Work — a job — is good for not only your financial but also your physical, emotional and spiritual health.
Most of us have jobs to put food on the table, and that is as it should be.
But your work is good for more than that.
A job — even one that is not a “dream job” — is beneficial to our mental and physical health. People who work recover from illness more quickly, take less medication, are at less risk of long-term incapacity and have longer life expectancies than people who are unemployed.
Here’s why: Humans evolved to be stimulated on a regular basis. Every time we meet a deadline or complete a challenge we get a hit of adrenaline, bringing more oxygen to our lungs and triggering a surge of energy. It’s a natural high.
Our bodies actually want to experience adrenaline, and the endorphins that follow in its path. If we don’t get this from work, we sometimes seek it out in less healthy ways (alcohol, sugary foods and smoking are artificial stimulants that mimic adrenaline).
Work is also beneficial to our spirits and our souls. Having a role to play in the larger society gives us an identity and a structure around which to organize our days. People we meet at work form our social networks and support groups. These networks boost our self-esteem and sense of worth, and provide us opportunities to learn new things. Our brains love to learn new things.
Work becomes more important, not less, as we age. As we start to lose family members, colleagues and friends from work can and should start to play larger roles in our lives. Even better, the demands of an occupation can keep our minds sharp and aid in staving off mental decline. Contrary to conventional wisdom, older people are not less productive and less willing to learn. In fact, in many ways older workers are more productive than younger ones. Experience and reliability really do make a difference.
Obviously, all these benefits from work assume you have a reasonably enjoyable job that does not pose acute physical and mental dangers. This is a definition, however, that in these modern times covers many jobs in many different fields. It also includes volunteer and community work, political activism, church work and — in many cases — passionate hobbies.
So, love your work. And love your life!
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-Life Career Advice You Can Actually Use and of the novel “The Paris Effect.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.