As a professor, I am fortunate to teach a course to health care professionals called “World Religions,” which prepares students for the spiritual and ethical issues they may encounter in their careers.But the lesson often comes down to life’s big questions: What makes life worth livingand how should we live? How do you find your “calling”?

In particular, a thought-provoking paradox caught the students’ attention. They live in a society where the idea of ​​a professional “calling” is often talked about as the pursuit of personal fulfillment and achievement or job satisfaction. The problem is that the more you pursue success, “the more you miss it,” as psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote in his influential book, “man’s search for meaning“.

According to Frankl, success and happiness can only come from dedicating yourself to a greater cause, or to another person. But his perspective — echoed by my students — stands in stark contrast to the popular way many Americans talk about “mission” today.as Professor of Religious Studiesmost of my research focuses on How Society Portrays Purpose and Meaningful Work And how that has changed over the past few decades.

redemption work

Viewing work as a calling can be traced back to the German theologian Martin Luther, who famously ushered in the protestant reformation. Luther challenged the popular idea that non-religious or non-political work was drudgery and punishment from God – a view that came from Greco-Roman times. For example, the story of Pandora’s Box tells of a woman cursed by the gods who accidentally unleashes various forms of evil, including hard workabout human nature.

Luther believed that this bias against most forms of work reflected the stark inequalities in society.Every task – even the dirty work – is completed sacred meaning, Luther believed.After all, he insisted, God was no higher than working in the dirt create universe and humans like him. God did not create work to punish, but to invite people to participate in his creation.

Thus, just as one might be called into religious or political life, Luther believed A person may be called to glorify God, grow personally, and bless others through his or her hands.

Work, vocation and calling

The religious understanding of being “called” to a vocation has persisted ever since, often reinterpreted in secular terms. A particularly influential book on modern ideas about work is “inner habits”, written in 1985 by Robert Bellah and other sociologists.

These authors describe Three different work orientations: Treat work as work, treat work as career, and treat work as mission. A “work” orientation focuses on financial or material gains, whereas those who view work as a “career” aim for social advancement. At the same time, people who feel “called” are inspired to produce exceptional products or services while growing as individuals and contributing to the common good. From this perspective, meaningful work is achieved through commitment to others and to a cause.

However, the author believes that American society Increasing emphasis on individualism, making the concept of such a call “increasingly difficult to understand.” For many Americans, “it’s harder to think of work as a contribution to the whole and easier to think of as a partial, self-interested activity.”

looking for meaning

Employee engagement is alarmingly low today. Gallup’s latest research Showing that only a quarter of employees globally feel engaged at work, employee stress is at an all-time high.

Perhaps this is why many fields, such as management and psychology, emphasize the need to be The meaning of finding a job.Because participation in religious groups, clubs, and other civic organizations that once provided meaningful connections has has been declining In recent decades, work has become the primary way many Americans participate in public life and want to feel important.Treat work as a mission make you happier and more satisfied, Columnist advice.

In recent decades, researchers studying the concept of mission have focused on the work of helping people. know yourself and experience satisfaction, especially in relation to self-needs, e.g. personal success and achievements. Today, the archetype of meaningful work seems to focus on how it makes employees feel.

Rethink success

However, I and some other scholars believe that The meaning of finding a job It depends more on your motivation than personal fulfillment.

For example, in a 2011 analysis of 407 undergraduate students, it was found that those “whose sense of purpose appeared to be driven primarily by a…self-centered” approach More vulnerable to negative views of oneself”. Those who focus on “intrinsic” or “prosocial” work purposes report lower levels of insecurity and higher overall personal satisfaction.

recent, Analysis of 135 workers Surveys from 10 professions revealed that “people tend to feel that their jobs are meaningful when[they realize]their work is more important to others than to themselves.” In one case, “One scholar described how her work was meaningful when it mattered more to others than to themselves.” Seeing her students graduate at Commencement and how she finds meaning in her work is a tangible sign of how her own hard work can help others succeed. ”

It turns out that the way people think about the meaning of work matters. The pursuit of meaning in personal success and achievement makes the goal of happiness elusive. Just ask Rainn Wilson, who plays Dwight on the hit NBC comedy series, “office“.

“When I was on ‘The Office’ for a few years, I was really unhappy because it wasn’t enough. ‘Why am I not a movie star?’ “Why am I not the next Jack Black or the next Will Ferrell?” ” he told Bill Maher in a podcast interview.

However, his latest project"blissful geography,” left wilson believes Happiness comes to us “when we move from self-centeredness to other-centeredness and service to others.” In other words, meaning finds us when we are less focused on finding it.

Garrett Potts is an assistant professor of religious studies, University of South Florida.

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