There is more to life than work

Pondering how work and money may be costing us our spirits and exploring a global movement for shorter work weeks


Is 40 hours too much?

Do you work 40 or more hours a week? If so, you are not alone; ninety-four percent of professional workers put in over 50 hours a week, and some work more than 65 hours in a week. In this trend, the 40 hour work week is becoming a thing of the past as people are overworking more than we have seen in recent history.

But, this short-lived tradition of workaholism faces threats as more begin to seek alternative lifestyles. The concept of a 20 or 30 hour work week may seem far-fetched, but it is one that is showing to have positive results for our well-being and for the economy and society as a whole. With so much of the population working days, nights, and weekends in multiple jobs, it seems working overtime has effectively hijacked the lives of millions.

Though western culture tends to value economic growth, most individuals agree that when it comes to work, less is more. Shortening the workweek is an idea trending in popularity, especially since the publication of the bestselling book The Four Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss, who proves it is possible to be both successful and impactful while working less and playing more.

Work can kill the human spirit

In Ken Robinson’s famous TED Talk “How school kills creativity,” he explains just one way that standardization and rigid structures are detrimental to our most basic needs and desires. As human beings, it is in our nature to innovate, cooperate, and think critically, and much of today’s systems inhibit us from those integral life experiences.

To learn from the education system, we can transform existing frameworks that continue to overwork and under-appreciate the human spirit. From the classroom to the cubicle, our ability to be creative and follow our passions are less and less tangible the more we learn and work in sterile, routine environments.

In the current job market and school system, we are largely forced to specialize in the tasks and assignments we carry out. And though specialization is beneficial in a variety of ways, Ken Robinson argues that creativity comes from the interaction of interdisciplinary perspectives. A shortened work week is an effective way to facilitate that interdisciplinary interaction by fostering freedom and building community, as it gives people the opportunity to have experiences that stimulate the human spirit, through social engagement, travel, creativity, etc.

How necessary is money?

Further indicative of the necessity of change, the vast majority of people work simply to make money. Ironically, paper currency is very new in the span of human history, yet it dominates our lives and simultaneously causes widespread anxiety, inequality and overall suffering. Our relationship with money has led many to question the negative effects money has on humans, as discussed in the TED talk titled, “Does money make you mean?” With loss of empathy, lack of compassion and decreased generosity now associated with having more money, it’s time to envision alternatives to our economic priorities.

Lucky for us, financial capital is only one of eight forms of capital, which gives hope for the movement to shorten the work week. To name a few, social, living/biological, and spiritual capital offer fresh perspectives to the notion of economic prosperity. As humans are naturally reciprocal beings, we thrive when we are less reliant on currency, and instead more dependant on the “give and take” offered in economies that allow for bartering, timebanking and similar relationship-based practices that transcend financial transactions.

The International Slow Movement

The international slow movement further affirms the need to reprioritize and simplify our lives and commitments. As a recovering workaholic, I recognize the difficulty in avoiding working too much. With so many opportunities, and with social norms telling us we must work to be productive members of society, it takes a certain level of will and self-awareness to make the leap and join the movement to slow down and truly live our lives the way we choose to.

Should you quit your job?

It is important to recognize that depending on what you do, working hard can be good for the soul, for the planet and for the economy. There are work conditions that allow people to love their jobs, such as getting along with co-workers, having a unified culture, feeling challenged and having variety in responsibilities.

And studies reveal reasons why people quit their jobs include feeling underappreciated and lacking senses of purpose and empowerment. And in a revolution of resignations, it seems people have a growing sense of empowerment to quit their jobs. This confidence to hand our bosses our two week notices indicates the desire for something beyond the widely accepted idea of work as a mundane, obligatory task.

In another one of his TED Talks, Ken Robinson further articulates the downfall of the rampant disempowerment that comes from standardization. By connecting how fast food hurts our bodies because of the lack of compassion and the standardization in its sourcing and production, we can see that the standardization of workaholism similarly malnourishes human spirit and energy.

Things to consider…

Every person’s situation is unique, so what I recommend to those who feel overworked and unfulfilled is an exploration of non-obligatory experiences, as they will likely help you discover and affirm your passions. A shorter work week and slower lifestyle enhance one’s ability to live in line with her natural tendencies and instinctual desires, while simultaneously helping the environment and boosting the economy.

The big question is this: Do you enjoy and feel purpose in the work you do? If you dread your job or feel drained after a day of work, perhaps its time to re-prioritize. My dad always says that work and play should be synonymous, and he emphasizes that people should quit their jobs if they cannot see work as play. Or in the words of Confucius, ”Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”

Essentially, this movement attempts to balance out the lifestyles many of us live, and Kris Carr agrees that doing less is more, and she asserts that it “is not about lowering your standards or shrinking from life. You matter. You are important. The world would be far less awesome without you. And, believe it or not, it will still keep spinning even if you step back and nurture yourself.”

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