      I wish you all the best.

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