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What Is an Intrinsic Satisfaction on the Job--Big Money, or Big Happiness?

Choosing a college major is no easy feat. Students strive to pick paths that will bring both money and happiness when they launch into the workforce--but there's no guarantee all high salary careers will be enjoyable, or that the top careers for job satisfaction pay well. This conflict begs a question about future careers: What is an intrinsic satisfaction on the job--earning good money, or being happy? Does making big bucks guarantee happiness?

Experts and workers say what is an intrinsic satisfaction on the job varies depending on the individual, but most agree money doesn't buy anyone happiness. For example, a student who's good at math and science may be well-suited for high salary careers such as computer engineering or electrical engineering. He might end up pursuing these paths because he knows he can succeed and make money, even though he'd prefer to pursue sociology, which pays less. Steve Rothberg, president and founder of CollegeRecruiter.com, a job board for students and recent graduates, says many young adults take this tack, forgetting to consider what jobs they'd like to do and what is an intrinsic satisfaction on the job for them.

"That is the piece I find missing from the job-search process most. People tend to think just because they’re good at something, they should be employed in that field. If you're good at numbers, be an accountant, right? No, not necessarily," Rothberg says. If you're good at numbers and enjoy writing software code, he suggests following that path instead of accounting.

What is an Intrinsic Satisfaction on the Job: Money

Daniel Gilbert, a social psychologist at Harvard University and author of the book "Stumbling on Happiness," says most people hold inaccurate, flawed ideas about what will make them happy. "Few of us can accurately gauge how we will feel tomorrow or next week. That's why when you go to the supermarket on an empty stomach, you'll buy too much, and if you shop after a big meal, you'll buy too little."

He says research shows two important findings about happiness:

1. Money makes us happier, but only to a point. Decades of studying the tie between wealth and happiness have shown economists and psychologists that wealth boosts human happiness when it raises them "out of abject poverty and into the middle class but that it does little to increase happiness thereafter," according to Gilbert's book. Americans earning $50,000 a year are a lot happier than those making $10,000, but Americans pulling in $5 million every year aren't much happier than those making $100,000.

2. Relationships trump money. Gilbert says the best predictor of happiness is the relationships people have with others and the amount of time they spend with family and friends. "We know that it's significantly more important than money and somewhat more important than health. That's what the data shows. The interesting thing is that people will sacrifice social relationships to get other things that won't make them as happy — money. That's what I mean when I say people should do 'wise shopping' for happiness," he explains.

Part of why we chase money, Gilbert says, is because society perpetuates the belief that money brings happiness. The belief may not make us happy, but it certainly bolsters our economy. It is a vortex without end: people chase money and stuff, which supports the economy, which serves a stable society, which continues spreading the notion that money buys happiness.

Elia Kacapyr, professor of economics at Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y., agrees with Gilbert. "Everyone has heard that money doesn't buy happiness, but we seem to forget that," he says, noting it would be better for us if we remembered the item we want at the mall won't deliver happiness. But that way of thinking wouldn't serve the economy.

What is an Intrinsic Satisfaction on the Job: Happiness

When it comes to what motivates young adults to pick certain careers over others, Ryan Healy, co-Founder at Brazen Careerist, an online career center geared to Generation Y, says money always plays a part. Yet he believes the decision-making hinges more on happiness.

"From my experiences, the majority of students are looking for a major that will provide them with a solid foundation in a subject that interests them. Gen Y knows, from an early age, that they will have many jobs and many careers, therefore picking a highly technical major to prepare you for a specific career does not make much sense. That's what grad school is for, if you go that route," notes Healy, 24.

Despite the fickle economy and soaring costs of almost everything, Gen Ys still have options, he says: "Young adults can pick careers that interest them and are fulfilling. If that career happens to have a high pay out, great. If not, there's plenty of time left to worry about money AFTER you try a career you really want to do."

Or you might consider the opposite approach. Laurence Shatkin, senior product developer at JIST Publishing, suggests if you have college debt to repay, first take a career or job that pays well and helps you tackle your bills. This might enable you to pursue something you love--but that pays less--later on. The key to making such a plan successful, he says, is in being flexible and networking; this way, you build a base of contacts within your future industry.

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