This Business Insider article lists a number of “happy” careers and contrasts them with “unhappy” ones. Take a look at the lists for yourself and tell me if you notice anything:
Nearly all the professions on the “happy” list are high prestige, even the ones such as numbers 2 and 6, which do not generally pay very high. Furthermore, most of these professions have considerable room for advancement available to the more ambitious among them. Educators can go on to high level administration, where a six figure salary is very possible. College professors can (and often do) become well known writers. And I am guessing that the inclusion of “singers” among this list takes into consideration the lives of the most successful vocalists, who enjoy rewards many times beyond that which even a Princeton grad could expect to obtain.
Now take a look at the “unhappy” list: they’re all procedural jobs with lower prestige which often do not require college degrees, have little room for advancement, and are treated in ways that make their workers feel unappreciated.
What does this say about society of 2012? If you want to be happy, chase status and prestige. That’s all there is to it. In a world where we can tweet our thoughts to the world and (probably) have a handful of people respond immediately, often with inflated back patting, each of us is our own personal celebrity. It’s no wonder that we now need prestige to feel good about life, or even believe it has any meaning. This, I would argue, is why the Great Recession is killing the American spirit. The decline in the standard of living of Americans is simply am inconvenient side effect. Americans are like that rich kid whose world is coming to an end because his trust fund dried up and he will now have to work among the Great Unwashed, and worst of all, be treated as if he was one of them all along.
As long as career paths continue to be treated as a haphazard rat race of distribution, people will continue to treat those above them with sneering envy and those below with pompous condesension. And everyone will be happy or unhappy depending on which direction they choose to look. There’s a reason they call it the rat race.