According to both testimonials and statistics, educated people report higher levels of personal happiness and job satisfaction. In her book, Nickel and Dimed, comfortably wealthy author Barbara Ehrenreich reports being taken out for a "$30 lunch and some understated French country-style place" and discussing "future articles I might write for [the editor of Harpoer's] magazine" (1). It is lunching with this editor from Harpers that she decides to take on a monumental task: leaving her posh environment and working in a blue collar job in order to prove, or not prove, that such one can get by making so little.
It is not only her work, but also her ability to take on such a task that proves the importance of education in both personal happiness and job satisfaction. Here, in the first few lines of the introduction, Ehrenreich alludes to her education and the choices it has allowed her to make, a trend she will continue throughout the rest of the book. As the journalist explains how she discussed how the "four million women about to be booted into the labor market" were going to make ends meet, and discussed how she felt "sorry for the parents who had paid college tuition" for radicals during the 70s who left high paying jobs to make political statements, Ehrenreich shows with her life that her education has allowed her to make choices that make her happy (1-2). Not only is she able to work in a job that allows her to dine for $30 at "understated," "French" restaurants, but also she can choose to be socially active and responsible, satisfying her urge to make the world a better place (2). That Ehrenreich leaves her comfortable position in order to work in a blue-collar environment that physically, spiritually, and emotionally challenges her is a testament to the choices. Because of her beyond college education, Ehrenreich is able to have a high-paying job doing what she loves, writing, while still fulfilling her need to be socially important. Thus, education has allowed Ehrenreich personal opportunities that result in both job satisfaction and personal happiness.
Ehrenreich's persona experience, however, is made solid by facts, figures, and research. In fact, a 2001 Swedish study of 5,000 random Swedish citizens found that those who reported higher levels of education also reported higher levels of personal happiness and higher levels of income. While refraining from adopting the common fallacy that causation equals correlation, the study proves that education is at least a factor in increased personal happiness, and although income is hardly an indicator of job satisfaction, the fact that those with higher levels of education reported higher levels of income suggest that conducting a similar study measuring education and job satisfaction would be beneficial. What the data, and Ehrenreich's personal experience do suggest, however, is that education creates individual opportunities. Education creates choices, and those choices allow people to make decisions that make them happy in their personal lives as well as their career environments. Education, therefore, is a prerequisite of both personal happiness and job satisfaction.
While quantitative and qualitative data have suggested that education is a prerequisite of both personal happiness and job satisfaction, similar studies and experiences have shown that the opposite is true: uneducated people report lower levels of personal happiness and job satisfaction. Through Ehrenreich's interactions with blue-collar workers across America, this fact can be quickly accounted for by experience. In fact, Ehrenreich says about herself, "take away the career and the higher education and maybe what you're left with is this original Barb, the one who might have ended up working at Wal-Mart for real if her father hadn't managed to climb out of the mines" (169). Although Ehrenreich makes this statement in order to point out that she is not that different from her coworkers at Wal-Mart, restaurants, maid services, and other blue-collar establishments where she manages to get a job, she suggests that she is, in fact, different. Because of that education, she herself managed to crawl "out of the mines," and work in an area where she has choices. Her co-workers throughout her ordeal, as many anecdotes will tell, do not. For instance, she documents a case where she and a Wal-Mart co-worker, Alyssa, attempt to negotiate a lower price on clearance priced, stained shirt. Once they realize they cannot afford the shirt, the conversation turns into the frustration of a lack of choices, the inability to even purchase a discounted item from one's place of employment. The uneducated Alyssa, in this case, did not have choices that allowed her to have job satisfaction or personal happiness. She becomes frustrated with a job that does not pay her enough to purchase from her own place of employment and unhappy that she cannot provide for herself (Ehrenreich 169).
In addition to Ehrenreich's examples, and the examples of impoverished, uneducated people around the world in Vollmann's book, social actions that are being taken today represent the importance of education in increasing happiness and job satisfaction by increasing individual opportunity and personal choices. For example, the No Child Left Behind Act has made public the importance of education in combating poverty, and in the Adam Gamoran's 2007 evaluation of the act, Standards-Based Reform and the Poverty Gap, the author seconds the notion that poverty is linked with low levels of education. The book contains several ideas for correct implementation of the act in order to give impoverished children more choices. Here, public policymakers agree that more choices equal greater levels of happiness, and a step out of poverty. Additionally, the 2003 book Happiness in Education maintains not only that education is necessary for success, and therefore personal choices and happiness, but also that happiness should be implemented into the education's coursework, making education a less tedious process (Noddings 1-3). Here, the author clearly exemplifies his belief that happiness is not only correlated with education, but a result of a series of personal choices. Incorporating these choices into the education process, as Noddings recommends, will allow students to flourish and become more successful in their educational lives as well as their personal lives. Thus, by examining both experience and social reforms, one can conclude that the uneducated suffer from greater levels of unhappiness and job satisfaction due to a lack of personal choices than do the educated.
While the definitions of success, poverty, and happiness are still in the hands of Homer, Jesus, and Muhammad, one can clearly see that education is directly related to higher levels of happiness and job satisfaction, primarily through a provision of greater personal opportunities. Because education provides choices, people with higher levels of education can make decisions that cater to their personalities and desires, while people without education are not provided with those opportunities. Thus, education is clearly an important variable in determining the level of happiness and job satisfaction reported by Americans today.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. Nickel and Dimed. New York: Holt Paperbacks, 2002.
Gamoran, Adam. Standards-Based Reform and the Poverty Gap. Washington D.C.:
Brookings Institute Press, 2007.
In this report on the No Child Left Behind Act, author Adam Gamoran looks
Gerdtham, Ulf-G and Magnus Johannesson. "The relationship between happiness, health, and socio-economic factors: results based on Swedish microdata." Journal of Socio-Economics. 30.6…