Brooks: Most Americans Regret They Can’t Work More. Really?

From Arthur C. Brooks, Gross Domestic Happiness:-Advice to policy makers: We should celebrate our work, not impose greater leisure. (p. 202). One piece of is there a generic cialis evidence is survey data that shows that the overwhelming majority of Americans surveyed are satisfied with their jobs. I remember being surprised when viagra mail order analyzing surveys of federal employees that also showed the overwhelming majority reported being satisfied. However, if you looked at responses to does generic viagra work other survey questions, you saw dissatisfaction with pay, micro-management, poor management, and other quality of worklife factors. I concluded that people were satisfied with the work they actually did despite their dissatisfaction with the other qualities of their workplace. He then presents data that shows that people who are satisfied with work are more likely to be happy than those who are not satisfied. He states, “the data are overwhelmingly clear that for most Americans, work in and of itself brings happiness.”( p. 159). While there may be an association between job satisfaction and happiness in life (and he provides no such measure in his analysis), association does not mean the relationship is causal nor does it indicate which one is the causal variable. It is possible that people who are generally happy with life are more likely to be resilient in facing challenges at work and therefore report feeling satisfied. viagra vs cialis Brooks goes on to state, “Most Americans regret they can’t work more, not that they best canadian online pharmacy reviews can’t work less,” The data? He reports a 1998 study that found “only 11 percent of the American workers said they wished they could spend much less time on their paid work—versus 12 percent who said they could spend much more time on it.” (p. 159). There are several problems here. First he provides no details about this study so we cannot assess its quality; the footnote refers to other data–a not uncommon mistake in writing books. I know. This is picking nits. As a sophisticated reader, however, I want to know how the scale was constructed. Not only is “wishing to work less” not the opposite of “could work more,” I also do not know the middle category. Maybe most people say they are content to work about the same amount as they do now? In any case, 12% is not most and it is misleading to have this nice soundbite– “most Americans regret they can’t work more”–in the book. I also want to know whether the ones who said they “could generic cialis online work more” were part-time workers or unemployed. Did he control for that? I also find it hard to believe that just 11% say they wished to work less. I know I wanted to work less, especially when raising my son but not if I had to take a salary cut or lose benefits. A sophisticated user would want to know the precise wording of the questions asked in order to judge the credibility of the evidence he provides. Brooks quotes one of my favorite authors, Victor Frankl. Frankl was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp and made an existential choice to find meaning even in the worst of human conditions through service to others. Here Brooks uses a sleight of hand trick: while it is likely true that people desire to lead meaningful lives where they make a difference, Brooks sums it up as “happiness is a full-time job.” That is not quite the same thing. To his credit, he later presents data showing the importance of volunteer work. I share his belief that people search for meaning in life and the data showing that most people seek meaning in work makes intuitive sense. It is also true that unemployment is likely to be associated with unhappiness. In our culture, unemployment brings with it feelings of failure and shame, as well as a sense of powerlessness and lack of control over one’s destiny—so clearly, these are not happy-inducing emotions. But is it inherently unhappiness provoking? While driving home from Portland, I heard a story about Leipzig Germany that helped jobless men and women find a sense of purpose through music.[1] “Three quarters of the choir members are jobless, and half have been unemployed for more than five years. A few retirees have also joined in. The rehearsal room is filled with laughter and camaraderie. This day, someone’s brought a cake to celebrate their birthday. Members turn up 20 minutes early, eager to sing, just as they linger afterwards, reluctant to leave. For many, the twice-weekly rehearsals provide structure and human contact that they miss from their days at work.” While I have no disagreement with Brooks that the government should provide economic opportunity for all and do what it can to ensure jobs are available that provide enough income so people can lead “happy” lives, paid work might not be the only path to meaning, purpose and social connection. Whether the government should be supporting community glee clubs is a policy debate I will leave to others.

[1] National Public Radio, April 7, 2010.

One thought on “Brooks: Most Americans Regret They Can’t Work More. Really?

  1. Jon Stewart had Arthur C. Brooks on the June 1st Daily Show . Brooks, in his role as President of the American Enterprise Institute and author of a new book about free enterprise.
    No, Jon did not ask him about happiness.

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