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  • Tamar Balkin

The survey results are in...does work make us happy?

Updated: Feb 22, 2021

The words of our Governor General Quentin Bryce, often ring in my head

'You can have it all, but not all at the same time.' Typically the focus of most feminist literature is on the juggle, the guilt and the struggle between motherhood and work. However, as I am a devotee of positive psychology, my interest lies in the connection between motherhood, work and being happy and satisfied with life.

I have a fascination with talks, books and articles on motherhood, leadership and careers. I believe that people should bounce out of bed with joy and excitement about the “work” day ahead. I use the term “work” very loosely as in my opinion; “work” can be paid or voluntary. In addition, I have always maintained that the correct work/motherhood balance is immensely personal. What is essential is that the mother is happy and satisfied with her life, not the life society deems is ‘ideal’ for her.

In May last year I decided to investigate the factors that influence whether or not mothers in Sydney were happy and satisfied with their life. Whilst pondering this interrelationship my thoughts turned to the groundbreaking employment research conducted by Marie Jahoda, in England in the 1980’s. As an aside it should be noted that Marie Jahoda is an inspiring woman in her own right and she is often referred to as the first of the positive psychologists. Of relevance to my study was her research into the impact of long-term unemployment, which she undertook at age 70. Amazingly, more than thirty years have passed and her research is still considered cutting-edge!

Jahoda found that there are many benefits to work (other than pay) that greatly contribute to a persons’ well-being. She called these the latent (or hidden) benefits of work. These include: time structure; social contact; goals or purpose beyond yourself; social identity or status; and regular activity. Following on from this, I decided to investigate the impact of: the presence or absence of Marie Jahodah’s “hidden” benefits of work on subjective happiness and life satisfaction amongst mothers in Sydney. To enhance my understanding I also included measures of skill utilization, number of children, and financial strain.

I was very fortunate that Anita Vitanova, the moderator of the Inner West mums facebook group, gave me permission to promote my survey on her facebook page. In a very short time 237 mothers with children under 12 completed my survey. These mothers came from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds and 62% were “working”.

The data analysis revealed that happiness and life satisfaction for these mothers had nothing to do with the amount of money in the bank, the number of children under 12 or whether or not they were doing something they felt they had expertise in. It was the presence of the “hidden” benefits of work that led to higher satisfaction with life and happiness.

So, what does this mean for you, my readers? If you are feeling joy and satisfaction with your life then don't change a thing. If you are dissatisfied and unhappy then it is wise to explore how you can incorporate the hidden benefits of work through making changes to your employment, leisure activities, voluntary work and/or parenting.

Tamar Balkin is a registered Organisational Psychologist; learn more about her leadership and career coaching at and follow BalkinCoaching on Facebook.

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