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July 23, 2012 at 11:31 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

Work Important For Emotional Well-Being

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

I spent this past weekend putting ceramic tile in a room of my house - hard work, for sure, but when I finished and surveyed the end product, I must say, I was proud.

Amidst the grind and stress of a typical day at the office, I sometimes force myself to think of the positives this same way  as I drive home.  Ultimately, work is good for us all.

This blog will focus on the importance of work to our life satisfaction and sense of accomplishment. 

Redefining Work

My personal definition of work may be broader that most people's. As a doctor, part of my job is helping to determine if people and unable to engage in “meaningful and gainful employment” and therefore qualify for disability benefits.  However, for those I do decide fit disability criteria, I am quick say that although they may not be employed, it is important to continue to lead meaningful and gainful lives. I explain, that work is not something that necessarily brings us money, but rather something that leads to accomplishment. A paycheck does not define work and I encourage non-employed persons to continue to accomplish, engage in hobbies, volunteer, get creative.

A Real Life Story

A couple years back, a patient of mine became disabled from his job due to severe neck pain.  Despite surgery, he was left with serious dysfunction and as result of his new-found idle time, he became depressed and his health suffered in other areas. It wasn't until he started playing an online adventure game that his mood improved and he began to feel better about himself.  Though the work exerted wasn't the type most of get paid for, he was getting the same thing from it: a sense of normalcy as he showed up in the game community each day,  a sense of accomplishment as he put forth effort and worked toward a goal, and a sense of belonging as he interacted with people and belonged to a team once again. 

In time, with the benefits of his hobby,  his depression lifted and health began to improve despite his disability.

Working After Retirement

I also have similar conversations with my soon-to-retire patients. Going from 40 hours a week to zero after many years is not as easy as it may seem. I tell them that work, in some capacity, should continue to happen. While the nice thing about retirement is that it is completely on the retiree's terms, really answering to no one but themselves, they should continue to make something of most every day. 

Everybody has heard about “that guy” who worked incessantly for years and then dropped dead the week after retiring. It really happens, and often enough to make sure that people are retiring in a healthy fashion!

Are You Working the Healthy Way?

While for the most part, work is a very good thing, it can also be a damaging thing if we allow it to be.

Workoholism stems from a compulsion and a drive built upon the good feeling of accomplishment, but gets taken too far. It becomes dominant, uncontrollable and clouds other important aspects of our lives. While work is good, too much of a good thing is not good at all.  If work infringes upon your health or duties to your marriage or family, you are working too much. Further, while some gripes and stress are to be expected with any sort of job, it's important to be aware of work-related stress that has moved beyond a healthy level.

In work it is important to keep the following in check, no matter what your occupation or activity may be. Here are my personal tips for finding more joy in work:

  • Find fulfillment. Satisfaction is important for personal health. If you hate your job, try to find the positives. If you can’t find a shred of fulfillment to focus on, it may be time to consider a different job.
  • Find meaning. Most every job has a purpose. Strive to find a purpose in what you do.  Sometimes this may be obvious (i.e. teacher or nurse). If the meaning is not so obvious, break your job down. Do you help people or serve others? Do you make something that helps other? 
  • Set goals. Our work should ideally be going someplace. I encourage you to set personal goals in your work. Write them down to re-visit. Sometimes our work sets goals for us but it is more personal and fulfilling if the goals come from you. This may involve long-term goals such as advancement or more short-term goals like improving productivity or improving service.

In Conclusion...

Work is good for the soul, so I challenge you to look at your work in a positive light. Inability to do this is a red flag that your job is not healthy. For those without jobs, unable to work or retired, it is important to continue to work in some capacity to stay engaged. This may require some creativity. 

I’ll admit, these are but my views on the subject of work and you may disagree.  I will be the first to agree that it is equally as important to know how to relax. 

Fulfillment is about balance after all.  I do have some vacation coming up—a perfect time to cover the importance of relaxation.  Stay tuned….

Photo Credit: Moresheth

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1 Comment

  • "When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.
    Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?" - Kahlil Gibran

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