In spite of the boom in freelancing opportunities brought on by technology, when people say they are “self-employed,” the word that others tend to hear is “unemployed,” despite the fact that freelancers typically make twice as much money as the average worker.
Being self-employed is, in fact, a daunting lifestyle. There’s no “stability” (a word venerated by Baby Boomers), you have to get your own healthcare, the taxes are murder, and there’s a whole lot of hustling involved.
In spite of all of these downsides, a recent UK survey analyzing 5,000 workers in the UK, US, New Zealand, and Australia found that people who are self-employed felt happier and more successful than their chained-to-the-desk peers.
Many of the reasons for this reported emotional satisfaction comes down to the essence of what makes people happy in general. A recent study found that people don’t actually need to make as much money as they think to be happy, and that, after a certain point, a higher salary actually makes people unhappier.
If we learned anything from the fact that Finland has been named the happiest country in the world, it’s that a sense of social freedom brings a lot more joy than a high GDP per capita. Like the citizens of Nordic countries, freelancers get to bathe in this kind of thrilling liberation, which adds up to more happiness points than a fat, stable paycheck.
“Professional workers who are self-employed really value the autonomy they have,” co-author Peter Warr of the University of Sheffield said in the study, which was published in the journal Work, Employment and Society. “They have the freedom to innovate, express their own views, have influence beyond their own role and compete with other companies and people.”
Even though they often end up working long hours, they don’t seem to mind as much, because that time is spent in pursuit of their own goals, and therefore feels more fulfilling as well as more exciting.
“Being engaged in their jobs makes people feel energised and pleased with their own contribution,” co-author Ilke Inceoglu from the University of Exeter said.
And while being your own boss can be a lot of pressure and responsibility, anyone who’s ever had a megalomaniacal manager knows it can also be a bit of a relief.
To an extent, the findings of this study could also be the result of a cultural shift. Whereas Baby Boomers saw money, stuff, and stability as markers of success, Millennials today tend to value unique experiences and a lifestyle that enables them to reach their full potential and be their most authentic selves.
In other words, you may want to up and leave your job and travel around the world.
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