Researchers claim to have discovered the secret to being happy at work. It’s not the pay. It’s not the type of job, the hours, benefits, or the people you work with. These things only factor into being happy at work.
The strongest factor in happiness at work is how happy you are away from work.
But, let’s go deeper than that.
Let’s uncover the secret to being happy away from work. And, let’s take a look at what the Bible teaches about happiness at work.
You may be surprised!
Unhappy at Work
I once worked delivering pizzas. Delivering pizzas wasn’t so bad. It was closing up the store at night that I disliked.
I despised it.
Cleaning up scattered pieces of cheese, beef and mushrooms was tedious. It seemed to take forever.
I quit that job after 3 months.
Before I took the pizza job, I spent the summer working at a Christian youth camp. As a camp counselor, I felt part of a greater purpose. My life had meaning. I wished summer camp would last all year.
I was depending on my work to give me meaning.
But I hadn’t figured out how to transfer that sense of meaning into other parts of my life.
But the problem wasn’t the job. The problem was that I lacked purpose. My life was void of meaning.
Looking for meaning in our work, rather than bringing meaning to it, sets us up for dissatisfaction.
Unhappiness Without Work
The definition of work isn’t limited to the labor we’re paid for. It includes the chores we volunteer for, or do at home.
In Western culture, it’s common for people, while they are working, to wish they were doing something else.
We idealize leisure time.
We wish for less work, more leisure.
The paradox is that people are happier when working than they are at leisure. This discovery is documented by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.
People feel skillful and challenged at work. This produces positive emotions and a sense of well-being. In their free time, people generally feel like there’s not much to do. They feel useless and experience more negative emotion.
The Divine Purpose of Work
Many people take the point of view that work is a curse. I wonder if these are the same people who envision an afterlife of floating on a cloud, strumming a harp.
The Bible doesn’t support either point of view.
The Bible reveals that work has a Divine purpose:
1. Work was part of God’s original design.
After God finished creating, He put Adam in the garden of Eden to “tend and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). That’s work.
Work became harder after Adam and Eve sinned. God cursed the ground, making it bring forth thorns and thistles (3:17-19). Pulling weeds will make you sweat!
But God never intended for our lives to be filled with leisure activities.
I’ve often read the fourth commandment of God’s 10 Commandments focused on the fact that God commands rest on the seventh day. For a long time I missed the fact that the same fourth commandment also commands work for six days.
2. God designed us to work.
Often we mistake our work for our purpose. If we mistake our work for our purpose, we develop a mistaken identity.
God designed humans to thrive in loving service to Him and others (Psalm 1:1-3; Matthew 22:37-40). This is the meaning of life as God designed it. Work is one of God’s tools to help us fulfill that meaning.
3. Work is a tool through which we honor God and bless humanity.
If we work only to put food on the table, keep clothes on our back, and a roof over our heads, we miss work’s most important purpose (Luke 12:16-22).
The apostle Paul knew this, and shared these words of wisdom:
“Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will give you an inheritance as your reward, and that the Master you are serving is Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24
Paul directed these words to slaves.
Joseph understood this principle when he was sold as a slave to Potiphar, then went to prison falsely accused, and later served as governor of Egypt (Genesis 39-50). In each of these settings, Joseph made it his priority to honor God and bless humanity.
If I’d considered my job cleaning up the pizza toppings as an act of loving service to God and others, rather than just a source of income, my attitude about it would have been positive. I probably would have kept the job longer. My next job was as a janitor. It’s not like I left for a better job!
4. God gives us rest to remind us that He is our provider.
I shouldn’t discuss work without a reference to rest. After all, God mentioned work and rest in the same commandment.
Work and rest must be paired up. We need both to thrive.
But God’s command to rest also comes with as a reminder of God’s promise to provide for our rest. It’s what He did in the desert when He provided the Hebrews with a double portion of manna on the sixth day of each week so they wouldn’t have to gather manna on the Sabbath (Exodus 16:5).
God wants us to recognize Him as our provider.
God didn’t give us work as a means of prosperity. Yes, people prosper from their work. But their prosperity ends when they die. God promises a lasting prosperity for those who pause, rest, and delight in Him (Isaiah 58:13-14; John 6:58; Hebrews 4:10-11).
How has your perspective on work–or rest–increased or decreased your happiness? Share your thoughts with a comment below.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007, 2013 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Bowling NA. et al. Meta-analytic examination of the relationship between job satisfaction and subjective well-being. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, Volume 83, Issue 4, pages 915–934, December 2010.