The Importance of Work for Our Identity, Meaning and Purpose in Life

in philosophy •  6 months ago

Working is part of life. Nothing would be there without people working to make it and exchange with others. Money as a medium of exchange helps make things simpler, as opposed to always bartering. Work is important, and when meeting someone new one of the first questions we often ask is "what do you do?"


In general, we heavily identify with what we do, and rightly so because a large part of who we are is what we do. Our work life takes up 1/3 of our days, for 5 out of 7 days usually. Regardless of how often many people may move from job to job or career to career, 55% of U.S. workers get identity, meaning and purpose from what they do. Those in early life, like college graduates, get even more identify from their excitement and devotion to enter the work force, with a 70% identification to their jobs. I've heard of old people also finding life meaningless when they retire, and regret it. Some get depressed as they don't have anything to do that gives them meaning anymore.

Work Life

Working for a certain numbers of hours each week is recent. As new jobs developed, some surnames were changed to reflect the profession a craftsman worked at. Yet, many people derived their sense of belonging based on family, religion or geographic location. Church identity has previously been eroded for the last half century and more with multiculturalism bleeding away geographic and religious identity boundaries for identity. Family still plays a large part in our identity for most people though.

Work life has declined in the past 50 years. More paid-leave, such as vacations, account for much of that reduction. Working over 50 hours each week in high skilled jobs accounted for 20% of people in the UK. This trend has increased overall since 1970, despite the 20% stats having gone down in the UK.

Work History

Work-reward exchanges have been around for at least 5000 years, with alcohol "soma" as payments done in Uruk (modern Iraq). In ancient Turkey, remains of a town from 9000 years ago suggest similar conditions. Everyone was involved in producing food, with common land ownership and sharing. These activities were likely seen as daily living for survival in a society or community, as opposed to work.

The agricultural revolution seems to have changed how civilization specializes its individual unit constructors (human resources). Increased food production allowed people to go into different niches to exploit and build up wealth in mastering their specialized type of work. Innovation and development can progress more quickly by outsourcing certain parts of our lives. The advent of specialized tasks, exchange of labor, eventually leads to our modern understanding of work.

Life of sharing in a community changed as the community grew. Hierarchy replaced the social communal living. As towns become bigger, power centralizes into fewer hands and a powerful elite tends to develop in all societies as history progressed this way. Not only were property resources being managed between people on a larger scale, but the elite were now managing people themselves through the control of labor.

Before money to survive, you worked for food, water and shelter. This is how many slaves viewed their "fortunate" situations, that their masters were good because they fed and sheltered them, took care of them, so that they wouldn't need to do so on their own in the "wild". The plantation become a form of economic security. Society is also a farm for economic security.

Ball and Chain

Modern technology has made us latched onto our jobs even when we leave work. Smartphones keep white collar workers connected to their jobs, where everywhere is a "home-office" when they are not at the official office. We are in an "always on" culture. Despite this "ball and chain" living where things can be demanding, stressful, boring or hard, it's overall good as the alternative is usually unemployment.

Employment tends to give identity, meaning and purpose in some aspect of our life. Unemployment, may take parts of ourselves away as a result. We can become depressed, lose meaning and purpose, and lose ourselves. We can become dissatisfied with life and that leads to unhealthiness. This isn't to say all jobs will prevent this, but many people gain satisfaction, meaning, purpose and health through the economic opportunity of being employed. Depression, anxiety and low self-worth are greatly diminished.

Live to Work, or Work to Live?

Victor Frankl demonstrated the power of finding meaning and purpose, if not now, then in the future, as he tried to motivate concentration camp prisoners to survive. He motivated people to survive by not focusing on the dreadful present condition, but on the future they could have afterwards. Having a purpose and meaning brings fulfillment and a desire to survive. Purpose and well-being are linked.

Mortality is linked to meaning and purpose. I have talked about this in relation to people's fixation on the desire for transhumanism, as well as religion. I mentioned how the fear of death leads many to attach themselves to ideas that evade and negate this future we fear. Be immortal, live forever, time doesn't matter, no death, devalue the sacredness of life that has death, lose meaning and purpose, then wander lost. Those who have a sense of purpose live longer. Mind over matter. We can get through concentration camps and survive while others die, and we can also survive past our retirement while others die who retire. How we think about ourselves and our lives, our purpose and the value and worth we have to ourselves and others, matters greatly.

Those who have stronger meaning, purpose and value in life, can handle stress better and allow themselves change in accordance. They are secure enough to face their worldview and selfview, and fix what needs fixing to optimize their living and survival. Cognitive decline is reduced by meaningful use of our time. We may think this is simply a factor of being cognitively active that will allow us to prevent cognitive decline. But that is not the case. As mentioned, purpose is important for health, and this is still true for mental psychological and physical brain health. The biological mechanism is unknown, but purpose and meaning improve overall immune functionality and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.


There are many benefits to working indeed, but these all presume an actualization of meaning and purposeful work for us to enjoy these positive psychological benefits. If we don't have a greater meaning and purpose in our jobs, the benefits might be cut. All jobs provide some level of self worth, value, and meaning since they permit us to survive.

This isn't to say there is no other value gained. Neither is a job the only way to gain value. I would suggest most people gain value from doing things they like and enjoy doing. For some lucky people, they work doing what they like to do. Our family, culture, society and the personalities we have developed through our lives can tend to influence what careers we will find meaningful, and which ones we will find pointless and boring. We derive a sense of self and a sense of belonging from our family, parents, friends, society and even media. This sense of belonging extends to what we will do for a living.

Those we interact with, we identify with, are those we are going to derive connection, comradery and a sense of belonging to a "family" of sorts. The more we interact with others, the more we communicate and exchange personal stories, gossip, chat, share vulnerabilities and strengths, and the more we tend to trust each and get along to achieve a common goal.

As work will continue to evolve over the coming years with automation, we must also change the work to find meaning within it. Not all work is equal, some people like what others hate, and vice versa. Simply working, exerting physical labor, is not enough for some. Automation will replace much of -- if no most of -- the physical jobs we currently have in many areas of the world. The future is always changing and uncertain. The advent of robotics and more developed AI will affect how we lead our lives into the future.


Thank you for your time and attention. Peace.

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Working can be seen as survival of the fittest in a way and there’s no way around living if you aren’t working and being able to support yourself or your family . Which might also cause financial distress along the way


You need to do something to survive, it's not up to others to provide for us. Humans have it a lot easier compared to the other animals in the animal kingdom. We have much comfort and leisure and easier survival.

The most interesting area that will (and should) be robotisized is filing information with the govern-cement.

However, this is the largest make work program in the world. That of filling out forms, and then taking those forms and putting them into a computer. It could so easily be automated, if only the govern-cement weren't 20 years behind.

Overnight, 50% of the working people could be freed from their drudge. And businesses could be much more relaxed, because they know all the things got filed correctly. (misfiling comes with fines, and people interrupting your actual work)

What is really interesting, is that we could all go back to the farm, and with the advent of small, personal tractors, and running water, we could make a living like those 200 years ago, but with less than 20 hours a week of work.

The only problem with this is how do you pay the rent (property tax) on your property? Converting food into cash is not the easiest thing.

There are lots of things that need doing. There is tons of work that would really help if someone was to do it. But, currently they are all unpaid / they do not make a profit.

This is probably the area that is going to change the most in the coming years. With communities issuing cryptos for work in maintaining the community. (like picking up trash)

Because, as @krnel says, work is important to a person's well being.


Yeah for some ppl they want t go back to self-sufficient living and live off the land, but others prefer to exchange for food and do something else. Crypto for community work sounds like a good thing. What do you have in mind as a way for it to happen? Someone has to have the crypto to pay, didn't they work to buy into it or do other work like on Steem (apart from selling their votes and laying back to reap the profits ;) )


Charles Hugh Smith has a lot more on this idea.

His thoughts are on a community based crypto. It would probably based on local trade / bartering as well as local donation / charity.

And then add some kind of voting / donating for jobs to get done, posted on a board or something.

The big idea isn't hard, but the implementation is in the details, and those are brutal.

I am bit oldschool at heart. I definitely want to succeed in professional life, as that will be a sign to me that I achieved something during the time I spend on earth. So I agree with you that work life provides purpose and self worth.

However, i will also derive value and satisfaction if I dont succeed but someone succeeds by learning from my failures or if i can mentor someone towards success or achieve whatever satisfaction they want to achieve.

I also find purpose from keeping alive some of the skills that are dying thanks to automation, and its neither work nor a hobby for me. I think some of these basics skills such as fixing things, cooking or even driving are slowly dying as innovation and economies of scale drive prices lower.

And i think people feel depressed once they have no work because i agree, a large chunk of their life that gave them a reason to fight, do something is gone. I can see that with my parents. Its like the world stamped them with "you're only good enough to die a slow death now."

Again, very insightful.


Damn that sucks, your parents should try to find meaning doing something else. I have found the greatest meaning in pursuit of truth and figuring out the world and how to solve problems: philosophy, psychology and morality :)


Thats what i tell them. Try and learn about or do things that you wanted to do when you were raising kids. Hopefully they will find meaning like you did. Thanks for the advice.

The coming of technologies have cost so many human to loss their job duty to robots 🤖 coming to existence, but I urge everyone who is in position of giving jobs to give to real humans to do the job because they have people who are benefiting from them from the peanut they are been paid. Great post @krnel


Things will change, as automation will come. People will need to increase their cognitive skills, and be less manual labor. More thinking force, less brute force.


I believe that "losing" jobs to "robots" is inevitable. But most of the jobs that robots are so good at are the ones no human enjoys doing. If you want to tell your child that when he grows up he will have the chance to live as a machine and work long hours and bring home barely enough money to feed his family, then go ahead. I for one expect more from life. I refuse to be subject to the whims of an employer. And so many other people and youths are starting to see things my way.

Let the robots take our work. We'll just take the robots.

I agree.

I always felt that people who complain about how their job sucks, or the government sucks, or the system and society sucks are the ones who will be left behind to erode into nothing when they get too bored from lack of work.


Things do suck in many ways, but we have to earn our keep ;)


Contribute to society. Yep.

Highly rEsteemed!



Thanks ;) Indeed, we want fulfilling things to do. I find that on Steem by writing on topics that are interesting and help others learn what I have learned :) Getting people to think more and move forward in common understanding:)

Working is supposed to be the activity you are most waiting for every day. You look forward to the day when you can better open your minds to new things. Happiness in doing this routine should not come only because of financial rewards, but also the inner wealth that you earn. Talking to others about the activities you do should make you proud, not just talk about complaints.


It's best to find something you enjoy and gain value from to derive happiness, indeed.

👏👏 Well done job. It's funny, there is a man in my neighborhood that I still don't know his name. I only knew by carpenter, that's what I heard them call him since I was born. He got a name from the work he did.


That's a good example of how it still pervades even today ;)


Yes it certainly is

Work is essential. You need to fill your day with something. I don't plan to retire ever. Just the thought of not doing anything is overwhelming.


Retire from one thing and move onto something else to do, but not retire form doing things, no ;)


Sounds about right