LA TIMES: Busy bodies, happy minds


September 20th 2010.

18yi4wgb144ttjpgWith unemployment idling near 10%, the negative effect of job loss on mental health has assumed a sharp relevance. Losing work has been linked to depressive symptoms, heavy alcohol use and even long-term psychological damage.

But research suggests that loss of income explains only part of this pain. The rest has something to do with the deep connection people forge between themselves and their work.

In several recent studies, social scientists have zeroed in on why paychecks alone can’t explain the link between work and well-being. The evidence shows that people can find meaning in seemingly insignificant jobs and that even trivial tasks make us far happier than no tasks at all.

“We become very dedicated to things it would be hard to be dedicated to if we were perfectly rational,” says behavioral scientist Dan Ariely, author of “The Upside of Irrationality,” published in June. “It turns out you can give people lots of meaning in lots of ways, even small ones.”


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By Eric Jaffe