Let's not pretend that work is unimportant to happiness.
Twinkies = Happiness
Besides the obvious - I need Twinkies to feed myself and a television to eat them in front of - response to this question there are some really big things work does for you besides pay you money. For example, maybe it's helping to keep you alive.
The worse the occupational condition (from "seeking work" to "temporary employment" down to "unemployed and no longer seeking work") the higher the mortality: in the latter category... the increase in mortality was fourfold. > -- a study on work's affect on health
Geeze, that's interesting. If you've ever been unemployed you know how much of an affect it can have on you. Along with the stress of loss of income or status is the loss of what I'll call the work-production-satisfaction. There's no way that's a technical term but I'm going to pretend it is and talk all about it anyways.
Cave Man Happiness
To illustrate this work-production-satisfaction idea let's go on a trip back to cave-woman and cave-man chillin' in a cave together. There would have been lots of laying around, grunting, and let's be honest, fornicating. In between these respectively relaxing and exhilarating activities there would have been some real work to do in order to survive. Hunting, fire-making, cleaning the ticks out of each others hair, etc.
Now imagine you, the cave-person version of you, have just accomplished one of these work tasks. It makes you feel good and when you show your accomplished work to your partner it makes them feel good too. And now you're fornicating again - well done you - but it's somehow better this time. Why is it better? Because you've accomplished some work and doing work has given you a sense of self-worth and some confidence, both important in the bedroom-satisfaction-department... and in life.
If Work = Happiness then Why So Sad?
Ok, all fornication aside, it's not hard to see that doing work is good for us on some level. It's good for our mental health, our relationships, and good for the human race as a whole. That last one may sound lofty but we've only gotten this far as a species because of our desire for work.
Why then are 70% of Americans unhappy with their jobs? I don't know, but that's a super interesting question. My gut is telling me it's a combination of people doing their current work for the wrong reasons and people not appreciating what their jobs are really doing for them (like keeping them alive and giving them better sex).
This post is starting to explode in my head so we'll explore those last two points in other posts but for now let's get a bit more concrete on why the work box is important.
Satisfying Core Human Needs
Humans have needs. Some very smart people have thought about this for a long time and they've honed those needs into a nicely digestible list of needy-need words:
Some of those jump out to me as being intimately connected with the Work Box. Again, we're going to skip over the obvious thought of "work means money and money means Twinkies and that satisfies the subsistence need requirement." Instead let's think about how work may play a role in some of the others.
Being part of something is cool and feels good. You could satisfy this need by participating in a book club, a meetup group, or even a video game clan (yes, that's a real thing). However, many people are satisfying this need by being a contributing member at work.
Wait, what? This is counter intuitive but I'd argue you need to have some non-leisure time to appreciate the leisure time you get. Problem is in the US we just don't get enough of this thing called "leisure time".
Ok, maybe you're a gas station attendant and you satisfy this one outside of work by knitting pillows. That's awesome, I think everyone should fulfill some of this need outside of work. But in reality the Creation need is akin to the Participation need in that many people seek to fulfill this need from their work. If you're plan is to satisfy this one from within your Work Box you should be conscious of that and create some stuff at work.
This one bothers me. It is so strongly associated with the Work Box when I don't think it should be. People in our society have the bad habit of defining themselves by what they do at work. You know the question, that really boring and predictable one you get at parties? "So, what do you do?".
Aligning your sense of identity with what you do for work only makes sense if you're one of the lucky ones who really LOVE what you do. For example, you're a graphic designer and you've always wanted to be one since you were 3 and you work, live, and breathe design in all aspects of your life. Awesome, your identity should be associated with your work.
But for the rest of us it's a dangerous mistake. We don't LOVE what we do for work so bundling our work identity with our personal identity feels like crap. Our response to the "what do you do" question is usually short, mumbly, and vague.
Wrapping This Thing Up
From pre-historic to modern times work has played an integral role in the happiness found in a human life. So time spent working on the Work Box instead of in the Work Box is time well spent.
Agree? Disagree? Need to pee? Join the conversation in the comments below or send me an email at rick at theboxesoflife dot com.