Where Happy People Work: Job Satisfaction and the Most Enjoyable Jobs

Career and salary aren’t the only things you need to be happy at work or life. Even the world’s most rewarding jobs won’t guarantee happiness. But as part of a balanced life, your career can certainly play a major role in your overall happiness. So, what are the most enjoyable jobs in the U.S. and what is it about the most enjoyable jobs that contribute to ones overall happiness in life? A University of Chicago study, “Job Satisfaction in the United States,” offered some insight.

Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at UC, elaborates: “Happiness is determined by how much satisfaction you get from all domains of life-personal, the community you live in, and work is an important domain, so it’s one of the major components of overall happiness.”

According to the study, the most enjoyable jobs, based  on general happiness are:

1. Clergy Jobs
Job Description: Conduct religious worship and perform spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination. For clergy, job satisfaction is gained through intense faith, and the act of providing guidance and counsel to others.

Very happy: 67.2%
Median salary*: $44,102

2. Firefighter Jobs
Job Description: Control and extinguish fires, protect life and property and conduct rescue efforts. Firefighters live their lives on the call to public service. Although the hours are long, and risks are high, firefighters also experience high job satisfaction, and are held in high esteem by their communities.

Very happy: 57.2%
Median salary: $45,553

3. Travel Agent Jobs
Job Description: Travel agents plan and sell transportation and accommodations for travel agency customers. Imagine the job satisfaction of creating vacations for others. Everyone love a vacation, and the happiness rubs off on travel agents.

Very happy: 56.5%
Median hourly rate (travel agents): $14.23

4. Architect Jobs
Job Description: Plan and design structures, such as private residences, office buildings, theaters, factories, and other structural property. Not only do Architects create the buildings we depend on to live and work in, but they also obtain job satisfaction from using creativity in their designs. 

Very happy: 53.5%
Median salary: $54,079

5. Special Education Teacher Jobs
Job Description: Teach school subjects to educationally and physically handicapped students. Teaching is not necessarily an easy thing. But most teachers have at least one story of connecting with a student, and the job satisfaction that comes with knowing they’ve helped someone.

Very happy: 52.6%
Median salary (preschool, kindergarten or elementary school): $41,344
Median salary (secondary school): $43,060

6. Professional Actor Jobs
Job Description: Actors play parts in stage, television, radio, video, or motion picture productions for entertainment, information, or instruction. Not only do actors experience job satisfaction from using creativity, but they also get to entertain people, and make them happy.

Very happy: 51.0%
Salary varies greatly

7. Science Technician Jobs
Job Description: Use principles and theories of science and mathematics to solve problems in research and development, and to help invent and improve products and processes. Scientists experience the job satisfaction of contributing to people’s health and the understanding of the world.

Very happy: 51.0%
Median salary (research scientists): $72,435

8. Automotive Technician Jobs
Job Description: Automotive service technicians and mechanics diagnose, adjust, repair, or overhaul automotive vehicles. With diagnosing and repairing vehicles comes the thrill of solving puzzles, and the job satisfaction of providing service to others.

Very happy: 53.6%**
Median hourly rate (mechanics/auto tune up): $15.26

9. Industrial Engineer Jobs
Job Description: Design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes. Job satisfaction for industrial engineers comes from designing and managing systems that make jobs easier, and improve efficiency.

Very happy: 48.4%
Median salary: $61,729

10. Airline Pilot Jobs
Job Description: Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers pilot and navigate the flight of multi-engine aircraft in regularly scheduled service for transport of passengers and cargo. Pilots carry a lot of responsibility on their wings, but they also experience job satisfaction from having others depend on them for safe travel.

Very happy: 49.1%
Median hourly rate (airline pilots, copilots, or flight engineers): $63

So what is it about the world’s most rewarding jobs that spur happiness?

The Rev. Dr. Rick Wright says he enjoys helping people and being creative.

“With ministry I get to tie in my fundamental beliefs about God and life with what I do all day. So I get to work with people and assist them. And in ordained ministry I think it’s a bit unique in that people will open up to you because you are a priest/pastor and share who they really are inside,” explains Wright, senior associate rector at The Falls Church in Virginia.

Stephen Moon, an architect with The Beck Group in Atlanta, says an important part of his job satisfaction is due to his employer expanding his experience, and letting him have access to the construction and development sides of the business.

Melissa Benedict, a research scientist at The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y., says she likes helping others: “If we can help just one person with the research we’re doing, that’s really rewarding. Hopefully it will help more people in the long run. … A lot of times with research you don’t get that, so when you can help it really makes a difference.”

*All salary data are from PayScale.com and show median salary or hourly rate for each profession for workers with 5-9 years of experience.
**For an explanation of study rankings and percentages, see “Job Satisfaction in the United States,” footnote 3, page 1.