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The 10 Best & Worst Occupations—Study Reveals the Secret to Finding Happiness in a Career

Chinese_symbol People looking for jobs that bring satisfaction and happiness should concentrate on professions that focus on helping others—or at least according to a report from the University of Chicago. Another recent study from the university also revealed that though we may like to grumble—the majority of US citizens are satisfied with their jobs.

“The most satisfying jobs are mostly professions, especially those involving caring for, teaching, and protecting others and creative pursuits,” said Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.

The survey is the most comprehensive of its kind that explores satisfaction and happiness among American workers. Across all occupations, on average, 47 percent of people said they were very satisfied with their jobs and over one third (33 percent) of US workers said they were “very happy” with their job.

Here are 12 of some of the most “satisfying” jobs according to the research:

1. Clergy
2. Firefighters
3. Operating engineers
4. Security and financial services salespersons
5. Psychologists
6. Office supervisors
7. Painters & sculptors
8. Physical therapists
9. Authors
10. Teachers
11. Special Ed teachers
12. Education administrators

The top three jobs for satisfaction were clergy (87 percent reporting being very satisfied), firefighters (80 percent) and physical therapists (78 percent). In the other top jobs, over 60 percent of the respondents said they were very satisfied.

Here are 12 of the jobs that rated well on the “happiness” scale:

1. Clergy
2. Transportation ticket and reservation agents
3. Firefighters
4. Architects
5. Special education teachers
6. Actors and directors
7. Science technicians
8. Mechanics, repairers & industrial engineers
9. Industrial engineers
10. Airline pilots and navigators
11. Hardware and building supplies salespersons
12. Personal housekeepers

As far as being happy at work goes, clergy also ranked highly, with 67 percent very happy. Two other top three jobs on happiness were firefighters and transportation ticket and reservation agents, which both measured at 57 percent as being very happy. (Arguably, the reservation agents may be happy because free travel perks regularly help them get AWAY from their job.)

Careers in firefighting and clergy seem to score well because they are able to focus their energy on helping others, and are generally respected by society. Reverend Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies at the University of Chicago’s Divinity School, says the finding that clergy tend to enjoy their work doesn’t surprise her.

“Persons engaged in ministry have great opportunity to live and work out of their deepest convictions, oftentimes in the midst of communities of faith who share their concern for meaning, compassion and justice,” she said. “This congruence of belief, values, and actions in one’s daily work can be immensely satisfying.”

But what about the least satisfying jobs? The survey found that they were mostly low-skill, manual and service occupations, especially involving customer service and food/beverage preparation and serving.

12 of the Least Satisfying Jobs were:

1. Roofers
2. Waiters and servers
3. Bartenders
4. Hand packers and packagers
5. Apparel clothing salespersons
6. Cashiers
7. Food preparers (excluding cooks and chefs)
8. Expediters (customer service representatives)
9. Butchers and meat cutters
10. Furniture and home furnishing salespersons

As for unhappiness on the job, at the bottom of the scale were garage and service station attendants (13 percent reported being happy), roofers (14 percent) and molding and casting machine operators (11 percent). Other workers who said they are generally unhappy were construction laborers, welfare service aides, amusement and recreation attendants, hotel maids, pressing machine operators, electronic repairers, kitchen workers, and machine operators.

Previous studies have shown that job satisfaction tends to increase with prestige or social standings, and indeed many of the people reporting high satisfaction and happiness also had jobs respected by society. However, some workers whose jobs have a high degree of prestige, such as doctors and lawyers, did not make the list of the top twelve most satisfied or happy. Likely because those jobs also involve great responsibility and large opportunities for stress, Smith said.

Overall, however, the survey found that most Americans are satisfied with their jobs.

The survey found that job satisfaction increases with age, with workers over 65 among the most satisfied. The study shows that 86 percent of the people interviewed said they were satisfied at their jobs, with 48 percent saying they were very satisfied. Only four percent reported being very dissatisfied.

Posted by Rebecca Sato

Related Galaxy Post:

Future Forecast: 10 Hot Job Markets in 2012

The Big Brain & the Pursuit of Happiness


* The General Social Survey, supported by the National Science Foundation, has been conducted since 1972, and is based on interviews of randomly selected people who represent a scientifically accurate cross section of Americans. A total of 27,587 people were interviewed for the job satisfaction and happiness portion of the survey. Unlike opinion polls, which ask people about topics related to current events, the GSS captures changes in opinion to issues that remain of enduring importance in society.


In the insulated world of the religiously superstitious where at revivals they all appear as drug induced hippies at a 60's rock concert, or when they dispense their pleasantries to the weak and downtrodden whilst panning for gold I can see where most 'clergy' would feel obligated to say 'well yes, of course I'm happy. I believe in (insert superstition icon here)'. But I find most of the 'clergy' type increasingly under attack for their false pretenses (P.Z. Meyers, Dawkins, Harris, Panda's Thumb etc. a million times) and I'm thinking it must be a hard row to hoe.

As for a firefighter where you are looked upon as a hero because you are willing to risk yourself to help others, that's a whole different, and very commendable, ideal.


As a writer/journalist (similar to the "authors" category), I count myself among those satisfied and happy with their work. I agree that jobs serving others are very rewarding, beyond monetary value. I'm a journalist because I want to help people stay informed about the world around them.

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