Work to Live or Live to Work?

If you won the lottery would you stop working? This question might stimulate dreams of paying off lifelong credit card debts or student loans with just one click, instead of making monthly payments, taking a trip around the world instead of spending your day stuck in a cubicle. Waking to the sounds of the ocean’s waves instead of an alarm clock greeting you every morning. Breaking in your new sports car instead of sharing a crowded bus with fellow commuters.

We often hear stories in the news of lottery winners quitting their jobs and living lavish lifestyles that only big money can buy, and then losing all that financial security – often relatively quickly – bringing them back to pre-lottery days, or worse.

This reminds us that money does not solve all life’s problems. So what is the purpose of work if it’s not just about the paycheck and other financial rewards?

With the upcoming celebration of Labor Day, the Department of Labor reminds us that this holiday is “a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” This statement highlights a larger purpose to serve a community and to ensure the proper functioning of our society.

For some people, a job in itself is not stimulating; it is not a “calling.” It mainly allows them to fulfill personal and financial responsibilities to ensure basic human needs. For others, work represents a career through which they identify themselves; the job becomes their life’s purpose. However, even individuals with a career path can identify challenges of labor such as physical or emotional strain, time away from family/friends, difficult coworkers or bosses, etc. So what makes these obstacles worth overcoming?

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) suggests accepting unpleasant feelings as well as circumstances that cannot be controlled, while engaging in doing what we care about, based on identified values. Our values give us a sense of purpose and meaning in life, making obstacles worth overcoming. In these modern days, work is often no longer just a means for meeting basic needs of hunger, shelter, and clothing. We often choose to overcome the time commitment or the physical strains of labor in order to fulfill personal values. Let’s look at some of them below:

Quality of life. In addition to fulfilling basic needs of hunger, clothing, and shelter, work in today’s world is necessary to earn the money required for meeting all other requirements, whether essential or luxurious. The work people do and the salary they earn go a long way in determining the quality of life they will enjoy. From educating children, to providing healthcare to aging parents or experiencing an exotic vacation meeting essentials and maintaining luxuries, work is what allows individuals to maintain a certain lifestyle based on their own determined standards and requirements.

Social Connections. Work can act as an opportunity to develop and improve social skills and develop friendly and supportive relationships. The support provided by co-workers can change someone’s life experience from one of isolation to one of community. Even the most intelligent and most talented individual cannot do all the tasks alone. To build an organization and a society as a whole, people need to work as a team. Thus work creates social interactions and networking, which further strengthen human bonding and positive cultural growth.

Individual responsibility.  Although people often view work as a routine-driven, success-driven, or satisfaction-driven task, being engaged in work forces them to practice discipline and responsibility. Working involves accepting, sharing and fulfilling responsibilities. Thus it makes individuals more accountable for their actions increasing their skills of reliability and trustworthiness.

Creativity.  Everyone has a different set of skills, talents, knowledge, and attributes. Work is the outlet where people can not only use and exhibit their talents and skills productively, but also develop new ones. Using varied skills and talents enables the creation of new ideas and better solutions, which further leads to personal and societal growth.

Personal growth.  Feeling productive and valued within a work environment knowing that they are making important contributions allows individuals to shape a personal identity and increase their sense of self-worth. Consequently, an increased sense of self builds a solid foundation to advance personal goals.

Happiness.  A job is not only a means of creative outlet for people, but it also ensures that their intelligence and talents are used productively and positively for common good. Working gives a satisfaction that cannot be attained only be achieving basic human needs or through financial wealth. It helps individuals grow beyond the basics by increasing their sense of purpose and meaning in life.

For most of us who will never experience a lottery win or some other type of financial windfall, work is a necessity to live, and will continue to be so as bills have to be paid. However, for those without the means to choose whether to work or not, we still want our work to be more than a paycheck. It’s about finding a position where personal values are fulfilled, therefore allowing a connection with the true meaning of life. In other words…live to work.