Many people seek careers that bring meaning to their lives. These 10 happiest jobs promise both long-term professional satisfaction and solid salaries.

The 10 Happiest Jobs You Might Not Expect


Dental Hygienist | Education Administrator | Physical Therapist |
Speech-Language Pathologist | Radiation Therapist | Forester | Optometrist |
Occupational Therapist | Human Resources Manager | Actuary


Nearly everyone wants a job that makes them happy, but job happiness can be hard to define. Studies indicate that people who find meaning in their work tend to be happier and more satisfied. But happiness can mean different things to different people. For example, a job involving work outdoors may appeal to some individuals but not others.

Interests and passions often change as well. What you dream of doing currently might not end up being your ultimate career goal. You could be passionate about animals and decide to become a veterinarian, only to later realize you're not equipped to handle the emotional stress of the job.

According to research, only half of American workers are “very satisfied” with their jobs.

The reality is that only half of American workers are "very satisfied" with their jobs. Most associate job satisfaction and happiness with qualities like a low-stress environment, a decent salary, supportive co-workers, good work-life balance, and the opportunity to perform meaningful work.

So what are the happiest jobs? We analyzed several career paths using criteria such as job satisfaction, job meaningfulness ratings, job outlook, work-life balance, and salary competitiveness to come up with the following list of the 10 happiest and most satisfying jobs.

The 10 Happiest and Most Satisfying Jobs

Dental Hygienist

You may not think cleaning teeth all day would lead to career happiness, but it can. According to a survey by PayScale, dental hygienists rank in the top 50 for job satisfaction among more than 500 professions. The position also ranks second on Glassdoor's 2019 job satisfaction survey.

In addition to cleaning teeth and gums, dental hygienists examine patients for signs of oral diseases, take X-rays, and educate patients on proper oral health. Many hygienists enjoy getting to build relationships with patients while improving and helping maintain their oral health.

Job Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the number of jobs for dental hygienists will grow 6% from 2019 through 2029. Demand is mainly expected to be driven by the aging baby-boom population. Society's increased emphasis on the importance of preventative dental care will also likely contribute to this profession's growth.

Dental hygienists earn a median annual salary of $76,220, with the top 10% making more than $103,340 per year.

Educational Requirements

You'll typically need an associate degree in dental hygiene to land a job as a dental hygienist. These programs normally take 2-3 years to complete. All states require licensing, and requirements vary by state. Those wishing to advance their careers into a research or teaching position can pursue a bachelor's in dental hygiene or a master's.

Education Administrator

Education administration, particularly at the elementary and secondary school levels, ranks among the most satisfying jobs. These professionals came in sixth place on PayScale's job satisfaction survey, with an overall 88% job satisfaction rating. Administrators also rate their occupation extremely highly for meaning (95%).

In terms of the work they do, elementary and secondary education administrators — including principals, vice principals, school directors, and superintendents — put together curricula, manage staff, counsel students, and oversee school budgets.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects 4% job growth — as fast as average — for elementary, middle, and high school principals between 2019 and 2029. Growth is largely dependent on student enrollment and local government funding.

Education administrators from kindergarten through high school make a median yearly income of $96,400. About 1 in 10 earns at least $148,000 a year.

Educational Requirements

Education administrators typically need a master's degree in education administration or educational leadership. Some schools may also require you to have teaching experience. Most states require administrators to possess a school administrator license.

Physical Therapist

Arguably one of the best parts of working as a physical therapist is getting to help others improve their health and resume their daily activities. In PayScale's survey, a whopping 90% of physical therapists felt their job held high meaning. Moreover, about 4 in 5 physical therapists surveyed reported high professional satisfaction.

Physical therapists diagnose and treat patients with injuries, disabilities, and other physical conditions. They also help individuals deal with chronic health conditions, improve or restore mobility, and manage or reduce pain.

Job Outlook

Physical therapists boast a strong employment outlook, with 18% job growth projected from 2019 through 2029. Demand is expected to rise as more baby boomers remain physically active later in life. These health specialists will also be needed to help meet the growing rehabilitation needs of those with chronic conditions that affect their mobility.

Currently, physical therapists take home a median annual salary of $89,440, with the highest 10% earning approximately $125,000.

Educational Requirements

Physical therapists must hold a doctor of physical therapy from a program that's been accredited by the Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy Education. This degree typically takes around three years to earn. All states also require you to pass the National Physical Therapy Examination.

Speech-Language Pathologist

Ninety percent of speech-language pathologists surveyed by PayScale identified their work as being highly meaningful, while close to 80% felt extremely satisfied with their role.

Speech-language pathologists assist people with managing and overcoming disorders related to speech, communication, language, and swallowing. Their important work helps people of all ages who are unable to communicate effectively due to hearing impairments, chronic disease, trauma, and neurological impairments.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects 25% growth for speech-language pathologists between 2019 and 2029, representing some 40,500 new jobs. High demand is expected to come from the aging baby-boom generation and the increase in patients with stroke and dementia. Speech-language pathologists will also be needed to assist children with speech and language disorders.

Speech-language pathologists earn a median yearly income of $79,120, or about $40,000 more than the median for all occupations.

Educational Requirements

Those aiming to become a speech-language pathologist will typically need a state license and a master's degree in speech-language pathology. A bachelor's degree in communication sciences and disorders or a related field is generally required to enter a speech pathology graduate program.

Radiation Therapist

Nearly 9 in 10 radiation therapists called their jobs highly satisfying in the PayScale survey. Furthermore, 93% of these professionals felt their work was meaningful — a strong indicator of job happiness.

Under the direction of oncologists and radiologists, radiation therapists help treat patients with cancer and other diseases by administering radiation treatments in order to shrink and remove tumors. They also monitor patients' conditions throughout treatment and record results.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects 7% job growth for radiation therapists between 2019 and 2029. An aging population, along with advancements in radiation therapy, is expected to drive demand in this field.

According to the BLS, radiation therapists make a median salary of $85,560, with the highest 10% earning over $128,630 per year. These professionals generally make more money working at outpatient care centers than they do at public and private hospitals.

Educational Requirements

Most employers require radiation therapists to have an associate or bachelor's degree from an accredited radiation therapy program, though some positions may only require a professional certificate. Licensing or certification is required in most states.

Forester

Foresters play an important role in the stewardship of our country's forested areas. According to PayScale, 85% of foresters reported high levels of job satisfaction, perhaps owing to the time spent in nature.

The primary responsibilities of foresters include maintaining wilderness areas, managing animal habitats, developing and overseeing trail systems, implementing rules and regulations, rehabilitating forests, and educating the public on sustainable timber harvesting.

Job Outlook

Forestry jobs are projected to grow 4% between 2019 and 2029. Demand in this field will likely be fueled by increasing forest conservation awareness, growing concerns over wildfire suppression, and the popularity of green career paths. Foresters make a median annual salary of $61,790.

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree in forestry, environmental science, forest management, agricultural engineering, horticulture, or a similar field is usually required to land a job as a forester. Some states may also require licensure. Certification from the Society of American Foresters can aid in career advancement.

Optometrist

They say eyes are the window to the soul, but could they also be the window to finding a job that makes you happy? According to PayScale, optometrists are among the happiest workers, with over 80% finding satisfaction and meaning in their work.

Not to be confused with ophthalmologists or opticians, optometrists provide routine eye care. Duties normally include conducting eye exams, diagnosing eye-related conditions, writing prescriptions for glasses and contact lenses, providing treatment to help patients manage eye diseases, and performing minor surgeries.

Job Outlook

Positions for optometrists are projected to grow 4% between 2019 and 2029. The aging baby-boom population will play a significant role in maintaining demand for workers in this field. As people age, they become increasingly susceptible to eye-related health conditions.

According to the BLS, optometrists earn a high annual salary of $115,250.

Educational Requirements

Aspiring optometrists must earn a doctor of optometry (OD) from an accredited program. Most students who enter OD programs possess a bachelor's degree with a medical or biological sciences concentration. Admission to optometry programs is highly competitive.

All states require optometrists to be licensed, with many requiring the completion of continuing education coursework in order to maintain licensure.

Occupational Therapist

In PayScale's job satisfaction survey, over three-fourths of occupational therapists said their job offered high levels of meaning and satisfaction. These rankings, combined with the position's competitive salary and high projected growth rate, make occupational therapy an incredibly rewarding field.

Occupational therapists use various forms of therapy to help individuals who are ill, injured, or disabled regain the skills necessary to perform everyday functions. Tasks may include giving recommendations for adaptive equipment in the client's home, school, or workplace; supporting children with disabilities so they can participate in school activities; helping patients cope with dementia or recover from a stroke; and educating family members.

Job Outlook

Employment for occupational therapists is projected to grow an impressive 16% between 2019 and 2029. Demand is expected to come from the aging baby-boom population and the fact that more people are remaining active later in life. Advancements in technology should also expand the scope of practice.

Occupational therapists make a median yearly wage of $84,950, with the highest 10% earning more than $121,490.

Educational Requirements

To become an occupational therapist, you must hold a master's or doctoral degree in occupational therapy and state licensure. All states require you to pass an exam administered by the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy.

Human Resources Manager

If you consider yourself a people person, you may want to pursue a career as a human resources (HR) manager. On Glassdoor, HR managers ranked 11th, with a high job satisfaction score of 4.2 out of 5.

HR managers create and implement programs and policies related to staffing, training, payroll, benefits, employee relations, governmental regulations, health and safety protocol, and more. They also help business leaders identify ways to maximize the value of a company's employees to ensure efficiency and high productivity.

Job Outlook

The BLS projects 6% growth for HR manager jobs from 2019 to 2029. Demand will be driven by overall business growth and the increasing complexity of rules and regulations regarding employment law. HR managers earn a high median annual wage of $116,720.

Educational Requirements

A bachelor's degree in HR management, business management, business administration, or a similar field is usually required to land a position in human resources. Some employers may require a master's degree. An associate degree in human resources could help get your foot in the door for an entry-level position.

Actuary

You may be surprised to learn that actuaries rank among the jobs with highest satisfaction. On PayScale's job survey, 80% of actuaries enjoyed a high level of career satisfaction. Job search site CareerCast similarly ranks actuaries within the top 10 jobs based on factors like work environment, stress levels, and projected employment growth.

Actuaries primarily work in the insurance and finance industries, analyzing financial risk associated with the issuance of insurance policies, investments, pension plans, and other financial strategies. These financial experts use advanced statistics and modeling software to predict the probability of an event occurring.

Job Outlook

Jobs for actuaries are projected to grow a staggering 18% between 2019 and 2029. Demand should come from the increased volume of available data used to analyze financial risk, new financial product offerings, and the expansion of healthcare. Actuaries take home a high median annual salary of $108,350.

Educational Requirements

Most employers require candidates to hold a bachelor's degree in actuarial science, mathematics, statistics, economics, finance, or a similar field. Certification by the Society of Actuaries or the Casualty Actuarial Society is generally a condition of employment. Certification candidates must meet experience requirements and pass multiple exams.

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