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Does God Want You to be Happy at Work?

September 16, 2009

It seems like happiness is a hot topic these days. I have been seeing it pop up everywhere lately. There is the blogger/book called The Happiness Project, a recent article at the Christianity Today blog on “How Money Makes Us Happy“, more articles on happiness at The Atlantic, and Guardian magazines, and just yesterday an email subject headline in my inbox that said “Can HR Software Make You Happy?” Seriously?

So it is only natch that sooner or later, some observant and clever consultant will come along and connect all the happiness dots to our jobs. Enter Gill Corkendale, a London-based executive coach who has written a wonderfully thought-provoking article called “Should Work Make Us Happy?” at her Blog on the Harvard Business Press website. In it, she refers to a couple of books on the subject: “The Pleasures and Sorrrows of Work,” by Allain De Bottom (which I am about 1/3 of the way through), and a soon-to-be-released title called “The Joy of Work?” which is coming out in October. Yes, the question mark is there on purpose.

Gill tees up a fair question from all this happy-talk: Do we expect too much out of our work? It is still called “work,” after all.

The question of whether we should derive happiness from work is a good one, and I believe at the core, it is a spiritual question. Which opens up all sorts of possibilities: Does God want you to be happy at work? Or, we could ask it from another direction altogether, Does God want you to be unhappy at work? Does he even care? Is happiness even the right metric for us to be focused on to begin with?

As for me, I have worked hard all my life (under mostly happy conditions) to get to the point I am at right now, where I am very happy with my work: I like what I do; it is aligned with my gifts and personality; I feel like I am doing something important; I think that I am able to help people with what I am doing; and to top it all off, I get paid well for it. I always thought that this is what God wanted for me all along.

I don’t have the authoritative answer to these questions, of course – at least not at the moment since I am rushing off to another meeting at work. But you guys are pretty bright. And theologically inclined, too. What do you think?

Does God want us to be happy at work?

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12 Comments leave one →
  1. donkimrey permalink
    September 16, 2009 8:15 pm

    I got my eyes on you, buddy. My guess is that you’re going to become a growing influence in the business community outside your immediate circle of friends and associates. Then I can boast: “I knew him when.” Don’t want to get into what I call “antics with semantics,” but a better word is joyous. Happiness is essentially self-centered. A leaf blowing in the wind. Joy goes much deeper, is based on much more solid stuff than passing fancy. It is an anchor, not a cork.

  2. September 16, 2009 10:44 pm

    This really hits home. I hear so much about happiness and somehow that we have a right to such things. Althougth the Bill of Rights declares a right the pursuit of happiness, I’m just not convinced its a Christian virtue.

    We should exercise caution in seeking out happiness. Frankly, we will be miserable at times in marriage, in relationships, in our neighborhoods and our jobs.

    it goes with territory!

    So…to answer your proposition…”No”. And like you suggested, Thats why its called work and not play!

    David
    (Another post on the subject here:

    http://redletterbelievers.blogspot.com/2006/12/is-pursuit-of-happyness-really-part-of.html

    http://redletterbelievers.blogspot.com/2009/06/happiness-is-not-right.html)

  3. September 17, 2009 6:36 am

    When I saw the title of this post, I immediately thought of a woman I knew who suddenly left her husband and children to live with and eventually marry another man. She said this: “But God wants me to be happy,” emphasis on happy.

    I’m with David. Work can bring us pleasure, joy, sorrow, fulfillment, frustration and a lot of other things, but I don’t think it’s purpose is to make us happy. I have to consider this for a time, but “happiness” in this context, or perhaps in any context, sounds decidely self-centered. And fleeting.

  4. September 17, 2009 7:44 pm

    good post, good questions.

    how does one measure happiness?
    it just won’t stand still long enough to be measured.
    when we run after happiness, it darts away like a greased pig.

    it sounds as if you are in a place where you feel a good balance. only God knows how all the things about your life worked together to make it that way. but, i can guess that running after happiness did not get you there.

    i actually think that personal happiness is a bit over played.

    commercial ads alone takes huge advantage this theme.

    there are many distractions calling for us to buy, do, and be, toward happiness, that there is no way that this could bring anything but feelings of inadequacy in terms of happiness. all we are left with is a feeling that we are missing something, and that something else, or someone else, will give us that feeling. the something or someone else, can, but, not for long. because if one is seeking only their own happiness, then they will have to continually be feeding a very hungry monster.

    i think… that God would like for us to be content and happy, and, if it is at all possible, that it is possible in Him.

    here is a good post that i read this morning…it relates.
    http://cindyhan111.wordpress.com/2009/09/16/shut-up-and-listen/

  5. September 17, 2009 7:52 pm

    i forgot to say

    i have noticed that a lot of men, especially men for some reason, really get an ego hit when they are laid off of a job or are with out a job for some reason. this seems to be true even if they were not happy with their work. it really effects them in a big way even if the family has plenty of money.

  6. Michele Corbett permalink
    September 19, 2009 3:48 pm

    I feel like happiness is getting a bad rap here. Maybe our Christian culture has aligned it with selfish desire and a desire for more, but don’t forget Ecc. 5:18-20. Work is a gift from God and I rejoice in it!

    18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be HAPPY in his work—this is a gift of God. 20 He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.

  7. September 19, 2009 8:03 pm

    if happiness is gettng a bad rap here…
    then
    go on over to rap at the highcallings blog
    and write a good rap…

    http://highcallingblogs.com/blog/habitual-poetry/3828/

    just sayin…

  8. Michele Corbett permalink
    September 19, 2009 8:26 pm

    Not sure I could write a rap. How ’bout I bust a move to your rap instead: http://faithandwork.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/i-heart-hip-hop/

    ( :

  9. September 20, 2009 6:51 am

    I read this post and went to think about the question for a couple of days. Then I read Ecc. 5:18-20 and found an interesting insight. Then I came back and saw that Michele already quoted that scripture…

    So, for me there is just one thing left to say: Amen, Michele! 🙂

  10. September 20, 2009 7:44 am

    I’m going to agree and disagree with most of the comments. I think God wants us to be happy in everything we do. I think one of God’s greatest desires is for us to enjoy life. (How could it not be if he’s truly a loving Father?).

    But that doesn’t mean we always get our way. And sometimes we confuse lust/greed/envy with “happy”. For instance if you rob a bank you may be happy with the money for a short time – but when you’re in jail, I doubt that happiness will last!

    God wants us to be happy, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.

    As for work specifically, I think God wants us to have jobs where we can be fully engaged and happy. But as I often write at http://www.MeaningToWork.com, true satisfaction comes from bringing meaning TO your work, not getting meaning FROM your work.

    Most of us think of work as a thing that will “make” us happy. But I believe it works the other way around – if we do something with meaning, we’ll be happy.

  11. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    September 20, 2009 12:26 pm

    E. Barret – You got it, buddy. I think the key is for us to bring meaning to our work, and that leads to a greater sense of enjoyment and purpose in what we do, rather than the other way around.

    Michelle and Leon- So cool that both of you found that verse in Ecclesiastes! Yes, I think God WANTS us to be engaged and happy in work, and in life, but like David says, that dosn’t mean it won’t take a great deal of “work” to get there. Not always a smooth path, I guess.

    Nancy, I always enjoy your insigtful comments – You are a never-ending source of poetic wisdom! Yes, in the end all happiness will come from God as the source.

    Now I must go and check out how Michelle and Nancy made out with that rapping thing…

  12. September 20, 2009 1:02 pm

    I am HAPPY to read this post, a most excellent subject to lift up!

    Happiness does come from within, however, our culture is quite toxic to this ‘theology’. Our leaders tell us to buy, buy, buy… Television, both cultural shows and the constant ‘attack’ of the commercial….

    I have two kids who are ‘happy’. But it will all go out in a flash when another kid comes by riding a ‘chopper’ or gets a new pair of cool rollerblades. We spend christmes, finding gifts, which they love when they open, but end up making forts later with the boxes.

    there will always be a duality about all of us as we ARE human, I can live in the spirit and LOVE my job, but that doesn’t always stick when the stress gets dicey.

    Lest we forget, some who make their living doing less than fun things. But I happen to know someone that can sing cleaning a toilet! Perspective, yes, but we have to remember life will get the best of us sometimes… happiness and joy are great things, indeed. But heh, if it smells like roses all of the time it would be hard to apprecitate what you do ‘have’ in life!

    (diminishing the value of happiness)

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