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Busy bodies, happy minds

People consider work of just about any kind to be better than no work at all, and it improves their mental health in most cases, several studies have found.

September 20, 2010|By Eric Jaffe, Special to the Los Angeles Times

That factors beyond income induce people to work doesn't surprise psychologist Edward Deci of the University of Rochester. Years of research on motivation led Deci and colleague Richard Ryan to develop what's called the self-determination theory, which states that a successful workplace will foster feelings of autonomy, competence and partnership.

The flip side, says Deci, is that work environments failing to meet these needs will have a negative effect on overall wellness.

"We want to feel like what we're accomplishing has meaning to the world," Deci says.

To some extent, Hsee argues, the pursuit of meaningful work is a remnant of the days when human exertion led directly to survival. Modern production made securing food and shelter less strenuous, so people shifted their energy elsewhere. But the ancestral urge to link effort and purpose endured.

"If their survival needs are met, people would prefer to find work that's meaningful," says psychologist David Blustein of Boston College, author of "The Psychology of Working." But with the current hard times, "a fair number of unemployed people are more set to take anything that will pay the bills and get them health insurance."

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