A Happy Man Is a Man Happy With His Work
Work holds value for men because good work upholds masculine values.
Posted May 3, 2020 | Reviewed by Jessica Schrader
One of my many soapbox theories—things I believe to be true, even though I haven’t done the research to prove that they are statistically true—is the following: A man must be happy with his work in order to be happy with his life.
Of course, I assume there are individual exceptions to this theory, but by and large, I believe it holds true, and I received further confirmation for this when I read the results of a major study of men, Harry’s Masculinity Report, USA, 2018.1
This study surveyed 5,000 men aged 18-95 through the U.S., asking them about their happiness, confidence, sense of being in control, emotional stability, motivation, and optimism. The strongest predictor of a positive mindset in men was satisfying employment. It was four times more important in predicting happiness than any of the other things which followed, which were (in descending order of importance): health, income, age (men get happier as they get older, peaking in their 50s), being married, sport and leisure, and having served in the military.
Why might this be so, that work is so important to a man’s happiness? Here are some ways I understand the values that make work important as well as the ways in which men can get in trouble trying to live these values through their work:
1. A sense of purpose. I think most men need to feel they are a meaningful part of a greater whole. As the study authors noted, “[work] is not primarily about wealth, but a sense of making a difference, being part of something bigger and more meaningful." Therefore it is important for a man to be able to align his sense of purpose at work with his highest values, not the most expedient ones. That is, it is important not to trade-off too many of one’s values for a higher paycheck or greater security. It’s a delicate balancing act, but a man should be as conscious as he can be of the choices he makes along the way. And, of course, a man must know what his values are before he can choose the work that embodies them. Not many men know this early in their 20s, when they start their careers.
2. Work is a means to provide for one’s family. Being able to support one’s family is hugely important to a man’s sense of identity. The downside is being so invested in this role that when something happens, such as being laid off from his job, a man loses his entire sense of himself.
3. A sense of shared community and commitment. Many men don’t have the rich social networks of women. Left to their own devices, they don’t reach out as often and don’t develop as many friendships. The workplace provides a place where they can meet and intermingle in a way that comes naturally to them: working together on a common goal. Another soapbox I have, for another time, is that working together can be more bonding and cohesion building than praying together in a house of worship. At the same time, men should also take this need for social connection out of the workplace and make friends in varied places. Just as we are encouraged to diversify our portfolio of financial investments, we should also diversify where we make our emotional investments, for much the same reasons: we will not be so rudderless if we lose our jobs that we lose everything.
4. A clear framework for goals and expectations and a way to measure progress. Most workplaces have some kind of hierarchy, some way of measuring where one stands. Yes, this can be problematic, but most men like to know where they are on the pecking order as a way to measure their progress. Look at the military with its ranks, or corporate life with its tiered titles. But it’s important to make sure the ladder you are climbing is leading you someplace you want to go. I’ve worked with a number of men in their 50s who climbed the corporate ladder only to realize when they got to the top that the climb led to a place devoid of real meaning for them. By then they had established lifestyles that required a high level of income to sustain so it was very hard for them to hit the reset button.
In summary, while it is simple to say a man must be happy with his work to be happy with his life, it is not an easy thing to do. We must stay as awake as we can at each step of the way, from choosing our career, to navigating it, to knowing when to press the reset button. The one thing that is clear is that we should make our work a priority because it’s hard to be happy in life without believing in what we do for a living.
1. Barry, J. and Daubney, M. (2018). The Harry's Masculinity Report. http://marketresearchtoday.com/2018/11/19/harrys-surveys-5000-us-men-to… Retrieved 5/2/2019.