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What Makes Your Work Life Satisfying?

Learn more about what ‘pleasure’ and ‘purpose’ mean, and how it's important for our working life.
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So far, we have looked at happiness and wellbeing in general, but this course is mainly focused on helping you find satisfaction in your work life. By ‘work’ we mean of course your chosen career(s) and job(s), but also more than this: it could include volunteering, helping run a club or community group in your neighbourhood, or developing a new hobby.

“The hours are pretty good. But now you come to mention it, most of the minutes are actually pretty lousy….” Vogon Guard, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams.
Many factors identified in research literature about contentment in the workplace are ones we often have little immediate and direct control over, but are still worth bearing in mind when we have options to choose (Fisher 2010). For example:
  • relationships and friendships at work
  • having a good leader
  • clear goals
  • personal autonomy
  • a variety of activities and skills
  • a feeling that the tasks undertaken have significance.
The behavioural psychologist Paul Dolan argues that in terms of the activities we do in life, for instance in our work, happiness comes from a combination of pleasure and purpose (Dolan 2014). As our discussion of happiness and wellbeing so far suggests, this is simplifying reality and the real combination is much more complicated. Nonetheless, Dolan’s argument can form a useful model to help us think about the choices we make in life and the paths we lead.
So what do ‘pleasure’ and ‘purpose’ mean?
PLEASURE: Do we enjoy what we are doing, and how we do it? Do we have fun?
PURPOSE: Do we feel that what we do makes a ‘contribution’ which we value?

We will each spend around 80,000 hours of our life ‘working’ in this way, so let’s try to make it satisfying. And to do this, we should actually enjoy what we do, not just the results.


Fisher, C. D. (2010), Happiness at Work. International Journal of Management Reviews, 12: 384–412
Dolan, P (2014), Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life
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