In the previous post about meaning, I have looked at the reasons why meaning takes such an importance in our lives. I continue the series with a look at how work contributes to our sense of fulfillment and meaning.
Let’s take a look at a carpenter that likes his craft, and is passionate about doing it. He loves the smell of wood, he loves leveling planks and assembling them into cupboards, chairs and tables. Can we say that he finds meaning in his work? I think we must. Any work that fills a man’s heart, gives him not just a livelihood but also a pleasure, a feeling that he is in the right place, doing what he is best at doing, is surely as meaningful as anything can be. And while carpentry might not be the marking profession of our digital age, it serves as an example of any job that brings man a satisfaction from the simple act of doing it.
The Joy of Craft
In agricultural and industrial societies of the past the joy of craft was not available to large parts of the population. Hard manual labor either in the fields or in the factories hardly provided the means to feed a family, let alone a meaning. But the information society of today presents much more opportunities to find joy in work. Manual labor has been largely replaced with intellectual work, and though filling an excel sheet can be as wearing out as a work in a factory, many domains of modern information society offer plenty of room for self-fulfillment: engineering, design, business, etc. Any work that offers some space for creativity, autonomy and an application of a unique talent can bring about meaning and happiness.
The Joy of Contribution
Graphic designer that loves what he is doing, even the little details of moving pixels and adding shadows, and doesn’t greatly care what his work is used for, certainly enjoys the case of “the joy of craft”. But does a nurse have to enjoy changing bandages in order to find meaning in her work? Clearly there is an alternative mechanism in work here – the ability to find meaning in the goal rather than in the process.
Transcending the limits of what a single man can achieve, we are able to find meaning in applying our selves for something larger than us – a worthy cause, a work in organization, a service. A Green Peace activist, a Wikipedia contributor, a nurse – they all have something in common: they derive a meaning from what they work for, not what they work on. The technical details of their work don’t mean that much to them – it’s the realization that they contribute to a goal they believe in, be it preserving nature, disseminating knowledge or helping people.
What We Want vs. What We Need
Not all of us are so fortunate. Often we are unhappy with our jobs, and we neither find satisfaction in the craft itself, nor we draw any meaning from the larger goal for which we work. And so it follows that many people dream of winning the lottery and retiring to live a prosperous live. But the truth is that most of us wouldn’t know what to do with all the free time such lifestyle entails. All our life, starting from an early age, we are encouraged to study and excel in order to have successful careers and become respected professionals. Work not only fills our lives, it fills our minds. Many of us become bored during long vacations or stays at home, and long to return to work.
So maybe, instead of dreaming of frivolous lifestyle, we would do better to examine what work would make us happy, and how to bring about the desired career change. After all, happiness comes not from living easy but form living fully.