Wednesday, December 15, 2010

On Bliss, Rankings, Awesomeness and the Allure of Perks

The framers of the American Declaration of Independence were onto something quite remarkable when they codified not only happiness, but its pursuit, in their document, even if they did refer to it as The Purfuit of Happineff, the sly jokesters.

Achieving happiness remains an elusive goal, though, and countries like Finland, New Zealand and Canada regularly trounce the U.S. in measures of overall societal bliss. Pundits jump to point out that one of the reasons that Americans are well down the list is all the time they spend at work. 
The website recently came out with this list of ten careers that are particularly apt to make people unhappy. Of 21 major job categories surveyed, here are the ones in which full-time workers are most likely to report an episode of major depression in a given year:
  1. Nursing home/child care workers
  2. Food service staff
  3. Social workers
  4. Health care workers
  5. Artists, writers and entertainers
  6. Teachers
  7. Administrative support staff
  8. Maintenance and grounds workers
  9. Financial advisors and accountants
  10. Salespeople

Okay, so all kinds of questions arise from a list like this. For example, do writing and entertaining tend to attract people with an inherently gloomy disposition? Perhaps, but let’s leave aside this layer of complexity and assume that there is, in fact, something about those jobs themselves that induces what we used to call ‘melancholia’. Good enough for me. Tricia, Kelby and I regularly muse that spending all day trying to convince people to buy stuff (#10) would turn us into emotional basket cases by about week two.
I don’t know how long the list of job categories would have to be before you came to ‘Winemakers’, but given that there a lot more, say, donut makers in America than winemakers, it would have to be pretty long. This is why one’s not likely to be able to find some official gauge of the satisfaction level of people who ‘vint’ for a living. So perhaps we will never know how happy a group we are by any standard metric.
A different approach might be to find out if winemakers make it onto a list of jobs with astronomical job satisfaction. A Google search on that subject yields a single, very nonscientific, article that is at least kind of fun to read. The author names some AWESOME!!! jobs that people can also putatively make a good living at:
  1. Ferrari driving instructor
  2. Astronaut
  3. Winemaker
  4. Chocolatier
  5. Pilot
  6. Magician
  7. Park Ranger
  8. Video game designer
  9. Florist
  10. Standup comedian

I wrote “AWESOME!!!” because I was tipped off to the highly subjective, jokey nature of this list as soon as I saw ‘video game designer’ (#8), something I believe every teenage boy entertains serious ambitions of being as soon as he gets to the bottom of that last jar of Clearasil (“You get to play video games all day and get paid for it? So long, mother and father!”).
All this notwithstanding, readers of this blog will have picked up by now that we are a pretty jolly lot up here at the winery. Tricia “I am Deliriously Happy” Renshaw has been especially prolific on that subject. If we were the types who are disposed to smugness, we could really run with this, especially since true happiness in one’s job is thought be pretty rare. Jobs equal drudgery, right? They’re what we do to make the money to buy the things we need to bring happiness!
But now comes evidence that people who complain about their jobs might just need to recalibrate their view of the value of work. Toronto journalist John Allemang* suggests that work ought, in fact, to be considered essential to a balanced, happy life:

What a bunch of whiners we’ve become. Work is destroying our life, cry the proponents of greater equilibrium, and stress has become the 24/7 routine. Woe is us, responds the oppressed labor force between frantic Facebook postings – we demand in-house corporate pedicures to alleviate our unparalleled suffering. 
But maybe it’s not as bad as all that. Maybe it’s our endless negativity about the work-life balancing act – based on a refusal to see our behavior as an enlightened personal choice rather than a forced sacrifice of self – that’s put [our] fragile psyche so pathetically out of whack. 
“Don’t denigrate work,” advises Thomas Hurka, a University of Toronto philosopher and author of the forthcoming book The Best Things in Life: A Guide to What Really Matters
Work matters, Prof. Hurka says, much more than its life-loving critics care to acknowledge. “If you ask what are the things that make life worthwhile, one of them is pleasure, satisfaction, feeling good. But another one is achievement. If you have work that is challenging and calls on your abilities, and then you succeed at it, that’s worthwhile in itself. So it’s a mistake to talk about work versus your life – work is a valuable element in your life.” 
The dichotomy is false to begin with: Take away too much work and you almost certainly won’t be left with enough of a life. By recognizing the pleasure and sense of accomplishment work can provide, we might already feel less conflicted.
Do winemakers understand intuitively that this should be the case, and approach their task accordingly? Are we one step ahead of the general population, having made that leap at a nascent stage in our careers? Nice ideas, but I think not. More likely, we are just lucky enough to have found something remunerative that is also enormously challenging and seriously fun.

“Wine is the only thing that makes us happy as adults for no reason,” wrote The New Yorker cartoonist and all-round smart guy Saul Steinberg. He was writing about the drinking of it. How AWESOME!!! it is that making the stuff is so good at bringing us happiness, too.

But I am intrigued by the likelihood that in-house pedicures would ramp things up even higher...

By: Peter Bell, Winemaker

What Makes Us Happy (Smuckers Product Placement)
Alcohol is off limits for winery dog Max, so he gets the canine 
equivalent of a Shirley Temple Cocktail.

*Allemang can write pretty cleverly about wine, too. In the course of a recent email exchange, he coined the term airoir to describe the flavors that wines get from the winds that pass over the grapevines (“The gentle, limestone-infused summer breezes on our estate give this delightful Pinot Grigio a distinctive sense of airoir…”). You heard it here first.

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1 comment:

  1. Wine Buyer has got to be on that list and definitely ahead of Pilot or Magician.

    I just discovered your blog. Well actually Scott told me about it. Great Stuff!!

    Happy new Year. Hope you and your family are well.

    Josh Farrell