A man looking up with a confused look on his face.

What’s your calling in life? Is there a job that would be fulfilling for you?

Most of us will spend the majority of our lives working, and, according to Tal Ben-Shahar, work is essential for happiness. The challenge lies in finding or creating work that brings both pleasure and meaning.

Discover how to find your calling in life.

Find Your Calling

Ben-Shahar cites research that explains that people think of their work in one of three ways—as a job, an obligation with little personal value; a career, focused on end results such as money, status, or power; or a calling, where the work itself is valuable, intrinsically motivating, and seen as a privilege rather than an obligation. 

A Changing Relationship to Work in the Age of AI

As our society evolves and artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more ubiquitous in the workplace, the notion that work is essential for happiness—central to Ben-Shahar’s model—merits re-evaluation and potential adaptation to accommodate the changing nature of work.

As we transition into a world where AI and automation increasingly take over repetitive and manual tasks, Ben-Shahar’s classification of work into a job, a career, or a calling might no longer encompass the entire spectrum of modern work experience. In The Singularity Is Near, Ray Kurzweil makes the case that the rapid advancement of AI will dramatically alter the nature of work and our relationship with it. For instance, in a society where traditional work becomes less prevalent, people might find happiness and fulfillment in other pursuits like learning, creativity, or community service.

For example, consider the experiment in Finland with the concept of universal basic income (UBI). This system guarantees citizens a regular, livable income regardless of employment status, thereby freeing them from the pressure of securing jobs mainly for financial security. An early report suggests that recipients of UBI exhibit better mental well-being, life satisfaction, and trust in societal systems. If expanded and proven successful on a broader scale, UBI could redefine our relationship with work and offer fresh perspectives on how we might pursue happiness beyond the traditional work paradigm.

To learn how to find your calling in life, Ben-Shahar suggests asking yourself three questions: What gives you meaning? What gives you pleasure? What are your strengths? He refers to this as the MPS (Meaning, Pleasure, Strengths) Process.

(Shortform note: Ben-Shahar’s understanding of a personal calling is analogous to the Japanese concept of ikigai—your purpose or reason for being. Ikigai, according to Japanese philosophy, is unique to each person, and not necessarily connected to your job. Ben-Shahar proposes finding this purpose through the self-reflective MPS process. However, some philosophers argue against actively seeking your ikigai. Instead, if you occupy yourself with doing what you love in the company of people who love and care for you, your ikigai will naturally reveal itself.)

Ben-Shahar recognizes that not everyone has the luxury to choose work that they find inherently fulfilling. However, he suggests that you can transform your work into a calling by altering your perception, even if your job choices are limited. He insists that happiness is as much a product of our external world (what we do) as it is of our internal world (how we perceive what we do). 

For example, consider a customer service representative who feels their job is repetitive and mundane. By shifting their perception, they can view their work as an opportunity to help solve problems and make customers’ lives easier. Every call or interaction becomes a chance to make a positive difference. This transformation in perception can turn a simple “job” into a meaningful “calling.”

(Shortform note: Working, by Studs Terkel, presents a diverse collection of personal narratives about the meaning of work in everyday lives. The array of interviews presents a panorama of the American workforce, their feelings toward their jobs, and the societal norms surrounding work. Notably, the majority of Terkel’s interviewees struggle to derive fulfillment from their jobs, and many perceive their work as merely a means to survive. While Ben-Shahar’s argument of the power of perception to transform work into a calling is an aspirational and optimistic goal, Terkel’s work offers a sobering perspective on the systemic and societal barriers that prevent many from applying his advice in their daily lives.)

How to Find Your Calling in Life by Asking Yourself 3 Things

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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