09/10/2015 1:47 PM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:50 PM AEST

Doing What We Love Might Not Make Us Happy After All

I love my job office desk
Peter Dazeley via Getty Images
I love my job office desk

As the old adage goes, "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life". But is it really that simple?

University of Melbourne’s Dr. Miya Tokumitsu doesn't think so. In fact, she believes that kind of rhetoric -- in terms of relating love to your work -- may not be as uplifting as it sounds, and has explained her reasoning in her new book Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness.

"I feel that way for a variety of reasons," Tokumitsu told The Huffington Post Australia. "On one hand, it's a very inward way of thinking. It keeps people focused on the individual and on the self, and in that way prevents people from looking outwards at the working conditions of other people in their community and working environment."

Tokumitsu believes that people, particularly in younger generations, should reframe their thinking around work and what it means to their identity. Instead, she says, we should focus on better working conditions and pursuing goals in our spare time that give meaning to our lives.

Tokumitus says this is particularly important because it's simply not realistic for everyone to do something they love for work. After all, we have financial responsibilities to meet.

"If it’s all about you, it doesn’t encourage solidarity or reaching out or looking out beyond yourself. It could end up being a case of 'even though my work situation is pretty comfortable, maybe my success is riding on the backs of other people' and you don't even realise.

"If all that matters is your happiness there’s no impetus to feel like participating in a community of workers."

Sounds simple enough.

Tokumitsu also points out the premise of doing what you love for work -- which is so prevalent in today's society, particularly on social media -- is not a privilege afforded to all.

"Not everyone is able to pursue work that they love," Tokumitsu said. "And even for people who do this lovable work, who are in industries which have a lot of social status or seem glamorous, very often it leads people to their own exploitation.

"If love is the proper motivation for why you are working, things like salary and schedule -- the hours you are working -- all of that stuff becomes crass. It can lead to a situation whereby if you bring that stuff up, the rejoinder is ‘but don’t you love it?'"

Tokumitsu also says there's a societal pressure to love what you do -- that there's shame associated in choosing a profession based on salary and security.

"It’s a secret -- if you don’t love your work every minute, you can’t talk about it," Tokumitsu said.


A photo posted by Unspirational (@unspirational) on

At least on Mondays.

"I also think it's generational. I think younger workers are so encouraged to have this public identity. It has to be everything. Your preferences in food to friends and job title -- you all have to fit in this brand. I think previous generations had much more of a transition between their public life and private life."

"You were one person when you were in public and that was your public persona and you were something else when you were with your friends and your family."

Tokumitsu notes that some of the reasons to work have changed over time, and some more traditional reasons to pick a particular career aren't necessarily "because I love it."

"I know I’ve spoken with other people -- and one woman mentioned that her grandma said that to do what you love is narcissistic," Tokumitsu said. "In other points in history, other motivations for working were seen as just as proper -- things like taking care of your family, contributing to the community, a sense of service -- working was tied up with morality."

Tokumitsu also floats the idea that perhaps work shouldn't be the definition of what we love -- but we should advocate for better working conditions for all so what we're actually passionate about can be pursued out of hours.

All the time, you guys.

"One of the arguments I make in the book is that, really, one thing that we all can do is make try to make work a bit more lovable for all people no matter what their tasks are," Tokumitsu said. "And that starts with advocating for better working conditions.

"I think maybe trying to think about do what you love in a non-work context is helpful... like we used to do what we loved after work and on the weekends and on vacations.

"If we take this 'do what you love' idea and detach it from the world of work -- and look at what is it we really love doing and who we want to be spending time with -- we should be advocating for work schedules to allow time for that.

"I think everyone would feel better about their work if they had a decent wage, decent hours and are in a position where they don't have to sacrifice their relationships and other hobbies.

"The idea that a job can give you everything that we’re claiming -- financial security, happiness, social status, a social life -- I just don’t think a job can give you all of that every minute of the day. And if you're really going to expect that, you're really bound for disappointment."