Researchers who surveyed 6,200 lawyers about their jobs and health found that the factors most frequently associated with success in the legal field, such as high income or a partner-track job at a prestigious firm, had almost zero correlation with happiness and well-being. However, lawyers in public-service jobs who made the least money, like public defenders or Legal Aid attorneys, were most likely to report being happy.Scrambling up through the firm to that big office probably won't make you happy, but working to make the world a better place might.
Actually I think autonomy might be as a big a part of this equation as morality: because the offices of public defenders are so understaffed, they have to do more by themselves and can make more decisions without having to look over their shoulders, so they feel more in control of their working lives.
I think your point re autonomy is a sound one.
I see it in education as well, at least public school education. Teachers are far more dissatisfied in general than, say, 15 years ago. First No Child Left Behind and then the insistence that single-administration high-stakes tests are the only way to evaluate kids and teachers and districts have taken virtually all the autonomy out of the classroom.
I'm glad I retired before the worst of the impact of these two horrific interrelated impositions on the public schools.
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