There is a lot of societal and personal pressure placed on individuals for their occupation to be meaningful, with entire services centered around helping people find a role that they feel passionate about. It would be easy to presume that a fulfilling job is something that most people strive for, but can everyone find a job that gives them purpose?
Not according to David Graeber who wrote a viral article about ‘bullshit jobs.’ By Graeber’s definition ‘bullshit jobs’ are jobs that have no societal benefit and are fundamentally pointless. These include roles such as lobbyists, corporate lawyers and telemarketers. Jobs in which the world might be a better place without. (Take this quiz to see if your job qualifies here.) These jobs are also on the rise, with Graeber claiming half of the workforce is filled with these types of occupations. The author has even compiled a 368-page book of people’s stories detailing their bullshit jobs that he has received since first writing the initial article on the topic.
Although these positions may pay well, Graeber posits that these roles create a “profound psychological violence,” a psychological effect created by the self-awareness of the pointlessness of their role.
“I think most people really do want to believe that they’re contributing to the world in some way, and if you deny that to them, they go crazy or become quietly miserable,” writes Graeber.
Graeber theorises that bullshit jobs exist because the ‘powers that be’ feel free time for the masses is a moral danger. A recent study on the impact of too much free time on wellbeing found that feelings of productivity and feelings of wellbeing both significantly decrease with over 5 hours of free time.
Therefore, there is potentially half the work force out there that are quietly miserable within their occupation. They need to continue working to gain an income, as that is the economy’s makeshift solution to this huge underlying problem of there being too many workers and not enough jobs. Even if they were to quit their bullshit job, they may continue to feel a lack of wellbeing and productivity.
What is the remedy for this?
While this is a societal and economic problem that needs to be addressed at the root, there are ways to personally address this. Something that has long been a negater of all things “psychologically violent” is the participation in hobbies. While this may seem like a small step for a large issue, it may be just the right solution for this problem. It restores one’s sense of purpose and builds skills. For someone with a bullshit job, the benefits of hobbies may one day provide a more value purpose for society than their current contribution. For example, in the Great Depression, hobbies that individuals had been practicing on the side became critical income streams. During that time, hobbies became tools for survival when there was no work, and now they may become tools for a different kind of economic failure, too much work.
“There are lots of dimensions to your worth, including hobbies, it means that if you get made redundant, for example, you’re more able to see that your employment status doesn’t negate all the other good things about you” reflects Dr. Windgassen, a health psychologist.
Could a pivot to valuing hobbies more and jobs less be what our society needs to reorient worth? This shift may have already begun, with a spotlight put on the value of hobbies within the last few years, as a remedy to the psychological impacts brought on by government mandated lockdowns. This uptick in hobbies, along with the new push for workplace flexibility, perhaps foretells of a reduction in bullshit jobs and a greater importance placed on true passions.