How To Find Fulfilling Work: 3 Science-Backed Tips

Your job has the power to impact your happiness. These tips will help you choose a career that's right for you.

In the past month, 4 million Americans quit their jobs and 95% of workers are thinking about it. After a year of uncertainty and overwork many are citing burnout, a desire for permanent remote work, and a change in priorities as their top reasons for resigning. 

And who can blame them? With half of your waking hours going towards work, laborers are looking for more than a job that just funds their bank accounts.  

If you’re feeling the burnout, or looking to change things up at work, decades of research have shown these are the things you should look for when it comes to finding satisfying work.  

Should you follow the money?  

Yes, but only part of the way. A recent study found that those who made at least $85,000 per year were happier than those who made less.  

The authors of the study say meeting the financial threshold doesn’t necessarily “buy happiness” but it does provide the opportunity to experience more of it. The reasoning? More money doesn’t mean more problems, it means less stress.  

Psychiatrist and podcast host Jeffrey Ditzell, DO, puts it this way, “It is hard to experience happiness with consistency if one’s family is starving, in danger of losing their home, or unable to obtain medical care when needed.” 

When your income covers your basic needs and then some, it also gives you the ability to control more of your time which accounted for 74% of the correlation between well-being and income. So, while meeting this fiscal baseline does contribute to greater life satisfaction, it’s only part of the equation.  

Wired for work: Personality fit 

Another major player is your personality. Even though there’s no “perfect career” some jobs simply align with your nature more than others. How can you tell? It’s all about whether or not your job drains you or energizes you. If you feel completely depleted at the end of your work shift, you might be in the wrong role.  

Think about it, if you’re naturally more extroverted but you’re stuck working solo as a software engineer, odds are the lack of social interaction will sap your energy. On the flipside, if you lean introverted but your workday is packed with high-volume sales calls, your burnout will likely come quicker than that of your extroverted counterparts.  

To be clear, personality fit isn’t so much about if you can do the job, but whether it’s sustainable and fulfilling long-term. If you want more self-awareness on how you’re wired, take a few minutes to fill out your Myers-Briggs. It’ll give you an idea of your ideal career matches and which ones to avoid.  

Calling > Career: Contribution is key 

According to a Gallup poll, 70% of workers are not engaged or “actively disengaged” in their jobs. When your basic needs are met you tend to feel more comfortable, in control, and confident, but not necessarily fulfilled. If you’re making a comfortable living but you’re still feeling unmotivated at work, you might be missing this last piece of the puzzle. For life satisfaction to kick in, you need a fourth “C”– contribution.  

Years of research have shown that people who see their work as a calling instead of just a career experience the highest levels of life satisfaction. Why? Because their work is more than just a job to them, it’s a conduit for contribution. Through their careers they’re connected to a sense of serving something beyond themselves.  

The good news is you don’t have to be Mother Theresa to pursue a higher purpose. A easy way to transform your work is to join an organization that shares your values or a mission you believe in. If you care deeply about the environment, for example, you’d be better off working for Allbirds than Adidas. If you’re in fintech, how does your work support local economies or empower entrepreneurs?  

Naturally, this will be easier for some careers than others. But, if you can connect the dots between your effort and a direct positive impact on others, it’ll foster a renewed motivation and a greater sense of meaning for your work.