This Type of Worker Is the Happiest of All

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A young Asian woman smiles while working at a laptop computer
StudioByTheSea /

The happiest workers in America aren’t salaried or hourly employees. And they’re certainly not working for tips.

They are self-employed folks and freelancers, according to a recent survey. In other words, the happiest workers are those who get to be their own boss.

Don’t take our word for it: Last year, polled more than 1,000 workers in the U.S. about what makes them happiest about their employment situation. Happiness was measured on a scale from 1 (“very unhappy”) to 7 (“very happy).

The self-employed — like business owners or freelancers, who often work short-term gigs or do projects for multiple clients — scored highest. Folks who earn a base pay and work for tips on top of it — most of whom work in the food services industry — scored lowest. Specifically, the survey found:

  • Self-employed workers have an average happiness rating of 5.4 out of 7
  • Freelancers — 5.3
  • Salaried workers — 5
  • Hourly workers — 4.7
  • Base-pay-plus tips workers — 4.3

What makes workers most unhappy? It varies somewhat based on wage structure. The survey found that in each group, one factor made workers most unhappy:

  • Self-employed workers — job stress
  • Freelancers — job stress
  • Salaried workers — pay rate
  • Hourly workers — job stress
  • Base-pay-plus-tips workers — pay rate and co-workers (tie)

Ways to earn more income and stay happy

If you want to freelance — or simply to pick up extra income — the opportunities are virtually limitless. If you’re not sure what that means or how to go about it, consider these options:

If you simply want flexibility — rather than being your own boss — try to land a work-from-home job. We’ve got some great options in our story “13 High-Paying Jobs You Can Do From Home.”

What’s your take on worker happiness? Let us know below or on our Facebook page.

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