Farming, logging, and forestry were rated as the happiest, most meaningful, and least stressful by workers in these and 17 other occupations, according to an article in the January 6, 2023 edition of the Washington Post. The author, Andrew Van Dam, drew on survey data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the DOL for the years 2010, 2012, 2013, and 2021.
The DOL data consisted of self-reported ratings by workers compiled from thousands of voluntary responders for each of the four surveys reviewed by Van Dam. Agriculture ranked highest in happiness and meaning and lowest in stress.
How can the work associated with agriculture, which most farmers feel is highly stressful, also be associated with happiness and meaningfulness? Agricultural jobs are among the most dangerous, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health in their annual reports of occupational injuries, illnesses, and deaths, which Van Dam noted.
Furthermore, as has often been reported in Farm and Ranch Life articles, psychological stress associated with farming is usually the highest of any occupation, as indicated by mental stress ratings by farmers. The suicide rate by farmers is also among the highest of any occupation.
US Department of Labor and the USDA consider fishing, farming, logging, and forestry as agricultural occupations because they all entail furnishing food, fiber, and fuel. No ratings by fishers were included in Van Dam’s recent analysis.
Van Dam explained why agricultural occupations are considered to be satisfying by looking at additional DOL ratings about the activities and the places where the survey respondents in all the assessed occupations worked.
The three happiest, most meaningful, and least stressful activities were: religious and spiritual activities, sports and recreation, and caring for and helping non-household members. The two least satisfying activities were: personal care (lowest), and household services.
What do these activities say about agricultural occupations? Farming, and its associated endeavors in logging and forestry, are considered highly spiritual activities; they entail physical exercise; and they involve helping and caring for others.
It can be said, “Farming is a noble occupation, a highly spiritual way of life. Farming brings us closer to God through the land. Farming helps us understand our main purpose in life.”
Van Dam reported data about the places where people work, because these ratings imply what brings the most happiness, meaning, and the least stress to workers. The survey results indicate that the two most favorable places to experience these three attributes are: where people worship, followed by working outdoors. Working in schools, buses, and banks were the least favorable.
Apparently, agricultural workers find their workplaces afford them places to worship, and mostly outdoors. Many of the farmers, ranchers, and farm laborers with whom I confer, say they feel the greatest closeness to God while working—and refueling themselves—outdoors.
We feel spiritual connections to the land and the outdoors in general, and to our purposes in life when farming, working in the logging and forestry industries, and I daresay, also when fishing or hunting. Hikers and other outdoors people can also relate to this observation.
I meditate best when working on the farm at non-demanding jobs such as raking hay, and when outdoors in general—even if driving a car or truck somewhere, and preferably on the backroads. When I mentioned this in a Farm and Ranch Life article several years ago, a couple people chastised me.
“Aren’t you compromising your safety and that of others when you don’t give your full attention to the task at hand?” I answered honestly, “I concentrate better and don’t get tired or sleepy when I meditate. I can react immediately if I detect any problems.”
It’s possible, as Van Dam noted, that people in the farming, logging, and forestry occupations romanticize about their work. They feel useful, and at peace in the outdoors.
Health-care and social workers also rated themselves as doing the most meaningful work, along with workers in farming, logging, and forestry. However, workers in the health fields ranked lower on happiness and higher in stress.
Access to the outdoors is highly appealing, Van Dam observed. People who work in offices like to look outside a window at green spaces.
“It’s like therapy,” one logger mentioned to Van Dam. Perhaps, working at home allows employees greater opportunities to take breaks outside or simply to look at a natural environment.
The COVID era demonstrated that most workers are more productive working from home than in the office. Now, as COVID infections are remitting somewhat, many company managers are allowing their employees to remain working at home when possible.
However, the work environment for agricultural workers can also become toxic, especially when the operations are not prospering financially. It appears, however, that farmers and those in related industries, prefer to look at the positive aspects of their way of life.