Social Question

liminal's avatar

What makes work meaningful?

Asked by liminal (7712 points ) February 16th, 2010

I was listening to a Mike Rose interview that started me thinking about how I have found meaning when it comes to work. I’ve noticed that there are those who find meaning and identity in work, that there are those who “work to live, not live to work”, and that there are those who are some interesting hybrid of the two (undoubtedly you’ve seen others).

Regardless of your approach, what meaning do you find in work? What makes work meaningful?

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37 Answers

erichw1504's avatar

Work can be meaningful? Let me in on the secret.

Broken_Arrow's avatar

The paycheck

Dan_DeColumna's avatar

Nothing. If you believe in Nihilism, life is without objective meaning. There is no meaning to anything.

liminal's avatar

@erichw1504 :) I am of the persuasion that all occupations require aptitude. I think some find work to be meaningful because it allows them an expression of their gifts.

njnyjobs's avatar

Work is meaningful when you are fulfilling your objective in doing the task. Not to be confused with enjoying the task. You may be working and getting a great paycheck which is meaningful in terms of your financial goal, but then you may be working for a horrible boss that you can’t stand working for.

TehRoflMobile's avatar

The pain can be part of it, you may feel accomplished. Another thing that may make work meaningful is meaning itself. When you work, you are contributing one way or another, making one feel like they have a purpose or they are needed.

Cruiser's avatar

Making something happen that never happened before that also makes a profit! Hearing a customer say thank you or to make them laugh is pretty cool. Having money in the bank helps make it meaningful in other ways. Knowing my coworkers value my efforts is a biggie.

liminal's avatar

@Dan_DeColumna I always forget about the meaning of Nihilism, thanks for the link.

Vunessuh's avatar

Having passion for what you do.

Dan_DeColumna's avatar

@liminal It almost looks like there should be a tilde after that comment, lol. Thanks though.

liminal's avatar

@njnyjobs and @TehRoflMobile I like the distinction of finding meaning even when there may be a “noob” for a boss or pain involved.

Nullo's avatar

I like the kind of work that lets you look back and say, “Yeah, I did that.” I get that from building stuff.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

@Vunessuh -I couldn’t agree with you more.No Bullshit! lol!

CMaz's avatar

A warm body to sleep with.

borderline_blonde's avatar

It comes down to what you value, I think. Workers are necessary to keep society rolling, and I get that. I’m really happy that doctors dedicate their time to working the ER, that policemen are out there breaking up domestic disputes, and hell, even that there’s someone there to take my credit card when I pump gas. But everything’s turned into a bureaucracy, and it’s degrading to roll out of bed early every morning to help the guy at the top live comfortably (i.e. the guy who owns the company) through selling one’s time. So if you can look at the glass half-full and realize you’re a member of society doing your part, then there’s meaning to your work. If half-empty, you’re just a cog in a machine that benefits the few and oppresses the many.

Work: a necessary endeavor (unless you want to live under a bridge, and I personally don’t have the guts to do so).

the100thmonkey's avatar

@Dan_DeColumna: there is no objecrtive meaning to anything. By definition, meaning is subjective.

What makes my work meaningful is that it’s human, and is essentially based on human contact and experiences.

That, and contributing to putting a roof over my family’s head and making sure they have food and stuff they like.

Symbeline's avatar

If you enjoy your job and it’s your calling and what you’ve always wanted to do and genuinely feel that you’re providing the community and society with something constructive and that’s important for you, then I guess it means more than just paying the rent and keeping the repo man at bay.

But who am I kidding that never happens amirite.

dannyc's avatar

Helping someone with their needs, regardless of what work it is.

Bluefreedom's avatar

A sense of accomplishment.

philosopher's avatar

When your work contributes to the well being of other humans who can not help themselves.
When you are paid well and can provide well for those you love
These are the reasons I work hard..

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

I was fortunate enough to find ways to use skills I acquired either as part of my education or that I learned on my own to facilitate achieving my academic goals. That gave me great satisfaction because I was able to make unique contributions to tasks in which many others from numerous disciplines were involved that produced finished products that help to advance either the process of further research or added to the body of knowledge in one or more fields.

I realize that the specifics sound pretty esoteric but in truth finding ways to make what you and others are working to accomplish work better or produce better results can be accomplished in any type on work. I discovered that working in fabric warehouse of a drapery manufacturer.

Its about getting satisfaction from what you contribute to the process. Look beyond the mundane aspects of the work for your satisfaction and you will grow in what you do.

davidbetterman's avatar

if you don’t already know…
Nobody can tell you what makes anything meaningful to you. This is completely subjective. Asking others for help in re this matter is like cheating on finals.

As for nihilism…LOL, people who truly believe, “life is without objective meaning. There is no meaning to anything” might as well just kill themselves and be done with it…

faye's avatar

Doing it right always has made me feel satisfaction. Though, even if you paid me lots and I do it ‘right’ a million times, I’ll never find housework meaningful.

lostinyoureyes's avatar

Zomg, this is a great question.

I don’t have the answer, but I can say that I enjoy work a lot more when what I’m working for a cause…not necessarily for charity. Having a job of trying to make the government look good for example, is soul-killing for me….. Unless I was homeless poor I don’t think I would ever commit to that kind of job long-term.

Also, I’m a pretty conscientious person.. I don’t always just think about myself… and when co-workers are the same, it makes such a great work environment. Working with people who genuinely care about what they’re doing makes me feel confident in asking questions, sharing ideas…. people whose goal isn’t to just make it through the day half-assed. Sometimes people just need a leader who cares… but I can’t be that leader because I’m too sensitive to my environment I think. I’m affected by people around me, and not vice versa, unfortunately.

Tenpinmaster's avatar

When you don’t feel like your actually working, or you leave with a smile knowing that you did something special, and made a difference. Though I work in a office I feel the information I provide my employee’s and the assistance we give our customers makes a difference in their lives or saves them money which helps their overall bottom line. As long as I keep a positive outlook on your work, it can create meaning.

lilikoi's avatar

It depends on what you value.

wundayatta's avatar

Doing something you think is important and helps a lot of other people.

SeventhSense's avatar

There is no meaningful work possible yet. As long as the motive to make money and discharge debt is the primary motivation at the base of everything, then there can be no authentic work in our society. Maybe it can be seen in an obscure back village of the Congo or in New Guinea.

Pazza's avatar

Funny my motto has always been ‘work to live, not live to work’.

Work sure has a meaning, its means I’m a slave….....

To make it meaningful, I think has to involve bettering the lives of humankind and all other earthlings, in the end, whats the point in doing a job if its just for profit?

Things aren’t meaningful, not to me at least, tho I know countless people who think they are. Really meaningful to me is enjoying my life with the people I love and care for deeply, working is only a means to an end, tho I’m sure the ducting job I’m working on now will probably be the end of me!, its certainly taking its toll on my homelife at the moment.

Hopefully when the kiddiwinks are all a little older and all in school, my wife will be able to go back to work and get us off this precarious tight-rope of a breadline.

As for an identity, not sure I want work to give me a sense of identity, that would mean I’m pampering to the supressed ego thats lurking around in the bowls of my subconcious. Over the last 5 years, I’ve finally discovered who I am, I’m not about to give up that identity for an ego, even if it means higher social status and or acceptance.

I JUST NEED MORE MONEY!.......sorry ego outburst, he’s not fully under control yet!

hey-ho, back to work we go

SeventhSense's avatar

Society has no interest in creating meaningful work, finding answers, implementing solutions or changing anything. Add more debt. Make more money. Subjugate the value producers until you kill them through burdensome debt which has no inherent value and adds nothing. Nothing is ever added to the debit side except imaginary numbers but the masses are suposed to add to the credit side by their blood sweat and tears to keep the machine moving until they are dead from disease or exhaustion. Make more debt. Discharge debt. It’s parasitical and we are the host. Who is the parasite?
here’s Bob with the weather

Pazza's avatar

@SeventhSense – I hate the term human resource. I’m currently learning how to give up my persondom with the machine. First things to take back will be:

My right to travel – bye bye drivers licience
My property/land owner rights – bye bye land registry
My TV! – bye bye TV licence

Nice to see somebody who sees the game as it really is.

I suppose the parasites are the intangible/fictional corporations, tho since they don’t really exist, can’t we just ignore them, and tell them to F@*k off with their debt?

I used to think Bono and the like were on a noble march with the ‘drop the debt’ campaigns, till I realised that the debt was the control mechanism and the parasites wern’t going to give that up any time soon.

Maybe thats what the banksters define as ‘meanigful’?

“Welcome to persondom, you are all now my slaves, my work finally has meaning!”

SeventhSense's avatar

@Pazza
I don’t think it’s necessarily the corporations. They do in fact provide us something tangible. The parasites are the bankers and the financiers with their commercial code, lawyers and methods of manipulating instruments of debt creation which do nothing but insure their survival. The farmer who brings his wheat to market or the manufacturer who creates an automobile are simply used by him as well. They simply have a more symbiotic relationship with the parasite but are still preyed upon.

Can any person ever imagine being hundreds of billions of dollars in debt and then coming to the government having their debt expunged, added to another’s debt and have absolutely zero net effect? This is unbelievable at face value but we accept it like it’s normal. And the reasoning is that we are held hostage by a system which may collapse and have a ripple effect. But do we change the system? It’s actually better for me not to work than to work in this system since my debt simply adds to my burden. It’s the biggest sham in the history of mankind.

Money has no real value today. It’s not goods, it’s not gold, it’s not services. Debt is created by offering loans and money is created. This is discharged by value producers who are then used to create more debt. Those who manipulate interest rates and sell our debt as if it were a commodity are profiting from an imaginary system which they created.

Jeruba's avatar

Ideally I would have worked at something I truly loved doing. When you do that, the line between work and play becomes arbitrary. If you have a passion for your work, it is very fulfilling.

If you can’t earn your livelihood doing what you love most, and you have to just find a job, I think there are three things that make it meaningful:

— The opportunity to do something you do well, so that you can take pride in what you accomplish.
— The opportunity to learn from what you are doing so you can grow while you do it.
— The respect and regard of your peers, those who understand the work you do, which is more meaningful recognition than praise from other colleagues or commendations from superiors.

I also want my work to help someone, to be inherently interesting, and to have lasting value, at least on a relative scale, so that I can invest myself in it and be rewarded with something more than dollars. Those three elements were missing from much of my career, and especially the last ten years in high-tech, a soulless enterprise. I am making up for that lack now and no longer caring about the dollars.

spiritual's avatar

I find my job meaningful, and very interesting, and I have learnt so much from it. I am amazed to be honest that I could have a job like I do.
I know that every day I have thousands of lives literally in my hands, and it’s a very responsible and complex job.
Instead of management having an “us and them” ethos, it’s very much an ethos of working together, as the management know they couldn’t cope without us.

liminal's avatar

It is encouraging to read so many ways of encountering work that don’t hyper-focus on making of money.

In my own life I have transitioned from a paid career in education, criminal justice, and social justice into staying home and educating my children. The transition, surprisingly, showed me how closely I tied my identity to working and helping others. I have shifted to a place where work now holds the meaning I give to it. I no longer find my sense of self in the works I do but express and honor myself, as well as others, through the works I do.

I am preparing to enter the paid work world again and you all have given me some precious things to consider as I discern my path. Thank you.

mattbrowne's avatar

When the answer is a clear yes for the following two question:

Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day?

Do other people have better life because of my work?

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

The meaning I found in work is that I have to work harder to be able to make more money as I slept than I could spend while I was awake.

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