A question for the Americans out there

QuestionI’m spending this week in Atlanta and Orlando studying how some major American Corporations do business – especially in regards to customer service.

I’ve already talked to employees and managers at Coca-Cola, CNN – and Hooters :o) You can see pictures from my trip here.

And here’s something I’ve noticed: Everywhere I go, I ask the same question, namely “what makes people happy at work here.” And I’ve noticed that the answers are never about work itself. People talk about career opportunities, they talk about salary and benefits, they talk about getting free concert tickets.

No one (so far) has said “Well, I really like my job because what I do is fun, and I get to work with some really nice people.” The closest was Dimitri Shreckengost of Coca-Cola who said that he has many friends at work, and indeed, Coca-Cola looked like a fairly happy workplace.

So here’s the question: Is that typical? Is that really how most Americans view work – as a means to an end rather than something that could (and should!) be pleasant in itself? What do you think?

43 thoughts on “A question for the Americans out there”

  1. I work in HR but for a company that does the kind of work that should make people happy to be doing – namely we contract to do social services. It should be rewarding and make people feel good to be helping the community but instead we have workers leave to take jobs in retail or as a bank teller because they pay more.
    No one gets up everyday and thinks “Gee! I love my job because it makes me feel good.” Instead it is all about making that mortgage payment.
    I love your book and would love to start my own company that uses the happy at work pricipals. The problem in the US is that old companies will never be able to change, you have the make the comapnies happy from the beginning.

  2. I think it’s split, honestly. There is a strong feeling of “just get to work whether you like it or not” with much of the culture in general, just from my general feel. However, perhaps it’s just me, but a lot of the people I know pay a lot of attention to how happy they are at work. If they aren’t happy then eventually they move on.

    Growing up, my father worked for Coca-Cola and a few other companies. I distinctly remember him both enjoying the environment (at Coke and the other places) and showing me some of the work he was doing. He was getting so excited and giddy about what he was working on, it was really amazing to see my normally laid back dad so passionate about something.

    I naturally fell into what I do, and make out okay, but I’d be doing it regardless of if I made more or less (well most of it, there’s always a few things you aren’t going to enjoy). I may just be lucky though. I’ve got some friends that are both ways. Some are in the job because it’s something they love, and some are just trying to find one that they can do to pay the bills.

    My wife was in a job she enjoyed, working for someone she really didn’t enjoy working for, so she got out of it and went on to try some different things, and she’s been trying out different jobs, getting experience, and seeing how much she enjoys it.

  3. Perhaps the difference isn’t about what makes us happy, but rather how we understand the word “happy.” Is it possible that in Denmark people hear a connotation of “contented” while in America people hear a connotation of “elated?” That would make them answer the question differently.

  4. I think Americans (and I am, of course, over-generalizing) think of being happy at work as having work that allows us to be happy in the rest of our lives. So long as the work provides enough compensation and benefits and doesn’t present us with seriously detrimental stress, we can call it happy.

    Unfortunately, as Scarlett alluded to in her comment, for a lot of us our “happiness” is tied to our financial security/buying power. We can’t count on medical care or support from our government when we are no longer able to work, so we need the job, whether it’s awful or not. I think that by separating our personal happiness from what goes on in our workplaces, we hope that we will be able to have happy lives in spite of our employment.

    Againm, this is obviously generalizing – I’m actually happy at work up here in Michigan, because the work that I do is (mostly) challenging and interesting, my co-workers are awsome people who I love to spend time with, and my boss is a caring and understanding guy who is a great leader. And we’re always trying to improve our little corner of the world, so we really appreciate all of your ideas and inspiration, Alex!

  5. I think many Americans are so busy feeling entitled its difficult for them to see being happy at work is just as much their responsibility as the company’s. I know it sounds cliche’ but happiness really is a choice. The older I get the more true this is.

    HR Wench

  6. I would like to comment although I’m a Dane. I used to work for Microsoft here in Denmark, and your observations sound fairly close to what I’ve experienced. I don’t want to be a bigot, but I must admit I grew tired of my American colleagues always being so pushy and goal-oriented when managers were around, never accepting an assignment unless it would further their careers, always networking upwards and namedropping, seeming totally uninterested in friendly, nonsensical banter during breaks.

    But Laura does have point: Since the social security isn’t so extensive over there, Americans have to pay more attention to their careers, as it could potentially make a lot of difference in their life.

  7. I feel that here in America, a lot of people seem to define success by achieving a high level of income, not being happy and content where they are in life.

    Most people I know are not happy in their careers, they work to pay the bills and not because they love what they do. The majority of people that are happy in their current positions are happy because they make a large amount of money for relatively little work, and/or they are in the ‘creative class’ professions – graphic designers, artists, thespians or other.

    People seem to struggle with defining happiness through consumerism and not through being inwardly happy and just enjoying life and their ‘work’.

    Just my point of view.

  8. As Laura and Pandora have already said, Americans can’t rely on a social safety net. So for those whose work is the only means of support, it’s difficult if not impossible to relax enough to enjoy it.

    I like my job and really enjoy the company of my co-workers. But I don’t think I’d really enjoy the work itself, or (related) take more creative risks, unless I had more security.

  9. I’d believe you’ve described a common perspective. Of the people I know, outright “hating” your job is in the minority. I know several people who love their work.

    As for me, I struggle with my job which is why I started reading this site. As per your book’s suggestion, I started keeping a Happiness at Work log. Typically: “I had some good interaction with this co-worker”, “I finally got that stressful task off my plate”, “I get to work in a clean, quiet environment”, etc. Nothing about my actual work, which fits into what you’ve described above.

    There was a time when I really liked my work. But I changed and my work changed and now I do something I’m good at, get paid well for, but am not engaged with. I’m currently too psychologically and financially dependent on my salary to change that.

  10. MappyB said many good things but you can come to it from another angle too. Someone I much admire (my boss, actually) once described himself as “a bass player with a day job.” Now, I know he gets a lot of satisfaction out of what he does professionally, but he doesn’t allow it to define him. I try to approach things the same way: I am happy at work in the sense of “content’/generally pleased/not dissatisfied,” but I work in order to do the things that make me happy, most of which are things I do on my own time.

    Someone else I know tends to resent “team bonding” activities or coworkers who are too eager to get all chummy and personal in the office. Her view, stated more or less explicitly, is “I’m not here for enforced friendship. I’m here to do a job and get paid for it.” And I think she’d call herself more or less “happy at work” too.

  11. This is just me, but it is my work that drives and excites me. I own my own business, so that probably has a lot to do with it. It took a long time for benefits like an actual regular salary to materialize. Even now that that nice (and necessary) perk has come to join the party, I still wake up every morning excited about what I do.

    Can you imagine what the world would look like if everyone did?

  12. In general, with all the generalization caveats others have mentioned, Americans see work as a what’s given for the job done regardless of their enjoyment of the work. So, compensation and benefits are just as important as what you’re doing because as another poster noted, we don’t have a nationally supported social system that’s much help if you don’t have a job.

    Also, this’ll vary depending on what generation you ask because you should understand that my parents’ parents went through the American depression. Just having a job was a big deal, and anything on top of that was your cherry on top.

    My parents’ view changed from their parents, but they were heavily influenced by that social situation that was nearly nation wide. As you move down in generation, we’re less influenced by those past social factors, but it still plays a big (unconscious) role in the American worker’s psyche.

    Even where people enjoy what they do, they’ll still have an equal drive to be fairly compensated for that admittedly enjoyable work. And when you don’t enjoy your work, you’re only upside is your compensation, but that’s OK, if you’re psyche is still driven by depression era values.

    And lastly, Americans tend to think they’re better than everyone else because of our economic value. That’s a big reason we see ourselves as #1, and that must mean that these things matter on an individual level too.

  13. I think most people here in my office, or even my company, in South Carolina, US are working mainly for the paycheck/benefits/security. There are a few who absolutely love what they do, but money is always a factor. I like my job, and I like the people I work with, and I think that most people here in the US stay in a job because of the money and the atmosphere, not because they truly enjoy the work itself.

    In my previous job, I was burnt out, and by the time I quit, the only thing keeping me there was that I’d miss the people I worked with. I quit without a job lined up, and it took 6 months to get a new permanent job, and I was actively trying to find work I’d enjoy. I definitely agree, with more security you can be more creative and take more risks in finding something you love to do.

    I was just talking about this to a co-worker – at lunch yesterday she was talking about how she wants to take a photography class – she photographs weddings and special events for friends. She’s got a cleaning service business on the side with her mother, which she hates, and she should give it up and go full tilt into the photography, because she lights up when she talks about it. But, there’s car payments and house payments and 2 teenage daughters, so…

  14. I am not surprised at the responses you got but I think more and more people are realizing that they can be in control of their life and turn things around.

    Either they change their perception about the job they have and make the best of it or change their values and move elsewhere.

  15. I think you’re responses are pretty typical of many people I know and work with. Even those who work in “Great Places To Work” are generally there only for the money and benefits. Most of them have something else that keeps them happy.

    My wife refers to it as the “cash and sex” jobs that many of us tend to have. One if what we do for the tangible things – cash. and then we have something we do – be it an actual paying job or a hobby that provides residual income – that is generally for the pure enjoyment – sex.

    The only people I know who have jobs that are both their cash and sex job are usually either independent artists and creatives who are successful enough to make a living doing what they love, or technical specialists who work in places that give them latitude to explore and grow within their beloved field.

    Most people in corporations are there mostly for the tangible benefits and since we must rely on employers to provide health care in the US, it is a pretty big incentive to work for a large, successful company.

  16. I think there’s something in American corporate culture that says “if you’re not trying to move up, you’re slacking” that leads to what you’re finding. Being content in a job is not looked upon as a good thing… it means you’re being lazy and not striving to be bigger/faster/stronger, which is what America is all about, right? (yes, that last bit was sarcastic. sorry.)

  17. There is a strong sense of doing what you have to in order to pay the bills, here in the States. There are far too many of us in jobs we hate because it was a job we could get. Part of the blame rests on the abundance of people available to fill the job positions and the advent of computer/internet aided resume/job board sites. It is hard to stick out in a stack of electronic resumes, to be noticed among all of the other applicants. There is little you can do to sell yourself after you have put in all of the catch phrases and key word you think the company you want to work for is screening for. You can do your best, but there may be someone else out there with one more key word than you had or one iota of experience/education more than you, and they move ahead of you in the “stack”. Rather than keep fighting for the job we really want, many of us settle for the job we get. We keep going, not because it makes us happy, but because it pays our bills. I find myself in the position of loving what I do, I am just not fond of where I am doing it. I love my job, I am good at it, that brings me some degree of happiness. I sit in traffic for up to an hour to get to work, I don’t feel appreciated by the company I work for, and I don’t feel I earn what I am worth. That takes away from my happiness to some extent. It is a give and take. The security provided by the job (insurance, enough money to pay the bills) and the fact that they allow me to work during the hours I need to in order that I am available to be home with my daughter when my wife is at work keeps me there. If I could find the same work at a different company for the same or greater pay and compensation (benefits), that would adhere to my scheduling needs I would be making that move for sure. Until I do, I keep doing a job love in a place I don’t.
    In the end I would say that far too many Americans go to work for a paycheck, not for happiness.

  18. Everyone has made great points and I agree with most of them. I would also add, that in my experience, many people have the attitude that “It’s called ‘work’ for a reason, otherwise it would be called ‘fun’.” It’s definitely a means to an end for many, and certainly for me.

  19. Dear Alex – since you mentioned my name on your site, I’ll join in the banter. Actually, I DO like my job very much. Our meeting on Tuesday, 13 November, was not the place for me to talk about my job/work, so I didn’t. The focus was on the things that your group wanted to learn about my company. If we had spoken one-on-one, I’d have opened up a bit more.
    In the course of my work, I encounter people from all over the world on average of once a week, and spend one to five days with them , which makes it very enjoyable. We are always exchanging ideas about life and art and film and literature, geo-politics and philosophy, etc. Reading the responses that have been posted thus far, it seems that there’s still a big difference between American and European cultures when it comes to work, even though the two sides are slowly coming closer together. It all comes down to two different types of values:
    (1) Optimism vs. pessimism and (2) space vs. time.
    The comment about “satisfied vs. elated” is spot-on. “Happy” means different things to us on different sides of the ocean. “O.k.” means “just barely good enough” or “that will do” in American English. To Scandinavians, “ok” means “great” or “fantastic,” in my experience.
    Being contented is not the same thing as having a lack of ambition. One of our past chairman said, “the world belongs to the discontented.” And one can interpret that in many ways, but what he meant was, that doing “ok” or doing just enough in life to get by, without trying harder and doing better and excelling at any and everything one does is simply unacceptable. Those who make the extra effort will find all sorts of rewards.
    Again, being American means that one is much more in charge of his/her own destiny, due to having more socio-economic freedom to rise above the place in life into which one was born. It’s hard for non-Americans to understand that sentiment when they haven’t been imbued with it for their entire lives. That is the basis of what makes us a nation of optimists.
    Optimism vs. pessimism
    One thing that has been missing from this on-line discussion is the acknowledgement that Americans generally feel optimistic about life and its possibilities. Many Europeans do not feel this way at all, which is a paradox, considering their generous social safety net. Some Scandinavians in particular tend to be pessimistic and even depressed, compared to Americans. Yes, we work hard in America, and we strive to get ahead and to improve ourselves, our minds, our careers and even our bank accounts. We earn our rewards, but we don’t look kindly on laziness. We know that we can choose a simple life or one with lots of extras, but the extras come at a price. If we want them, we have to work to make money to buy them. We all understand that equation. No one forces us to live the way we do. Yet the fact is that the “simple life” costs much more than it used to AND the boundaries of what is considered “simple” have been moved, as well. Simple is much more complicated than it used to be! We tend to pump our money into living for the moment, with little regard for the future, because we think the future will always be…. well, pretty good! This is reflected in our gig houses full of nice furniture and electronics…big cars….you get the idea.
    Space vs. time
    Here’s where I have found that we each value different things for different reasons, whether at work or at home. People value a thing and often use it as a substitute for what they otherwise lack. Americans have no time, so we value space: that’s one reason why we have the houses and cars that we have. We have 24 hour shops and conveniences, to compensate for working long hours, but we say that we have no time, ironically! It’s our own fault for over-programming our after-work or after-school activities. Lots of rushing around doing everything from A to Z, making sure that everyone gets to do what s/he wants, but that leads to disconnected lives. We interact but don’t really connect the way we should in a deeper way with family and friends.
    Europeans highly value time but live in densely populated societies with little personal space. I think that’s why they love to escape to exotic vacation spots for one month at a time!
    Americans can share their enthusiasm and optimism for life with Europeans (and have them understand that we usually work to pay for the lifestyles we choose, not because we LOVE to work so much!) Europeans can teach Americans how to relax and enjoy large blocks of time, which would refresh us, and reinforce family ties and friendships in a better way. Even so, just because Americans are different from Europeans does not mean that Americans are side is wrong and Euros are right, or the other way around. Each side has things to learn from the other and this blog is a nice way to do that! All the money in the world doesn’t buy happiness, although some cynics say it makes misery much more enjoyable. One has to choose happiness, choose that positive outlook on life, choose to see possibilities rather than obstacles…and happiness slips in quietly, before you know it.
    Anyone , anywhere, who manages to do what they love and love what they do, is extremely lucky. I know I’m lucky to live here in a beautiful city, in an enormous country, to have achieved an education that my parents only dreamed of, and to have a job that is intellectually interesting and gives me many privileges that I would not have in another post here, or in another corporation. And when you have optimism on your side and know that any good thing can happen on any given day, I think you unconsciously tend to create happiness by finding it all around you, in hidden places.
    Keep up the good work on sharing positive-ness and happiness! It was my pleasure to be your host on Tuesday, and I hope we’ll meet again very soon.

  20. As an American, I found interacting with some former co-workers of mine who hail from Europe very enlightening about how work and money are perceived differently in different cultures. A German lady I worked with told me that her sister, a single mother living in Germany, does not have a job — as a single parent, she simply can’t afford to work, she needs to have time to take care of her family. Here, that would be inconceivable. A single parent can’t afford NOT to work — if they don’t, they and their kids will starve, have no clothes to wear, and eventually wind up homeless. I still have no concept of how that actually works over there, I just have to take it on faith that it does.

    I think that work is a means to an end for us, because it is a strict necessity. If you don’t do it, you will wind up too poor to afford basic necessities of life, and very unpleasant things will happen. External negative motivation is the whole basis of our working lives.

  21. I must be an unusual American, because I cannot imagine tolerating a job that wasn’t meaningful to me. Granted, as a public librarian, I am not in a profit making career, but I don’t think I could be. My days can be draining and frustrating at times (in a poor urban setting, we just don’t have the funds we could really use to offer terrific services), but these experiences have taught me to be creative with what I have. And, we touch lives everyday – really!

  22. I believe that many Americans have a skewed perspective of what a meaningful job is to them. My job isn’t perfect and I do complain about working, but it does provide many great benefits to my life – social network, challenges, and consistency. We see how other people live and wish that we had a better life. If we really took a look at everything our jobs give us we would appreciate them much more.

    Although my destiny should be in my own hands, but I don’t have the means to work for myself yet, so I continue to put time in at my job. It’s a catch 22. I don’t want to love my job because that would mean that I won’t go out on my own. I think Europeans (my dad was born in Germany and my mother in Iceland) aren’t motivated by self employed because of the older structure put in place, so they are happier working for someone else. Europeans also have more laws protecting their job, so if they put a lot of energy into their job they know that they will be kept around to reap the rewards. They are also given more vacation time and as everyone knows time away from work lowers stress and creates a more fondness for their job.

  23. I am very happy at work! I have a TERRIFIC team, supportive management, an exciting product, eager, supportive customers, and have a home office in Hawaii (yeah, that helps).

    However, it has taken me a lot of searching to get here. I have worked with horrible teams, unbearable managers, an unimaginably bad companies.

    There is a quote by Calvin Coolidge that I choose to live by:

    “Press on. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

    This is what I credit my success and happiness to. An unending pursuit of happiness through persistence and determination.

  24. I guess I’m a typical American, because I view my job as a means to an end, the end being my real life in the outside world.

    The problem is that wage labor is unnatural. It’s a chunk of your life that you sell; you take orders from somebody else during that time and substitute their goals for your own. The difference between work and a job is the same as the difference between learning and schooling. Both of them involve the acceptance of tasks and priorities chosen by someone else, to suit their own interests. Your real life is the time when you do what matters to you, and you don’t have a boss.

    It’s probably a lot different for the self-employed, and for those in worker-owned cooperatives or self-managed workplaces. For them, their work is a part of their real lives in the same way as for the self-employed artisans and farmers who made up 90% of the American population 200 years ago. Subsistence farmers and the self-employed, historically, have taken wage labor only when they were driven into it by the propertied classes (hence the Enclosures, which reflected a conscious policy of getting more work out of the laboring classes by forcing them to accept jobs under the direction of others for whatever wage the employer chose to offer).

  25. Well being American (and not having Euopean influences to compare it from)
    I can say there as some people who are happy in their work, but it is people who have found a niche area they are really good at and for companies that are really outside of the box thinkers (Pixar Animation comes to mind).

    But as some have stated, Americans are Goal oriented, trying to be successful at any cost, tying their happiness to acheiving and buying. Yet you become what you are surrounded by. Americans (at least in Los Angeles, where I live) are surrounded by advertisements of ‘be rich and successful and you can be happy’ In the meantime most people are in a job that they don’t want to be in, but it pays the bills, sort of. Yet passivity also drives people to stay in their jobs.

    EXAMPLE: The company I worked for over 7 years was everything bad you could think about in bosses and comapanies. But they paid well, and over time I just got use to them being this way and if I ever thought of leaving I would look a little but things would get better at work and I would forget how bad it was and stop looking. So I stayed where I was unhappy. They of course were such a bad company that they went under and I was left to go on unemployment, yet it didn’t pay enough. So I went to work for Target Department Stores that was two blocks from me (I thought being so close I could really work there and work on my Graphic career on the side). Target advertises itself internally as “A happy and fun place to work for”. Being the happy go lucky person that I try to be I threw myself into the company… only months later to realize I was not having fun and that the company ethics and management did not follow the “happy place to work for philosophy”

    Having worked for a bad company that left me tired and depressed all the time I decided this was not going to happen again. I pulled out my massage table from years ago. Thew up some ads on the web and wow… I got people to come to me. Turns out I am good at massaging. And in one hour I make what I would have made at Target in 1 day of work. Sweet. So now I work maybe 10 hours a week to make ends meet and am starting to concentrate on utilizing the other 12 hours a day left to me to really change my life. Even looking at Vagabonding.

    The point of the story is I go back to Target to shop and bump into my old co-workers. They complain about the company, how hours are all over the place and they can’t get any real set schedule to persue their goals or dreams, how nothing has really changed. YET, they won’t leave. They stay there, just making ends meet. (Of course Target loses about 90% of their new employees over a 3-6 month period…something to be said about that too).

    Well I hope I made some kind of point to help someone on here.

  26. That’s a great story, Blair. The fact that Target can engage in practices that result in such an abysmal rate of turnover, with the astronomical training costs it entails, and still clean Wal-Mart’s clock, says something about the kind of “free market” that prevails in the corporate economy. The state subsidizes all the inefficiencies of bigness, and restrains competition; so the competitive penalties for such inefficiency are limited by the fact that every industry is dominated by a handful of firms sharing the same pathological internal culture.

    The typical large corporation pays a lot of lip-service to the “empowerment” fad du jour, whether it be Kwality, ISO-9000, Six Sigma, or whatever. But in fact such fads are implemented by bosses, which means they adopt only the rhetoric and practice what amounts to warmed-over Taylorism. If corporate management adopted Jeffersonianism as a management theory fad, they’d pay lip-service to the stuff about self-government and only really follow the part about screwing your slaves.

    Unfortunately the way it really works is that big business looks to see how bad its competitors are, in order to determine how bad it can afford to be (it’s what they mean by “competitive salaries and benefits” ;-) ).

  27. surely you know about the Enneagram personality type system Alexander?

    That system would (amongst many many many things) explain a lot to you regarding the general flow of not only personality/drive/motivation in people but also regarding the primary “style” in cultures throughout the world – if not you should most definately feel free to contact me anytime and will gladly introduce you to the best material, teachers, courses etc. that potentially could enlighten you and help you on your inspiring mission even more… :)

    Thanks for a great blog and for inspiration – keep up the good work!

  28. Wow, what a lot of great comments!! Can I just say that THIS is why I blog :o)

    I see in your comments mostly a validation of the general sense I got that many Americans are not motivated by their jobs, but by what their jobs give them.

    This can be, as mentioned, the salary, benefits, security, health care, career prospects or a chance to move up in life.

    And here’s my main point: When I advocate happiness at work, I’m not asking you to choose between all of those things and happiness.

    I deeply believe that in the long term, you will be more successful at work, make more money, enjoy more security, etc… if you are happy t work.

    You may have to make choices that affect this in the short term. Like quitting that job you hate to find something better. But in the long run, loving your job will give you all of that much more reliably for many reasons, but mostly because you will do a much better job!

    But as long as we tacitly accept that work is drudgery, we are less likely to make those choices.

    That is why I say that being happy at work starts with a choice – with the decision that “I will be happy at work.” If you’re not already, this will mean one of two things: Fixing things where you are, or moving on to a new job.

    Does that make sense?

  29. What I have found in the last 30+ years on the job is that we Americans are constantly pursuing happiness in things instead of the simplicity of life. And it is killing our real happiness with life. We become bogged down with debt, taxes and fear of job/financial security so much that we have lost sight of what really makes a human being happy.

    In the large corporation I currently am in, most of the coworkers are unhappy. Not only have the perks and praises which once made this large corporation such a great place to work now taken away from us, office supplies and the promise of overtime and salaray increases is gone due to “budget cuts”.

    But, as what has been said in your articles, we are faced with stupid “motivational contests” – a trophy cup rescued from the garbage dump and passed from team to team to decorate. And, once in a while, we even get served bagels by a manager. Wow.

    Somewhere along the line, corporations here in America have blindsided themselves with the idea that the bottom line is the only line that matters. If the customers keep coming in, who cares what they do with the employees.

    Your articles are dead-on.

  30. Not being American or European but Mexican I can tell you that most of us (middle – upper class Mexicans) have the same work culture that Americans do. At least from all my friends and the people I know in my social circle look for the same things Americans do as Dimitri said it in his comment. In Mexico City and mostly all big cities in Mexico we have the same focus the American culture has, sort of… “being much more in charge of his/her own destiny, due to having more socio-economic freedom to rise above the place in life into which one was born”

    I am 30 years old, consider myself bicultural (Mexican and American) since I spent 3 months every year during summer since the age of 3 until I was 15 attending a day camp in Louisiana so I grew up with lots of the American culture embedded in my perception of the world. I have the blessing of living in a beautiful country with lots of potential but with the unfortunate habit of comparing both systems and longing for that time when I can get the best of both… one where I can work in what I love and having the time at the same time to be with my family and friends.

    Mexicans are extremely optimistic about life, cheerful and devouted to help others and we simply give everything and open ourselves to anyone… at the same time we long for better quality of life and work really hard to achieve our dreams and to be “entitled” or demonstrate that we deserve to have all the possibilities we dream of that perhaps our parents never had… We strive to get ahead and to improve ourselves, our minds, our careers and even our bank accounts and many of that is reflected in the immigration problem between Mexico and the US. Illegal aliens go to the US looking for precisely that which Dimitri has stated so clearly, the extras that come at a price… in this case the price is extremely high for it may mean leaving your family behind for a while, living in fear for a while or even face death, just to achieve “the American dream” many people in the world have looked for and are still looking for at some point.

    I used to work as a teacher in junior high and highschool and was extremely happy with my job but wanted more money and less grading and stress so I changed jobs and applied for a position at an Embassy… I am not enthusiastic about my job now, I do not find it challenging nor rewarding enough, but I am mostly happy with the opportunities, the benefits, and the different vacancies I can apply for and I like my co-workers (except for the fact that they do not pay taxes)
    So, I am satisfied with the Embassy in general and the opportunities it portrays, not with my current job or position, but I have found that most of the Mexican emloyees are happy at work, with their jobs and they have all worked here for a very LONG time (10 years and up)… so, I hope someday I will be as happy as they are at work… although I do not imagine myself working here for so long (or at least not now because I do not like my position)

  31. I’m not an American, but have been travelling the entire Eastern Seaboard for close to three months now. And my experience is close to the one you describe, Alexander. I think I’ve only met one or two people who were really happy at work. One a senior officer in a large corporation, the other self employed…

    For myself – a Dane – my experience is that I need to have a manager – a boss – that I can look up to. Whenever I’ve had an intelligent, honest and innovative boss, I’ve been fairly happy!

  32. I’m in the US and based on people/friends I know, the diagnosis in this article is true – most people list the perks of the job as what makes it good, not the job itself. I find this unfortunate, but from my own “studies” it seems people would rather deal with a crap job if it affords the lifestyle they want.

    Myself, I do like my job – designer – but I also love the perks and the people. It is the free concert tickets… it is having people you can laugh with… it is good money… it is a cool environment… but without a tolerable daily work the perks make little difference to me.

    I don’t see a job as a means to an end. I take a strong belief that work should be fun and enjoyable. The times when I’ve found myself dreading going into work consistently are the times I’ve quit for a new job.

    But I’m unlike a lot of my friends. They are always seeking more money, more stuff, bigger titles…ego & image…that is their drive. I found a company where I’m happy for many reasons, including the daily grind. Money is hard not to follow here, but I’ve switched jobs for the “happiness factor” where my pay goes up hardly at all. I must say I wouldn’t take a job that reduces my employee value in return for utter happiness, but I think few would, regardless where they live.

    Overall, I feel us Americans are more interested in what we can show off to others, rather than keeping ourselves happy for ourselves. Of course, many find happiness by showing off what they have. A vicious cycle indeed.

  33. Claus – you are the first person in my 49 years that has ever said that about my name! 8-) I just remember that my grandmother was from the von Geist family….(as in ‘von den Heiligen Geist’) and that makes it much more balanced in meaning!

    All the comments are very interesting. Alex sums it up well. Choose happiness or move on to create it elsewhere. And those who are happiest whether it is created/found/whatever… probably will be more successful, by anyone’s measure. med venlig hilsen, *Dimitri*

  34. money,money,money makes the world go round….yet when you speak of the american way of life …whos economical way of life are you looking trough…(socio-economic freedom as dimitri said) i work to live last time i checked the only way i would be rich is if i were to hit the winning #’s lol maybe ill be happy then … lol..i am nothing but corprate dummy that would be reported and fired for wanting a union…no joke it was in my orientation …lol …who likes owing money…. america just has an economic status for the poor that offers them a way of life… and truth is its a hell alot better than other countries…but i have come to realize that as an american (figure of speech) you either kill or be killed…meaning that to get somewhere and have the materialistic “things” that makes all people “happy” you are going to have to step on someone or a couple of people to get ahead a little harsh but true….but then again what defines hapiness..

  35. some people are happy to meet their days needs others never seem to be content with what they receive ….i believe that alot of factors go into play when one says “I am happy with my job”… like a relationship a job is not perfect but there is always something that out weighs the other..

  36. I worked in retail for about 6 or 7 years, different stores, in Texas. I was miserable. I was lucky to get breaks to even use the restroom in my 8+ hour shifts. Even though it was illegal for them to deny me those breaks, it was better than losing my job and not being able to make rent and getting kicked onto the street. I am an educated individual with a degree, but retail was the only place I could find that would give me a job. I did not have debt- I was only working to pay for a small, run down place to live and for necessities such as food.

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