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Landmark Gallup Survey Asks: Who is Happiest With Their Jobs?

September 23, 2009

My mother always says that things happen in three’s, and she’s usually right.

Earlier this month one of my close colleagues dropped dead of a heart attack. Two days later, my CEO went into the hospital with a serious heart condition. Later that same day, another retired executive from my company went into the hospital with a stroke. Then everything was quiet again.

Thankfully, both my CEO and the retired exec are now recovering nicely. But the fact that three major health issues landed on three principal players in my company within three days spooked me a little bit. Maybe it is just a matter of looking for patterns that my mother says are supposed to be there, but this trio of events made me wonder if there really is something to those old wives tales.

Oddly enough, I found another grouping of three happening this month with my Blog around the triple-subject of work, happiness and God’s purpose.

One. Last week I said that happiness was turning out to be a hot topic, and I discussed the question of how happiness was supposed to be connected to our jobs.  Two. The week prior, I referenced a survey by US Catholic magazine which examined the relationship between people’s jobs and their sense of God’s purpose for their lives. Both of these posts generated some thought-provoking comments. You guys are so smart.

Three!  Then, sure enough, last week I came across the inevitable third straggler in my work-happiness-purpose trilogy. Gallup, the mega-research organization, released a comprehensive, landmark survey of 100,826 working adults exploring the question of how occupation affects well-being. 

Not that it’s a contest, but guess which occupation won? The results reveal that business owners outrank 10 other occupational groups in overall well-being. The sense of well-being was measured based on six criteria of contentment, such as emotional and physical health, job satisfaction, and self-reports of overall life quality. Professionals such as doctors and lawyers came in second, and executives and managers (such as Yours Truly) ranked third. At the bottom of the ranking were manufacturing workers. (What, they don’t find inherent meaning in their work? I thought God’s purpose could be found in every job? What gives?)

Of course I immediately took note of the fact that the top three ranking professions are also the highest paid. So, yes, I was thinking that, despite our earnest Christian efforts towards modesty in trying to downplay financial ambitions, it does appear that making money does have something to do with well-being in career choice. (Hey people, this is not just my opinion anymore, this is freakin’ Gallup!). However,  my theory was busted by the fourth-ranked group, the farm-workers, who are the lowest-earners and most overworked of the whole bunch. Well, okay. I guess there is some merit to just plain liking what you do.

The business owners’ high-ranking sense of happiness may have something to do with their ability to control their own fate, for better or worse. Sue Shellenbarger of the Wall Street Journal’s weekly “Work and Family” column sums it up nicely: “The survey suggests that seeking out enjoyable work and finding a way to do it on your own terms, with some control over process and the outcome, is likely for most people to fuel satisfaction and contentment.”

Although the Gallup poll did not ask the participants outright questions concerning their spiritual life, they were asked to respond to these questions in measuring job satisfaction: (1) Do they get to use their strengths at work? (2) Does their supervisor treat them more like a boss, or a partner? And (3) Does their supervisor create an environment that is open and trusting?

Hmmm. To me, these all sound like spiritual issues: (1) Finding and utilizing your God-given strengths, (2) Treating people with respect and dignity, and (3) Creating an open and trusting atmosphere of, well, love.

Funny. Doesn’t the bible talk about the same thing?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. donkimrey permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:35 am

    As always, your posts are thought provoking. I’m not real sure about the idea of things happening in clusters of three. My wife, a pretty skilled interior design type, has almost a phobia about arranging accessories in threes. Each with a different height. She always makes things look good, but I really don’t get any magic or mystery out of it. When I’m not sure about something, I don’t feel the need to speak authoritatively.

    On the matter of “Happy,” I still maintain that a better word is “joyful.” “Happy” seems to be contingent upon external circumstances, while joy comes from within. If I understand the faith anywhere near correctly, When the Bible says: “Godliness with contentment is great gain,” is does not speak about an attitude that is

  2. donkimrey permalink
    September 24, 2009 12:42 am

    Oops! Sorry, I got distracted and sent the message winging before I’d completed my thought. Continuing were I was off stride… created by any circumstances. It comes from well within which Jesus said would not ever dry up. Happy goes up and down, depending on the wind, the weather, the ever changing tides of circumstances. Joy is fixed. It comes from a faith and confidence that can sing in the storms, or feel peace when the battle outside is raging. I like being happy. But for the long haul, I much prefer joy.

    As always, good job!

  3. September 24, 2009 8:39 am


    Interesting that those who are most satisfied are those who own their own businesses…. Of course they put in the most hours and although they may have more money in the end, their hourly wage is downright slavish in comparison.

    But destiny seems to be a real kicker. We want to call the shots and be our man or woman. We dont want the man telling us what to do. And when he backs off, we are happy.

    I wonder how much pride fits into our “sense” of happiness?


  4. September 24, 2009 11:53 am

    Yup. Oddly enough those very same professions are often listed as the most stressful. I guess stress and happiness aren’t really opposed.

    To the idea of payment, I’d actually say empowerment is more important, once a certain threshold of pay is reached. Of course, in our economy, empowerment and high pay often go hand in hand.

    David has a good point too. More than just empowerment, it is a matter of the direct connection between our hard work and the reward we receive. When we know our work results in clear and tangible benefits, we work harder. Go figure.

  5. September 24, 2009 8:51 pm

    I’m with you…
    However, Gallup never called me,
    or anyone in my periphery… hmmm. I know a lot of business owners that might answer those questions differently with a trusted friend than a poll. Just sayin’.

    Both my husband and I work in the corporate world and love it. but we’ve been very blessed to work for strong companies… I pray it stays that way.

    As for the 333’s…. LOVE the number three, it IS my favorite! but I’m not sure on the statistical data on a great wives tale!!!

  6. shrinkingthecamel permalink*
    September 25, 2009 5:09 am

    Cindy ? Skeptical? of Gallup? Come on, now.
    I guess we should take all of this with a grain of thought, although it is interesting to explore these ideas. Like Marcus says, they are also very stressful at times. But some of us like a little stress to mix things up, keep the challenges in front of us, right? Otherwise we’d be bored?

    David – you brought up that destiny word again. I want to write about that some time. What is our career destiny? Is that even real? Does God predestine those kinds of things? Ok, that is so over my head.

    Don, as always, good thoughts on happiness vs. joy. You are right, but joy is probably harder to measure in a Gallup poll.

    • September 25, 2009 11:07 am

      Hehe… let me apologize for coming across the skeptic… All the world is a veil!!

      None the less, I love my job, I am HAPPY there… which also by Gallup polls is listed as one of the most stressful jobs in the US… and I JUST want to add…

      I’m as happy at making more than double what I started at, than I was at making less than half of what I am now.
      Confusing. Let me state this more clearly, perhaps, what my income is a reflection of my happiness???

      Yes, I am pretty sure that’s how things happened for me… perhaps happy people are drawn to certain careers and industries??? this is what fascinates me…

      I’m not trying to antagonize you, I am merely pushing the line further, trying to wrap my head around something a little bigger…. thank you for the post! I enjoy my time here.

  7. September 25, 2009 9:37 am

    (1) Finding and utilizing your God-given strengths, (2) Treating people with respect and dignity, and (3) Creating an open and trusting atmosphere of, well, love.

    Brad, if that’s not a formula for business success, I don’t know what is.

  8. September 25, 2009 8:55 pm


    Being one of those “slavish” entrepreneurs, I think David is on to something. While I still have qualms about thinking/saying I can control, or even dent, the direction of my destiny, I can’t deny that it is nice to *not* have to put up with someone breathing down my neck to meet a deadline or performance guideline…other than ones that “I” set for myself.

    At least from my experience, I can state that I am wired differently than most and that I am simply aiming for the next step in His will for my life. Oddly enough, that means I get to practice my gifts (from Him) in an arena (He put me there) that has the potential to pay handsomely.

    “despite earnest Christian efforts towards modesty in trying to downplay financial ambitions…” And if He so chooses to bless those in His will with “financial ambitions,” isn’t even more expected? (Luke 12:48)

    There is a gentlemen in my city that has made it his life’s mission to out-give God! The man is clearly nuts, but his single aim has introduced and/or reinforced God’s love to so many in our community that you can’t help BUT cheer on his business successes!

    Ultimately, this discussion comes down to two things, in my opinion:
    1 – God’s will and predestination (whole can o’ worms by itself)
    2 – Personal responsibility in what we’ve been blessed with

    Thanks for helping blow the dust off some little used synapses, as of late…

  9. Annie permalink
    October 17, 2009 1:51 pm

    After two previous careers, one in teaching and one in the mortgage business, I finally found I am happiest as a receptionist . I do believe work does affect wellbeing. As a teacher, I had no time for me, was always in meetings after school and always planning. Those who think teachers have it easy cause they get summers and vacations off are nuts! In actuality, most teachers maybe get off a week during the year. On those other off days, they are planning ahead, writing reports, preparing for teacher meetings, etc. Because the job started taking over not only my life but also my families, I moved on in to the mortgage business.
    This move taught me a lot about finances. I can now read and understand a Good Faith Estimate!! However, the stress was ENORMOUS!! After a while, I started dreaming about work and once the mortgage balloon burst, my top boss was threatening our jobs. Not a good situation AT ALL. Then I moved to being a receptionist.
    Very little stress, get to make people laugh, everyday is filled with different tasks and I have time for me and my family as well as I don’t dream about my job at all. Happy? Extremely so! Glad for the past jobs? YEP! Because without the experience there, I would not be where I am today.


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