Where America's Happiest People Work

Career isn't the only factor in determining someone's overall happiness, but it's certainly a major contributor. So, what kind of jobs do the happiest people in the U.S. have? And, what about these jobs contributes to overall happiness in life?

A University of Chicago study, "Job Satisfaction in the United States," offers some insight. The study says the occupations where people report being happy overall, not just in terms of job satisfaction, involve helping others, technical and scientific expertise, or creativity.

Tom W. Smith, director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at UC, elaborates: "Happiness is determined by how much satisfaction you get from all domains of life-personal, the community you live in, and work is an important domain, so it's one of the major components of overall happiness."

According to the study, the top occupations in general happiness are:

1. Clergy

Job Description: Conduct religious worship and perform spiritual functions associated with beliefs and practices of religious faith or denomination.

Very happy: 67.2%

Median salary*: $44,102

2. Firefighters

Job Description: Control and extinguish fires, protect life and property and conduct rescue efforts.

Very happy: 57.2%

Median salary:$45,553

3. Transportation, Ticket, and Reservation Agents, such as Travel Agents

Job Description:Travel agents plan and sell transportation and accommodations for travel agency customers.

Very happy: 56.5%

Median hourly rate (travel agents):$14.23

4. Architects

Job Description:Plan and design structures, such as private residences, office buildings, theaters, factories and other structural property.

Very happy:53.5%

Median salary:$54,079

5. Special Education Teachers

Job Description:Teach school subjects to educationally and physically handicapped students.

Very happy:52.6%

Median salary (preschool, kindergarten or elementary school): $41,344

Median salary (secondary school):$43,060

6. Actors and Directors

Job Description:Actors play parts in stage, television, radio, video or motion picture productions for entertainment, information or instruction.

Very happy: 51.0%

Median salary:Salary varies greatly

7. Science Technicians

Job Description: Use principles and theories of science and mathematics to solve problems in research and development, and to help invent and improve products and processes.

Very happy: 51.0%

Median salary (research scientists):$72,435

8. Miscellaneous Mechanical and Repairing Occupations

Job Description:Automotive service technicians and mechanics diagnose, adjust, repair, or overhaul automotive vehicles.

Very happy:53.6%**

Median hourly rate (mechanics/auto tune up): $15.26

9. Industrial engineers

Job Description: Design, develop, test, and evaluate integrated systems for managing industrial production processes.

Very happy:48.4%

Median salary:$61,729

10. Airline Pilots and Navigators

Job Description: Airline pilots, co-pilots, and flight engineers pilot and navigate the flight of multi-engine aircraft in regularly scheduled service for transport of passengers and cargo.

Very happy:49.1%

Median hourly rate (airline pilots, copilots, or flight engineers):$63

So what is it about these occupations that spurs happiness?

The Rev. Dr. Rick Wright says he enjoys helping people and being creative. "With ministry I get to tie in my fundamental beliefs about God and life with what I do all day. So I get to work with people and assist them. And in ordained ministry I think it's a bit unique in that people will open up to you because you are a priest/pastor and share who they really are inside," explains Wright, senior associate rector at The Falls Church in Virginia.

Stephen Moon, an architect with The Beck Group in Atlanta, says an important part of his happiness is due to his employer expanding his experience, and letting him have access to the construction and development sides of the business.

Melissa Benedict, a research scientist at The Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, N.Y., says she likes helping others: "If we can help just one person with the research we're doing, that's really rewarding. Hopefully it will help more people in the long run. ... A lot of times with research you don't get that, so when you can help it really makes a difference."

*All salary data are from PayScale.com and show median salary or hourly rate for each profession for workers with 5-9 years of experience.

**For an explanation of study rankings and percentages, see "Job Satisfaction in the United States," footnote 3, page 1. Kristina Cowan is the senior writer for PayScale.com. She has over 10 years of journalism experience, specializing in education and workforce issues.

Copyright 2008 PayScale, Inc.

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