Work is not just a means to an end. Work has enormous intrinsic value. Standard economic theory makes the assumption that time spent in leisure gives us pleasure, while time spent in labor gives us pain—and that we only work because it is necessary to earn money, which we want in order to meet other desires. In short, when it comes to work, we have a conflict of visions. One vision says that work is a source of happiness, the other that it is a necessary evil. Which view is the more accurate for most us? Ask yourself this: What proportion of people do you think are satisfied with their jobs? Twenty percent? Thirty? Standard economic theory makes the assumption that time spent in leisure gives us pleasure, while time spent in labor gives us pain—and that we only work because it is necessary to earn money, which we want in order to meet other desires. For most of us, job satisfaction is a reliable source of happiness—more so than leisure. Among those who say they are very happy in their lives, 95 percent are also satisfied with their jobs. In short, most people like their jobs, and would work even if they did not have to. Obviously, there is a point beyond which excessive hours of work will lower health and quality of living. The notion of meaning as a guiding principle for happiness explains some interesting facts about what actually compensates workers in their jobs. Indeed, there is strong evidence that compensation such as pay and vacation—the "extrinsic rewards" for working—can actually have a negative effect on job satisfaction by degrading the "intrinsic rewards" that people care about so much.
The reason for this is that people stop seeing a task as fun when pay is involved. Another route from work to happiness is control. According to psychologists Edward Deci and Richard Ryan, in some of the most authoritative psychological research on the subject, people have an "intrinsic need to be self-determining." This means that, to the extent that work gives people a sense that they are in charge of their lives, it will bring them joy. As Aristotle put it, "Happiness belongs to the self-sufficient." Control is the reason that job security is so important for predicting job satisfaction for many workers. Nothing lowers our sense of control as much as insecurity about our ability to make a living. Work brings happiness. What happens when we don''t have work? What about retirement? Does voluntarily separating from work at an appropriate age have the same negative influence on happiness? The happy are not those who enjoy lots of leisure, but rather the majority of those who enjoy satisfying work. The unhappy among us are more likely to be unemployed, on public assistance, or members of the small minority with unsatisfying jobs. When it comes to work, if happiness is our goal, we have no apologies to make for working hard. Obviously, not every job brings satisfaction and happiness in life.