Find Jobs

Whistling While You Work: The 10 Most Satisfying Careers

man yawning at desk By Andrew Strieber

Bored at work? According to a new study, the secret to career fulfillment is finding a job that involves helping others – and staying away from manual labor.

There are few things worse than being stuck in a job you hate. Days feel like they'll never end, the simplest work becomes onerous, and even getting out of bed can be a chore. This is especially true if your career has limited upside, since the motivation to stick it out in finance is far greater than in, say, waste management. That said, if your workdays are spent counting down the minutes until quitting time, you might be surprised to learn that you're actually part of a very small minority. In fact, a recent study from the University of Chicago claims that more than three-quarters of workers are happy with their present jobs.

According to a report from the University's National Opinion Research Center tracking job satisfaction, a full 88% of all workers say that they're "satisfied" at work. In addition, 50% of those respondents are "very satisfied," while the number of employees claiming to be "very dissatisfied" represents just a paltry 4% of the total workforce. This widespread contentment isn't a recent phenomenon, either. Despite periods of economic uncertainty in the late-1970s and early-‘90s, dating back to 1972 the nation's overall level of job satisfaction has never dipped below 80%, and the percentage of severely unhappy employees during that period has remained in the single digits.

Of course when it comes to job satisfaction, some careers are better than others. As might be expected, income and growth potential play a large role in contentment, and workers with better educations, more prestige and higher salaries tend to be happier than their lower-paid counterparts. However, before you seek out the fattest paycheck you can find, the NORC also notes that careers boasting the highest number of happy workers aren't necessarily the best-paying. Instead, what truly makes employees feel satisfied is getting to help others, being creative or utilizing specialized technical expertise.

So with that in mind, if you're sick of the daily grind and want to change careers, the NORC rates the following as the 10 most satisfying jobs, from best to worst (NOTE: Data used in this list is based on different criteria than for our Top 200 jobs, so the results may differ):

  • Find This Job1. Clergy
  • Leads a congregation in worship and other spiritual services, provides moral guidance to members, and participates in community outreach.
  • Overall Ranking: 70  Overall Score: 411  Work Environment: 626.520
    Physical Demands: 7.44  Stress: 41.770  Income: $42,248  Hours Per Week: 52.5
  • Find This Job2. Physical Therapist
  • Plans and directs treatment to improve mobility and alleviate pain in persons disabled by injury or disease.
  • Overall Ranking: 111  Overall Score: 545  Work Environment: 716.210
    Physical Demands: 15.43  Stress: 44.240  Income: $72,106  Hours Per Week: 42.5
  • Find This Job3. Firefighter
  • Protects individuals and saves lives and property from the ravages of fire.
  • Overall Ranking: 181  Overall Score: 743  Work Environment: 3314.030
    Physical Demands: 43.23  Stress: 110.940  Income: $44,218  Hours Per Week: 55
  • Find This Job4. School Principal
  • Supervises the educational curricula and day-to-day activities in elementary and secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities.
  • Overall Ranking: 48  Overall Score: 348  Work Environment: 432.990
    Physical Demands: 5.62  Stress: 51.720  Income: $83,120  Hours Per Week: 47.5
  • Find This Job5. Artist (Fine Art)
  • Creates artwork independently, usually in the form of painting, drawing, sculpture, or other visual mediums.
  • Overall Ranking: 80  Overall Score: 443  Work Environment: 486.750
    Physical Demands: 9.85  Stress: 51.990  Income: $43,353  Hours Per Week: 45
  • Find This Job6. Teacher
  • Introduces children to the basics of mathematics, language, science, and social studies, and assists other aspects of child development.
  • Overall Ranking: 127  Overall Score: 570  Work Environment: 709.600
    Physical Demands: 11.87  Stress: 51.000  Income: $53,076  Hours Per Week: 45
  • Find This Job7. Author
  • Creates fiction and non-fiction books, either on assignment from editors, or independently.
  • Overall Ranking: 93  Overall Score: 479  Work Environment: 752.250
    Physical Demands: 6.85  Stress: 57.530  Income: $52,281  Hours Per Week: 45
  • Find This Job8. Psychologist
  • Studies human behavior, emotion, and mental processes, and provides counseling and therapy for individuals.
  • Overall Ranking: 59  Overall Score: 373  Work Environment: 727.520
    Physical Demands: 7.09  Stress: 50.020  Income: $82,257  Hours Per Week: 45
  • Find This Job9. Special Education Teacher
  • Teaches elementary and preschool to physically challenged students, including those who are audibly or visually handicapped, and the mentally impaired.
  • Overall Ranking: N/A  Overall Score: N/A  Work Environment: N/A
    Physical Demands: N/A  Stress: N/A  Income: $41,486  Hours Per Week: 45
  • Find This Job10. Construction Machinery Operator
  • Operates one or more machines used in extractive or construction work.
  • Overall Ranking: 134  Overall Score: 586  Work Environment: 1136.250
    Physical Demands: 28.09  Stress: 32.950  Income: $39,165  Hours Per Week: 45

Not everyone is called to a life in the clergy, however, and forging a career as a painter, author or firefighter, for example, can be difficult due to heavy competition. But in the event that you don't land one of these top-rated jobs, how do you know which positions to avoid? According to the NORC, the jobs that score worst for satisfaction are low-skill positions involving manual labor, specifically in sales, freight handling and food-service.

That said, if you've just quit your bartending gig to start an exciting new career as a cashier, don't worry – with today's dynamic job market, a varied employment history with stops at several companies can actually be an asset in the long run.


I have worked as an artist (10 years), a graphic designer (5 years), and a high school art teacher for 5 years. Of all my jobs, teaching has been my favorite. It's hard work, yes, there are difficult students and parents, yes, but the positives outweigh those negatives by far, in my opinion. It is fulfilling and engaging-never a dull moment!!! I think it helps that I enjoy the other teachers in my department, also. It is so rewarding to be able to share my knowledge with young people and watch them bloom! 

I'm a firefighter and I work

I'm a firefighter and I work two days a week. I work an extra day a month for someone else to get that time back in a month off on top of 6 weeks vacation. I take that two and a half months off and travel or do nothing and sleep all day. I make $110,000yr, overtime included. I eat and sleep on the clock. My job is really like have a part time job where that "job" entails going to a frat house and hanging out. Firefighter should be #1.

I don't believe you!

How is it possible for you to only two days a week and get 110,00/yr?! If being a firefighter is really that easy then please tell me how to become one.

DITTO - RE fireman, Thank you for being honest!

Thats why I do not support the chicken little cries of poor public safety and do support better education... the average mo is too stupid to know that you guys are fleecing the government and have your own welfare system in place... oh and you forgot the GREAT retirement.

Thank you!

This is exactly why I don't donate when the firefighters come asking for donations to help fund the firefighter's costs.

Teachers make more income

Teachers make more income than special ed teachers???

not true

The subject, grade, or student does not change your income as a teacher.  I assume this is based on average salary.  Special Education Teachers, many times burn out in less than ten years.

Special Education

I agree with all of the comments on here about how you are not satisfied working with special education students. The laws and regulations make it impossible to really make a difference in the life of a special education student. There are too many things that you are forced to do that you can't actually make a plan to really help progress them along. I became too frustrated and had to quit my job trying to help people because it is an impossible task. I now work as a market researcher which is boring but at least I see progress instead of facing the same problems every single day. I believe the people that said their job was "fulfilling" were stating that because it is what people expect you to say when you work with the developmentally delayed.

Love my job as a Special Ed. teacher

I teach children aged 0-3 with disabilities and their parents and LOVE IT! I actually look forward to going back to work on Monday mornings.

Piano teacher

I'm very satisfied having my own little business/music studio in my home. However, I was NOT the breadwinner of the family. I work 20 hrs./wk @$50/hr. I hated teaching in the classroom...

mental health field

Although I am a masters level psychologist and not a PhD level, if you work at an agency or organization it's all the same- over worked and focused on how many clients you are seeing per day\minute\hour. It is not satisfying or rewarding when people are looking at dollar signs and clinicians are no longer able to provide the best treatment recommended (insurance companies do not help this). Quality of care and treatment suffer, clinicians are over booked, clients need to wait and feel they should be getting better care. This is a good career for someone who is able to work part time, maybe retired or is financially secure, someone who does counseling because they enjoy the work and not because they need to make a living with it.

mental health field

True. Burnout/ compassion fatigue


Sounds like teachers mostly hate their life.


I think teaching is a noble profession and very fulfilling. They have much power in their hands. They could have a lot of influence in their students' lives. They are instrumental in the molding of young children's mind. If teachers do their job with the purpose as service for the children, they could be whistling and even dancing while working.

Increasing caseloads less help

I am a special education autism teacher and I got into the field because I really enjoy working with the children and watching them make progress. Me and my team work our tails off every day. I start work at 5:30 am I leave school at 3:10 pm but I work an additional 2 hours each night on paperwork, individual plans, goals, contacting parents, etc. I average 10-11 hour days during the school year.

I don't mind the hard work! What I do mind is that the school district continues to increase my caseload and reduce my help making it virtually impossible to effectively teach my students. It's not fair to them. I will probably leave the field in a few years because I don't feel like my efforts are making a difference because of the extremely large caseload.

Middle School Math Teacher--Career Switcher

I worked in adult education for 25 years before changing careers to teach middle school math. I taught in an economically disadvantaged area. I worked a lot harder for a lot less pay as a teacher. I did love my students (most of them) and I enjoyed teaching. However, there were "bad" kids who did not receive adequate discipline and who could make getting through a class very difficult. Administration must support the classroom teacher, for the sake of the teacher and for the sake of kids who are there to learn. I know that teaching in a "better" school would have been a lot easier, so I can't say what others might experience in the profession. I also found it to be very physically challenging for me (50 years old.) Standing on hard floors all day long while talking is tough on the body. Most teachers I know have feet and leg problems if they've been doing this a while. Your voice also gets strained unless you use a mic, which teachers here in CA are issued. (I taught in VA.) Last, there is tremendous pressure to pass standardized tests, which isn't a problem for a higher performing school. For our school, it was a real challenge. 80% of our kids were ESL students who were learning English. As a teacher, you were constantly under the microscope--it caused a lot of stress. I was successful and my kids passed, but the pressure was enormous. I left teaching last year when my son became very sick and I now home school him. I'm glad for the experience I had, but there is a reason why the turnover rate is so high in teaching. It doesn't offer much of a career path, teachers can be disrespected both by kids and parents, the pressure is very high, and the physical demands significant. Many teachers are exhausted at the end of every long day. Time off is nice, but I found it gave me just enough time to recuperate before the year began again and I was working at a very fast, hard pace. I'd enjoy it more part-time, I think. I'd be careful about entering this profession with the wrong idea of what it is really like, especially if you start out at a challenging school. I have several friends who got their degree, student taught and quickly realized it wasn't for them.

Title I Teacher

Yeah I'll admit this is why I left the regular classroom. But, sometimes I am pretty bored with some of the limitations with specializing and the more paperwork side of teaching... however it is far less stressful. Still...there are always the stresses of dealing with unrealistic expectations and constant criticism from all the people involved in the process. Teachers and administration spend too much time working against each other then together... that's my stress...that and no job security.

Complaining Teachers

Maybe you are in the wrong profession. There are millions of teachers who love their jobs despite all those things you are complaining about. They love it because of the students, and nothing else matters if you really care about them. If you don't love the students, get out. You're only making things worse. I can imagine how "frustrating" the kids must be when they have a teacher who hates their job, their life, and even the kids. I wouldn't be a good student for you either. I would probably be be part of the "frustrating" staff too, because I wouldn't complain with you, and I would get my job done with a smile. I've worked in the schools before, and I can say that it's not a job for those who don't want to work hard, and expect to get a lot of respect and wealth. And, please stop complaining about working a lot of hours. You're not the only people who work a lot, but you do get 2+ plus months off in the summer, and all the holidays off to spend with family and friends. The cup is more than half full as a teacher, so please stop seeing it as half empty.

Teaching is satisfying....whatever!

As a special education teacher myself, I am wondering how this career choice made it onto this list and a few others. I do not find teaching, or special education fulfilling. Its nothing but paperwork, working at home and on the weekend because you can't get anything done at school, and meetings. Of course there are the perks of parents telling you how you don’t know how to do your job and kids who have nothing so you have to supply them with everything they need. Maybe I should find a disgruntled teachers blog instead of this?

Please find a new career

As a parent of a child that has special needs I would like to say that if you do not love your job it shows! Please do everyone a favor and change careers. It takes a special person to work with special people and you are doing them and thier families a huge disservice by continuing to be involved in thier lives. If you are so disgruntled and frustrated how can you possibly see past your own negativity to delight in the smallest gifts. My daughters teacher has been such a joy for us to include as part of her team and it's because of her attitude. She is so upbeat and genuinly cares about her development. If the feed back that you are getting from parents is not positive then it's probably time to take a look at the job you are doing. At my daughters school they have a budget for special supplys that are needed for the child to participated in educational activities and medical equipment is covered by insurance. As the teacher it is yours and the parents responsibility to work with the therapist in order to get the equipment that child needs. You can be an asset in helping that family make the right decision or you can complain about doing the paper work. These are peoples lives and if getting to be a part of that doesnt give you joy please don't involve yourself.



Teaching rated as one as the most satisfying careers

As a teacher, I dispute this. I am a middle school ESE (special ed.) teacher and find it highly frustrating-both the staff and students I deal with on a daily basis.

Hours worked by teachers

As someone who is married to a teacher and who has multiple friends who are teachers, I can assure you that there are no public school teachers out there who only work 45 hours per week! Office hours aren't the only "work" hours!

Our Partner Sites:
Job Seekers: