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Health, Science

Shock: Work is actually Good for You!

The bank holiday is over, sigh. Got the back to work blues? Well take heart, because just like your parents used to tell you work is actually good for you!

Work? Good? I find that hard to believe… 

Yes that’s right! Work doesn’t just pay the bills: It seems what we do with our time and minds have a big impact on our overall health and well-being (shock horror!). There’s been a great deal of research done on the effect of work on our bodies. Let me summarise some important bits for you.

If you’re working you are much more likely to be mentally and physically well, work is often ‘therapeutic’ and it helps establish identity and increases your overall sense of well-being. Working even makes you live longer! If you have any kind of long term illness or disability then the positive effects of work are even greater. Indeed death rates and rates of mental illness increase hugely if you are out of work for any prolonged period of time…

Click here to see a graph of the effects of not working on health (Black bars represent rates of physical ill health; grey bars are rates of mental ill health)

But why are holidays so good? 

Holidays are indeed very good. Of course, everything must be in balance… look at USA which has the lowest number of holidays in any developed country and among the highest rates of work and stress-related ill health. Of course any hazardous or extremely demanding physical work can be bad for you and periodic breaks from work (i.e. holidays) have scientifically been shown to be essential for general health and well-being. If you take your holidays you’re much less likely to go off on the sick (about 10%).

How much work is too much? Well the (scientific) jury is still out on that one and a degree of work-related stress has no adverse effects to your well being. However if you’re working in a place where you are faced with job insecurity: that is always a bad thing and will take a toll on your mental and physical well-being.

But I hate my job!” 

It seems obvious to say, but in order to achieve the health benefits of work you need to be doing something that you find satisfying. Rates of depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem are strongly related to work that is not enjoyable or satisfying. So if you hate your job and can’t find a way to make it more satisfying then your health might appreciate a career change.

But don’t pick a job just to make you rich – you may regret it: it’s been suspected for a long time but very recent research has shown that people who are wealthier don’t enjoy simple pleasures in life as much. So if you’re sat at home wishing you were richer, munching a packet of crisps (or a bar of chocolate) rest easy, you’re probably enjoying your snack more than the rick and famous! (Quoidbach et al, 2010)


Quoidbach J, Dunn EW, Petrides KV, Mikolajczak M. Money giveth, money taketh away: the dual effect of wealth on happiness. Psychol Sci. 2010 Jun;21(6):759-63

About Stuart Farrimond

I love writing about science and health subjects. Strange, because I also teach the same things. I trained as a medical doctor before turning my hand to other things. Shortlisted for The Guardian/Observer for Science Writer of the Year 2011 and editor for Guru Magazine I also like to grow large pumpkins...

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