May 20, 2011 § 1 Comment
I was reminded on vacation there are still some cultures that aren’t as work-obsessed as we are out there. One of the most common questions you ask people in the US when you meet them is “what do you do?” Work is often a central part of conversation outside of work. As a result our work has become a key way to define ourselves, whether it be a marketing director or a stay-at-home-mother (hands down the hardest work of all). I’ve really noticed it over the past year as I struggle to come back with a quick reply when people ask what I do. At times I’ve thought it would be a fun game just to make something up and have fun with it. I’m a neurosurgeon or I’m a professional cat photographer. Or maybe I’m currently on leave from the circus.
There was a 20th century Welsh philosopher, Bertrand Russell, who surprisingly in the midst of the Great Depression published a paper called In Praise of Idleness. He argued “the road to happiness lies in an organized diminution of work”. We need to work less. He cited the many historical examples of people devoting their whole lives to work while others reaped the benefits. He rejected the social ideal as being born out of religious principles that the “honest day’s work” was what made a person “good” or “virtuous”.
He didn’t advocate not working but suggested people should cultivate other sides of themselves that equally contribute to civilization and society in important ways, like education, music and art. As he put it “moving matter about is emphatically not one of the ends of human life.” I think it’s easy to take a look at our culture and wonder why we’re working harder than ever, consuming more than ever but seemingly unhappier than ever. I take that back…the self help industry and pharmaceutical companies are probably very happy.
At times work can be very fun, but at some point along the way I became a workaholic which wasn’t so fun. I can remember feeling guilty for taking vacation and always feeling tied to my phone when I did have free time. That said, I wouldn’t have the flexibility I have now had it not been for the hard work I did before. I am glad I didn’t just move on to the next bigger, better job though. Giving myself this time to see what else is out there definitely makes me believe we cannot be happy when we’re just about work.
I’m sure this project will definitely give me lots of good ways to describe what I do.