Notes on the Top 10 Happiest Jobs

It’s too late for Labor Day, but the somewhat surprising results of this week’s Forbes article of the top 10 happiest jobs (especially the eye-opening #1 happiest career choice) have been rippling through social media and such. You can read the full list at the link above. Here are a few thoughts of my own, in reverse order.

10. Operating engineers: Playing with giant toys like bulldozers, front-end loaders, backhoes, scrapers, motor graders, shovels, derricks, large pumps, and air compressors can be fun.  With more jobs for operating engineers than qualified applicants, operating engineers report being happy.

As it should be. Most of the jobs in the top 10 are professional careers, but it’s good to see tradesmen make the list. Working with power equipment combines the virtues of plain manual labor—an occupation that Karol Wojtyla, later Pope John Paul II, came to appreciate while working in a limestone quarry during World War II—with the satisfaction of skilled labor. It’s not just playing with toys. It’s work work: not clean perhaps, but good and honest, working directly with dirt and rocks and asphalt and so forth, moving and manipulating the elements of the world to do what needs doing, as men have done ever since Adam.

7. Artists: Sculptors and painters report high job satisfaction, despite the great difficulty in making a living from it.

4. Authors: For most authors, the pay is ridiculously low or non-existent, but the autonomy of writing down the contents of your own mind apparently leads to happiness.

Artistic work is the polar opposite of manual labor, even when one works directly with material like clay or paint not necessarily that different from the raw matter of the laborer’s work. The artist’s work is both creative and revelatory, reflecting God’s own work of creation and revelation.

“Of itself,” declares the 1971 pastoral instruction Communio et Progressio, “beauty ennobles the mind that contemplates it.” But art goes beyond this. Craftsmen may create beauty; a nice hardwood floor can be beautiful. “The work of an artist,” Communio et Progressio says, “can also penetrate and illumine the deepest recesses of the human spirit. It can make spiritual reality immediate by expressing it in a way that the senses can comprehend. And as a result of this expression man comes to know himself better.”

Quoting Paul VI, the instruction adds: “It is a fact that when you writers and artists are able to reveal in the human condition, however lowly or sad it may be, a spark of goodness, at that very instant a glow of beauty pervades your whole work.”

8. Psychologists: Psychologists may or may not be able to solve other people’s problems, but it seems that they have managed to solve their own.

6. Teachers: Teachers in general report being happy with their jobs, despite the current issues with education funding and classroom conditions. The profession continues to attract young idealists, although fifty percent of new teachers are gone within five years.

5. Special education teachers: If you don’t care about money, a job as special education teacher might be a happy profession. The annual salary averages just under $50,000.

3. Physical therapists: Social interaction and helping people apparently make this job one of the happiest.

All of these careers, not just the last, involve social interaction and helping people. And not just helping people, but helping people improve, helping them learn or cope or adapt. The #2 occupation below also involves helping people, but the people themselves are, at best, the same after you’re done helping them as they were last week (and grateful for it). If you’re a teacher, a therapist or a psychologist, hopefully some people are better for your interaction with them.

2. Firefighters: Eighty percent of firefighters are “very satisfied” with their jobs, which involve helping people.

We often think of firefighters and police officers in the same breath, but it’s easy to see why, of these two first-responder occaptions, firefighters might be happier. Police officers deal all the time with the worst side of humanity. More than that, they deal with all sorts of ambiguous situations where it’s unclear whether or not someone is guilty, whether someone should be stopped and questioned, whether a domestic disturbance is a serious situation or something to walk away from, etc.

If you’re a firefighter, there might be a lot of false alarms, cats up in trees, and non-fire situations to respond to—but when there is a emergency, and especially when there’s a fire, it’s black-and-white: fire bad, people good. Plus, people are always happy to see you.

Finally, the #1 happiest job in the world:

1. Clergy: The least worldly are reported to be the happiest of all.

How about that.

What do people need most of all in life? Not pleasure or power. Not career advancement or personal development. What people need most of all is meaning. And while all good and useful work has meaning, it’s not hard to understand why those whose lives are dedicated to serving God find the deepest meaning, and therefore the most satisfaction, of all.

P.S. Sorry, financial services sales agents: I have nothing special to say about you.

How about you? What do you do, and how happy are you about it?