Vicars top the list of happiest workers

Winning choices: Making money may be less important than we think in choosing a career.

A UK government study has revealed that those with the highest paid jobs are not necessarily the most contented or fulfilled. Is well-being less dependent on wealth than we often think?

With last week’s Budget announcements still fresh enough for the papers to pick over, and the recent astronomical winnings of one lottery winner also in the news, it may seem that people care more about money than anything else.

But new research suggests this is not the case, and that lucrative careers do not automatically lead to happier lives.

According to figures produced for the UK government, vicars and priests have the highest job satisfaction, despite earning less than the national average wage of £26,500. And while company chief executives, who earn an average of £117,700 a year, form the second happiest group of employees, occupations with low salaries including fitness instructors and farmers are also found among the top 20 most satisfying careers. Pub owners and debt collectors are among those who least enjoy their jobs.

The average worker spends 100,000 hours toiling during their lifetime – which adds up to more than 11 and a half years – and ministers say they are committed to making sure it’s an enjoyable experience.

Prime minister David Cameron has repeatedly claimed that quality of life is as important as economic growth, a view seen as eccentric and even obstructive to the national interest by some other politicians. But this focus on well-being is not new. The 18th century philosopher Jeremy Bentham advocated organising society with the central aim of ensuring or encouraging the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people.

And this new research coincides with another report which suggests that our overall well-being is more important than our wealth. Last week, Action for Happiness published the results of a nationwide survey which asked people to identify the three factors that contributed most to their happiness. Only four in ten chose money, while 71% chose health, and 80% chose their relationships.

Happy and you know it

Is society as obsessed with wealth as we think? It is a frequent accusation, levelled at young people in particular, that celebrities are idolised and their luxurious lifestyles envied. Critics cite popular television programmes like ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’ and ‘MTV Cribs’. But the latest research suggests that being in control of what we do, and having a sense of purpose, is more important than earnings.

Others argue it is naive to think wealth and well-being are unconnected. We still believe that money, at the very least, opens up opportunities and allows us to help our families and even charitable causes dear to our hearts. Some may look on incensed at how much bankers earn and preach an alternative set of values. But for many, it is still and always will be money that makes the world go round.

You Decide

  1. What job would make you happiest? Why?
  2. Are we, as a society, more concerned with well-being or wealth? And is status attached to one or both of these?


  1. In groups, list the aspects of your life that make you most happy. Make another list answering the same question for your 40-year-old self.
  2. Select a number at random between one and 274. Go to Mark Easton’s BBC report in Expert Links and research the job that correlates to your chosen number, writing down its pros and cons.

Some People Say...

“Love and work, work and love, that’s all there is.’Sigmund Freud”

What do you think?

Q & A

I don’t have a job, so how does this research affect me?
If you haven't already given thought to your future career, you soon will, and ensuring you find a job that suits you and contributes to your overall happiness will enhance your life. This data might make you question whether earning lots of money is as important as we’re often led to believe.
So should I become a farmer or a vicar?
Not necessarily, particularly as these two jobs are dependent on circumstances and religious belief. And the data can’t necessarily prove that the jobs make people happy or sad. It could be that farmers and vicars are naturally happier people, the first enjoying outdoor life and the other buoyed by faith. But the report does provide some clues about fulfilling careers and what makes us feel fulfilled.

Word Watch

Every year in March, the second most senior member of the UK government, the chancellor of the exchequer, delivers a speech in the House of Commons setting out how the economy is faring, and plans for future tax and spending.
Astronomical winnings
A car mechanic, 41-year-old Neil Trotter, won £107.9m on the Euromillions lottery last week. He is the National Lottery’s fourth biggest winner and will become the 745th richest person in the UK, with a fortune higher than that of pop stars George Michael and Robbie Williams.
The Legatum Institute report by The Commission for Wellbeing Policy was published last week. It proposes a radical reform of public policy-making to focus on well-being, not simply economic growth.
Jeremy Bentham
Bentham (1748-1832) was a visionary social reformer, who spoke on subjects as diverse as prison reform, religion, poor relief, international law and animal welfare. He also advocated universal suffrage and the decriminalisation of homosexuality.
Action for Happiness
The organisation also co-ordinated The UN’s International Day of Happiness, celebrated last week. In July 2011, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a ‘fundamental human goal’.
MTV Cribs
A successful reality television show which featured tours of the mansions of celebrities. The most watched and replayed episode was a one-hour special featuring the singer Mariah Carey’s New York penthouse.

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