As happy as a lumberjack

Want to enjoy your work more? Take a page from the lumberjack’s playbook and do more of it outside.

Image by Lukasz Szmigiel.

Who are the happiest, most satisfied workers in America? Lumberjacks, apparently.

Andrew Van Dam from the Washington Post crunched the numbers from thousands of time journals from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey. He concluded that agriculture, logging, and forestry have “the highest levels of self-reported happiness — and lowest levels of self-reported stress — of any major industry category.”

Two factors contribute to lumberjacks self-reporting as the most satisfied, Van Dam extrapolates. First, they work on something larger than themselves, like “planting trees that you are not going to see harvested,” as one lumberjack put it. Second, they are in constant contact with the humbling great outdoors.

There’s not much I can do to help you find meaning in your work. But if you are a remote worker, I have some tips on how to spend more time outdoors.

In How To Walk More Without Changing Your Schedule, I shared some ideas to intro walking into your workday, such as reading and writing while walking, having meetings on the go, and virtual commuting.

But one can stay outdoors even if they’re not walking. Virtual commute aside, all those activities can be performed from a comfortable chair in the backyard or under the shade of a tree at the local park.

Admittedly, working on a computer outdoors is not always comfortable. But if you have enough flexibility in your schedule, you can design pockets of open-air time to do work that doesn’t require looking at a backlit screen.

Activities you can do on paper, such as brainstorming, outlining, editing, or, you know, plain old reading, are great candidates to be taken outside. If you have the budget, you could get an e-ink tablet and interact with more of your work outside the office.

Working remotely grants high flexibility in our schedule and environment, yet we often default to recreating the classic 9-5 office setup. With creativity and experimentation, we can reshape our days to suit our needs and put work around our lives, not the other way around. Spending more time outdoors is a great way to get started leveraging remote work’s flexibility.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention I found out about the article via Cal Newport’s podcast, episode 232. Cal is one of my favorite thinkers, and his work has shaped a lot of how I approach mine.