Great Jobs--What Makes A Job Great?

All Great Jobs Share Some Key Features

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“T.G.I.F.” The acronym for "Thank God It's Friday" is widely recognized in American culture, and is synonymous with the desire to escape a boring job. Thankfully, because of the contributions that Positive Psychology has made to our understanding of work, we can hope to move toward a society of people who enjoy their work, institutions that thrive and succeed at their goals, and a culture of people who are more fulfilled in the next generation than in previous generations.

And we can all see our jobs as great jobs.

The Three Categories of Work

While there are many, many different jobs to be done in the world, Positive Psychology researchers have defined three different categories of work: jobs, careers, and callings. Jobs occupy our time, but don’t stir our passion or engage our personal strengths; they are a means to an end: a paycheck. If a job offered no payment, workers would not do them.

Careers, on the other hand, offer a series of rewards beyond the money that goes with the job. These rewards are generally comprised of a series of goals to be met, or a ‘ladder to be climbed’; a series of promotions and increasing levels of salary, responsibility and prestige turn a job into a career.

Still, though, career workers look forward to retirement, and once the promotions are no longer forthcoming (or once they reach the top of the ladder), the career quickly feels like a ‘job’ again, and these jobs are often quit.

Callings, however, differ from jobs and careers in that they offer more than money or accomplishment; they offer meaning in life, which is an internal reward. Callings require the use of special strengths, provide a feeling of flow, and tend to bring intrinsic motivation from the individual—when a job is a calling, the worker generally feels the work itself would be worth it even without a paycheck, promotion or other form of outside compensation.

This is a great job!

How to Find Greater Satisfaction with Work

Individuals can find greater satisfaction with work, and perhaps turn a job into a calling, by finding meaning in their work, and discovering how to utilize their signature strengths in what they do. Workers can ask themselves questions such as, “What makes my work special? How does it benefit others? How can I use my particular gifts to make the world a better place on a daily basis?”

We have all had the experience of buying groceries from a clerk who is working a job—they talk to the bagger instead of the customer, they check their watch, their faces remain expressionless and their voice tone flat. Most of us have also been able to contrast that experience with one where the checker has created a calling out of their job—they look customers in the eye, notice if someone is down (making an effort to cheer them up), point out coupons that may be available, and generally elevate the sales transaction into a positive, almost therapeutic experience through caring and presence.

This simple example of creating meaning in one’s job can be replicated by virtually anyone--anyone who wants a great job.

Those in leadership positions can also encourage workers to enjoy their jobs more by assessing and utilizing the strengths of employees: who does what well? How can the company benefit from these talents? According to Martin Seligman, an extra 5 hours a week of work that utilized strengths and engages passion can actually lead to greater overall productivity, greater job satisfaction, better everything. Allowing people to utilize greater creativity (and be appreciated for that) will lead to greater flow and intrinsic motivation.

Read more about how to find greater job satisfaction.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. Finding Flow. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Nakamura and Csikszentmihayli. Motivational Sources of Creativity. In Aspinwall, L.G. and Staudinger, U. M. The Psychology of Human Strenths: Fundamental Questions and Future Directions for a Positive Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Assiciation, 2003.

Seligman, M. E. P. Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002.

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