Sailesh was a colleague of my cousin’s. He was a software professional employed in the same company for the last twenty years. He was good at the particular domain in which he was working. He had become a specialist in that particular branch of work. By his early forties he was drawing a fivelakh salary. He and family were settled in a flat in Bangalore. Even though his pay was good, the EMIs kept him on his toes.
The recession hit the company rather badly. The orders from abroad for work in his particular domain dried up. He had become redundant. He was politely asked to leave. The management expressed their regret in so many words.
Sathya couldn’t find a job for six months. By then, his financial position had become precarious. He sold his flat and moved to a rented one. The rent was astronomical in that part of the city. He was plunged into depression.
“Wasn’t there a better way to do it?” I asked my cousin.
“The company can’t be blamed, really.” My cousin asserted. “He had become redundant, and re-training a middle aged man is very difficult. One can’t cut his salary. The company can recruit at least five youngsters with the same pay”
“It is all black and white, nowadays, you know,” he continued. “The account books and financial logic governs all companies. That is the way of the world now. How else will the economy grow?”
Finally, Sailesh started his own small coaching centre, to provide computer skills to people aiming for small jobs in the gulf. The family moved back to his home town. His wife got a job as a teacher.
In a couple of years, Sailesh realised one thing. He was earning less than a quarter of his earlier salary, but he was as happy. Maybe happier!
Work is very important for happiness. One study demonstrated that people who had a meaningful job and well defined goals were much happier and lived longer than a group who led a life of idle leisure. Work gives us not only money, but meaning. It defines who we are, to an extent. The satisfaction that we are contributing something to society through our work is very important for our well being. At work, we have a certain status in the hierarchy. It satisfies our basic need for pursuing status. Some of our colleagues become our friends. Being with and working at common goals with our friends gives us enormous pleasure.
A UK Cabinet office survey in 2014 has assessed the relationship between various jobs and life satisfaction. They found only a moderate link between levels of income and happiness. There are many other factors affecting life happiness. Numerous studies have made it clear during the last many decades.
Flexibility, adaptation to change, ability to switch careers midway, moving between jobs looking for better prospects seems to be what is needed today. Flexibility of a gymnast and the multitasking capability of a juggler are made out to be key life skills in the present time. But solid evidence is there to show that stability and security of your job has a direct link to our well-being levels. One becomes better at the job, and it becomes more rewarding with time, provided certain other factors are satisfied. Living in the same place, the same home and having stable relationships, neighbours and friends definitely boosts happiness. The pull of money may make you move, because the treadmill may frustrate you. This may provide only temporary respite, however. The threat of being fired looming overhead doesn’t do wonders for your life satisfaction. Instability threatens all relationships including that with your spouse and children.
A callous employer, like a big company that looks at employees only through the eyes of its accountants definitely is evil. A company cannot function as a faceless computer that doesn’t value loyalty and trust. In the long term, it is a sense of belonging that will keep people motivated.
A boring job is a sure path to unhappiness. An earlier work had demonstrated a clear link between repetitive small clerical jobs and clogging of the arteries or atherosclerosis. Our work should challenge our skills optimally without overwhelming our abilities. The ‘Flow’ concept was introduced by the scientist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is an activity in which you are so immersed, using your full concentration and skills, and which you enjoy. When in ‘Flow’ people do not notice the time passing. Teaching a favourite topic, creative writing, doing surgery, designing a building, composing a tune etc are all some activities that may produce Flow. If your work has opportunities to produce this state, it will make you happier. Of course, Flow doesn’t happen only at work. One can have hobbies that generate flow.
A good job gives one some autonomy and sense of control. When you are made to feel just like a spoke in the wheel or a brick in the wall, you don’t feel involved. Adequate responsibility, decision making capacity and some control over our time makes a job conducive to well-being.
Our personal values and goals are important. The work that we do must hold meaning for us. It should have a sense of purpose. Values, goals, meaning and purpose are vague and nebulous terms. A physical scientist or a cynic might laugh at them. But they recur again and again in happiness research. A work with purpose may involve improving the society in some way, like medical research or social work. It may also be saving the rain forest, decreasing global warming, rooting out corruption, breeding a rare fish, building a business that will change the world in some way, learning Psychology to treat mental illness or to help formulate national policy on the middle east. Whatever turns you on and has some intrinsic meaning to you. Passion dear reader- is what it is all about. It should not be about the money alone. If it is for the money alone, it should be a temporary means to earn enough money to….well, follow your intrinsic goals and values. Not to impress somebody else or to fulfil someone else’s goals. The Bhagavat Gita puts it well- to do somebody else’s Karma is the greatest curse.