in Marginalia

De Botton on what makes a job meaningful

(Only Motherless Brooklyn remains partially unread in the set of books photographed here. I read excerpts of Motherless Brooklyn in a Paris Review issue sometime ago.)

(Only Motherless Brooklyn remains partially unread in the set of books photographed here. I read excerpts of Motherless Brooklyn in a Paris Review issue sometime ago.)

When does a job feel meaningful? 
Whenever it allows us to generate delight or reduce suffering in others. Though we are often taught to think of ourselves as inherently selfish, the longing to act meaningfully in our work seems just as stubborn a part of our make-up as our appetite for status or money. 
It is because we are meaning-focused animals rather than simply materialistic ones that we can reasonably contemplate surrendering security for a career helping to bring drinking water to rural Malawi or might quit a job in consumer goods for one in cardiac nursing, aware that when it comes to improving the human condition, a well-controlled defiibrillator has the edge over even the finest biscuit. 
But we should wary of restricting the idea of meaningful work too tightly, of focusing only on the doctors, the nuns of Kolkata or the Old Masters. 
There can be less exalted ways to contribute to the furtherance of the collective good and it seems that making a perfectly formed stripey chocolate circle which helps to fill an impatient stomach in the long hours between nine o’ clock and noon may deserve its own secure, if microscopic place in the pantheon of innovations designed to alleviate the burdens of existence. 

 

— From The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton

From the Word Power Made Easy Dept. This same book helped me find a synonym for—of all words— electricity tower, which the British also call pylons. Check out An electricity tower by any other name.