This analysis was conducted by Andrew Van Dam, who dives into vast databases of meaningful employment to answer readers’ questions. In this case, he examined thousands of journals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to find out who is happy and who is not.
Among all this data, perhaps a more important question is: what is happiness?
As a teenager, I once asked my lawyer father if he was happy. He pursed his lips, thought for a moment, then said, “For some people, happiness is the absence of stress.” I assumed he was referring to himself. He also said in another conversation that he thrives on stress, from which I concluded that life is often contradictory. However, his answer was consistent with the survey results – the less stress, the greater the satisfaction.
So who are the lucky devils who love their jobs? envelope please And the winners are: loggers, foresters and farmers.
The common denominator of the three is obvious. They all work mostly outdoors, soloists in dialogue with nature, far away from office stress and paperwork. Farmers live close to the earth, tilling and smelling the soil, planting, tending and harvesting crops and ending each day with the satisfaction of having done something worthwhile. You feed the world.
Likewise, foresters oversee forested areas with a view to conservation. They work to preserve ecosystems while mitigating climate change. A single 30-foot tree can store hundreds of pounds of carbon dioxide during its lifetime and even beyond if used for homes or furniture, according to the Department of Agriculture.
Lumberjacks, the ultimate arborists, harvest trees for homes, furniture, and other consumer goods. They are also partly responsible for the deforestation, but they also enjoy their work and apparently have little stress.
What does not come up in the analysis are any metaphysical reasons why such workers are happy. I would argue that it is because they spend their time close to nature. In my experience, living in harmony with the cycles and seasons of the earth – and I don’t mean online shopping for outerwear – has a beneficial effect on the body, mind and spirit. Tibetan monks build monasteries on remote mountain peaks. Henry David Thoreau lived alone for two years in a tiny cabin he built overlooking Walden Pond. And many people are finding a new sense of self and purpose through wilderness programs like Outward Bound and the National Outdoor Leadership School. Nature works wonders.
City dwellers might say they experience nature in an urban way – perhaps by spending a day in a park. Or they observe the ups and downs of the oceans, rivers and lakes while on vacation. To see wild animals, they can go to a zoo. But such viewer adaptations miss the point: It’s one thing to observe the natural world; it’s something else entirely to be a part of it.
Most people are apparently fine with watching. Today, 83 percent of Americans live in urban areas. According to the World Bank, 56 percent of the world’s population or 4.4 billion people live in cities. By 2050, 7 out of 10 people will trade the hum of nature for the arias of the city.
The reasons for this migration trend are obvious and reasonable: jobs, entertainment, restaurants, theater, shopping and all the other wonderful things that only cities can offer. But the downsides are not insignificant – crowds, traffic, noise, pollution and loss of space are assaults on the senses. Humans are animals too, we forget that sometimes and then we get into trouble. No wonder so many children and adults are treated for anxiety.
On a more mundane level, the allure of the city is exacerbating the urban-rural divide and certainly promising even greater political polarization. The issues that move city dwellers and country dwellers are as different as lawyers and lumberjacks.
Given that one of these groups is happier than the other, I can’t help but wonder what the exodus from rural habitats to urban labyrinths means for our humanity.
I know that when I’m alone in the woods where I currently live, keeping an eye on the hawks and an ear to the wind, I’m calm and unconcerned. Oh sure, I enjoy city life like everyone else and do frequent forays – from which I happily retire to the woods, stressed out by traffic and too many people. Once this column is done, I’ll chop some firewood, plant some trees and some potatoes, and probably evolve into a higher life form. See you on the mountain top.