HEALTHWISE Working More, Enjoying It Less by Lislie Meriwether

North Coast Journal

HEALTHWISE - SEPTEMBER 1995


Working more, enjoying it less

by Leslie Meriwether

REMEMBER THE FOUR-DAY WORK WEEK prediction of the '70s, when modernization was going to give us all more free time? We wondered what we'd do with all that leisure.

Automation and the electronic age delivered on the promise, but, paradoxically, many of us work more hours now than we did then.

Juliet B. Schor, in her book "The Overworked American," discusses the unexpected decline of leisure. Leisure, free or unoccupied time, is like a bubble floating beautifully before our eyes; when we try to capture it, it bursts and disappears.

Whatever happened to leisure time? We can find images of it in catalogs, magazines, travel brochures and malls. Look at all those recreational clothes and equipment just waiting to be put in closets or garages. We can own them, but do we use them? Do we have the time, energy and money to travel or partake in the many activities offered? Most of us must say "no" or "not often."

Spending our hard-earned money is pretty easy. We no longer even have to leave the house to shop; we can simply turn on the television and browse the shopping channel or open our mailboxes to find a stack of catalogs. Browsing catalogs has become a national pastime. One phone call and we are the owners of yet another item.

Like Christmas, our new things arrive all wrapped up like a gift, adding to our delight. It may feel like a present, but the charge for this shows up later on our credit card bills, where, if we don't pay immediately, it accrues interest. The cycle is upon us. Work and spend, work and spend.

Since 1948, with the exception of five years, productivity has also increased in the United States. According to Schor, each year the amount of time we spend working increases slightly, about nine hours or so per year -- and it adds up. In 1990 the average American consumed more that twice as much as she or he did in 1948. We are working more, earning more and spending more.

This pattern has an effect on us. Stress-related diseases are increasing, especially among women. Sleep deprivation is becoming the norm. We are a wreck and our marriages and families are suffering.

At the same time our goals have changed; we have more demanding standards and aspirations. This leads to a more demanding life. Just look at how clean and uncluttered those homes on the soaps are, literally nothing out of place and fresh flowers artfully arranged in every room. And in real life we're trying to keep up with how the media have taught us to think things should be.

Time is now seen as a commodity. If we work long hours we feel we need to buy fast food, thereby spending more money but less time on food preparation. We try to consume convenience to "pay" ourselves back for all the extra work we have to do to pay for what we buy. It's a vicious circle.

Consuming takes time. Once we buy something, we then have to use it and take care of it which takes more time. Are you adding a room or garden that you will not have time to enjoy? Is your kitchen or shop full of modern conveniences that you ignore and then feel guilty about?

Some people love to work. But for many of us work is a means to an end. Take a look at how you work and spend:

At a time when simply having a job is something of a privilege, it is confusing to think about working less. It can be difficult to deny requests for overtime. But what is all this work getting us? If we can say "no" to long work hours, spend less money, change our expectations about how things should be -- in short, lead simpler lives -- we can find out how good it feels to spend time alone or with our families and friends. We can actually experience and enjoy that leisure time. Are you up for it?

Leslie Meriwether is a registered nurse and psychotherapist with the Arcata Family Medical Group


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