Science Answers Age-Old Question, Should We Live to Work or Work to Live?

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It’s summer time, and the temptation to skip the office and head to the pool is intoxicating. If only each and every day could be spent lazing under an umbrella rather than toiling away in pursuit of the next paycheck. But according to NatCen Social Research, a British independent social resaerch center, it’s precisely the work that keeps us happy.

Varunie Yaxley reports from a recent conference exploring this perplexing topic:

Work has a huge impact on our wellbeing.  From the levels of autonomy, support, security and control we feel we have in the job we do. To the stress we feel whilst working.  Even the way we are paid has an impact on our happiness.

Recent findings from Health Survey for England 2010 show that people in paid work have higher levels of wellbeing than those who are unemployed or otherwise economically inactive.

Of course, this may be because those with stable jobs are less stressed about how to afford their next meal. And New York Times opinionator Tim Kreider would likely beg to differ  based on his recent article, “The Busy Trap”:

Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

Kreider encourages a comfortable compromise: a fulfilling work schedule with a definite cut off point, and purposefully scheduled “idle” time for brain storming, reflecting and relaxing. But of course, ultimately we all create our own happiness.  One person’s day spent lounging at the beach is another’s all-nighter in the name of meeting a satisfying deadline.

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