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Words of Wisdom: Experience Your Work As A Calling

October 15, 2020 | Canada

Experience Your Work As A Calling

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar

We spend a good part of our waking hours at work, and yet many people derive little meaning from what occupies them for several thousand hours each year.  If we do not experience a sense of purpose in our work, we can choose to do one of two things (aside from resigning ourselves to being unhappy):  find work that is meaningful, or find something meaningful in our work.

We don’t all have the luxury of having the perfect job, but we have some control over what elements of our work we focus on, and consequently, on how we experience our working life.

The research of psychologist Amy Wrzesniewski and Jane Dutton shows just how much our mind-set—what we choose to focus on—affects our experience of work.  Wrzesniewski and Dutton followed a group of hospital cleaners, and found that some of the cleaners experienced their work as a job—as something they did solely for the paycheck—and described it as boring and meaningless.

But another group perceived the same work as a calling—and experienced the hours they spent at work as engaging and meaningful.  This second group of hospital cleaners did things differently from the first group:  They engaged in more interactions with nurses, patients and visitors, taking it upon themselves to make everyone they came in contact with feel better.  Generally, they saw their work in its broader context:  They were not merely cleaning the wards and removing the trash, but were contributing to the health of patients and the smooth functioning of the hospital.

In reality, of course, both groups were carrying out similar tasks as cleaners.  But those who focused on how their work made a difference and contributed to the well-being of their patients were happier than the other cleaners.  Moreover, they were also happier than were many of the medical professionals in the hospital who, like the first group of cleaners, failed to find meaning in their work.

"This is the true joy in life—being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one."

George Bernard Shaw



WOW is designed to motivate and inspire, promote self-discovery and aid in continued personal development. Each column will present a powerful quote, metaphor, short parable or thought-provoking question, sourced and selected by experts in the personal development field.

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