People today have more wealth and leisure time than ever, and they work less than ever. But depression rates are at an all-time high. Let’s consider why.
People spend their abundant wealth and free time on recreation. It’s fun to ski, drink, romance, and even watch TV, play video games and preen/protest.
People often define those fun recreational activities as “life” and the less-fun activities that pay for those fun recreational activities as “work.” Almost by definition, people find recreation more fun than work.
Work consequently takes a backseat to their recreational “life.” They don’t work hard and don’t achieve much. Their half-hearted work produces half-assed results.
That’s OK, they tell themselves, because happiness lies in fun. And fun lies in recreation, not work.
But they’re wrong. Their belief that recreation produces happiness works no better than they do. Their recreational “life” seldom makes them happy.
So, they double down. Today’s people work the least of any people in history, but they assume the reason for their unhappiness is that they’re still working too much. They think they need to increase their already-high dose of recreation.
Frustrated and angry, they use their lavish free time to bash the system that produced it. If only the system were fairer – if only it were a system permitting them to work even less and get paid even more – then they’d finally be happy, or so they think.
They get defensive and even quasi-religious about their faith that more recreation produces more happiness, even though their personal experience is that it doesn’t. Anyone who doesn’t buy into their work-interferes-with-life dogma gets bad-mouthed as a “workaholic.” They indoctrinate children and students with that same failed faith. Misery loves company.
Here’s the flaw in the belief system of these people. They have confused happiness with fun. Amusement park rides are fun, but they don’t make people happy. What makes people happy are constructive activities such as serving others, accomplishing goals, overcoming obstacles and building things.
In short, what makes people happy is work. It’s what we’re made for.
What makes people the very happiest of all is to throw themselves passionately into that work. Great achievements require great effort and great emotional investment, and consequently produce great happiness. Little achievements require little effort and little emotional investment, and consequently produce little happiness.
Achievers know this. If Steve Jobs could have gotten rich without working 110-hour weeks to build Apple Computer into one of the premier technological companies in the world, and could have instead spent an entire wealthy life engaged in recreation, I’ll bet he wouldn’t have taken that deal.
He didn’t build Apple for the money. He did it because he was wired to achieve. Achievement is what made him happy. He did it for the glory.
Most of us are wired that way, but many of us are unaware of it. Many people are puzzled that a new job fails to make them happy even though it enables them to have more recreation – a bigger “life” as they see it – by paying them more money for less work. They fail to see that they’re depressed not despite the wealth and leisure time in today’s society, but because of it. In short, the word “but” in the first paragraph above should be “therefore.”
So how do we solve this problem?
Not by lessening the wealth of society, though that would certainly be the outcome of utopian social planners who think they can socially engineer us to happiness.
No, the way to solve the problem is to recognize that work is not something separate from and in opposition to life. Along with faith and family, work is a key ingredient of life. Recreation, in contrast, is mere amusement.
Like Steve Jobs, people who work hard and passionately are on the road to happiness. Along the way, incidentally, they help build a better world for the rest of us.
Balancing work with recreational “life” makes you a failure at both. Pouring yourself passionately into work makes you a success at both.
My advice to the recreational work-a-phobes is to stop looking for life in all the wrong places. Get to work, and you just might find a life.