Are We Overworked?

Recently a couple of persons close to me, a man and a woman, confided how overworked and stressed they are. Both are full-time employees with six-figure jobs, highly educated and intelligent, with excellent family support, and loving children and spouses. How lucky they are compared to most of us. If anyone should be able to cope, they should.

I have no doubt this reflects a society gone mad. It reflects the lack of a social safety net in modern America, the transfer of wealth from working people—even six figure income people—to corporations and shareholders, a materialistic society obsessed with GDP, the residue of the Protestant work ethic, the devaluing of time spent doing anything but producing, the greed of many of the super-rich, and who knows what else. But when the most talented persons in society are not flourishing, something is wrong with society. (And how to even imagine the stress of parents working at minimum wage jobs—essentially indentured servitude.)

The basic solution has to do with a new social and economic system. It is simply indecent that the 85 richest people control as much wealth as the poorest half of the world, more than 4,000,000,000 people! Imagine if aliens landed on the planet and observed this level of inequality. What would they conclude except that they have discovered one of the most unjust social and economic systems in the universe?

But how do we change the world? Unfortunately, I don’t know, and I fear we must wait for human consciousness to expand beyond the bounds of conventional thought for this to occur. This has happened to a certain degree in some parts of the world. Scandinavia and much of Western Europe have much stronger social safety nets and more laid-back lifestyles than say the USA. Nevertheless changing the economic system of the world in a single lifetime is a tall order.

The other thing we can do is try to change ourselves. Meditation, exercise, adequate sleep, and a good diet may provide some help. But in the end, these are just coping mechanisms designed to deal with an out-of-control society. I simply don’t know the answer except to say that one should try, if economically feasible, to change their environment either by moving to another society or changing their lifestyle within the country in which they live.

However, as I write this a feeling of impotence overwhelms me. With workers working longer hours for less pay and the wealth of society redistributed to the very wealthy, solutions are hard to find. Much suffering will continue—it is ubiquitous—and humanity hasn’t even begun to live until it creates a better world. (Remember though that the world is in most ways better than its ever been.)

The pain of all this is overwhelming. To cope we must remember there are mountains and oceans to look at, love to be given and received, and, hopefully, some inner peace to be found. Someday humans will grow up and realize that toys, trinkets, and big houses and cars pale in comparison to the wealth of health and inner peace. In the meantime, we should do all we can to find the real wealth of human life.

With my most sincere wishes for my reader’s future health and happiness, I remain, as ever, a devoted blogger.

Liked it? Take a second to support Dr John Messerly on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!

13 thoughts on “Are We Overworked?

  1. I think people are working and commuting less than ever before. Increasing numbers of people are dropping out of the labor force, not working at all (yet most are still getting by due to welfare, family, charity etc.). And the predictions I have seen show people working shorter hours, with longer weekends. People are commuting less and less, by working at home, and traffic seems to have peaked years ago.

    Overall, I wouldn’t extrapolate too much from the anecdotes in your personal life about professionals being overwhelmed with work. The Industrial Revolution was overwhelming. Professional accountants and programmers have it relatively easy.

    Also: inequality, per se, is not indecent or unjust. Consider a world where everyone has a million dollars. Then imagine that 10% of those people work hard to become super talented and productive, and gain another 100 million dollars. The rest of the world still has the same million dollars as before. Inequality has drastically increased, but nothing unjust has happened, it seems to me.

    Perhaps there are relevant differences between this extreme example, and the real world, but the burden would be on the liberal to show what these differences are – instead of just assuming that inequality is always bad. People today have more wealth and prosperity than at any other time in the history of the world. I don’t see why they are further entitled to more lucre from the Michael Jordans and Bill Gates’s of the world.

  2. Also, Kip. In the future you may want to validate your assertions using data and refrain from straw man arguments. Nowhere is it mentioned that inequality “per se” is immoral. Though I will argue that there is an optimal inequality which we have, as a plan et, way overshot. When 85 people own/control more than the bottom 50% of the global population then it’s fairly compelling evidence that someone, or at least 85 someones, are the beneficiaries of a rigged game. I also find it interesting how nonchalantly you conclude that programmers and accountants have it relatively easy. Two errors here: one is misunderstanding, or generously a complete ignorance of, human psychology and the role of relative happiness to your social circle hence explaining the observation that telling someone who lives paycheck to paycheck that people somewhere remote make $1 a day does not make them feel better about their situation ; the other that you are somehow capable of comparing the psychological trauma inflicted upon “creatives” to the physical trauma endured by those in the industrial revolution and dubbing one more valid than the other. Finally, okay so three errors, that simply because a worse situation exists or has existed in the past is justification for the current situation is just poor critical thinking. So at minimum. 4 errors and a general lack of and data that support your claims. I don’t mean that you didn’t link to any data, which would be nice, but that no data exists to support your position. If you have some please provide and educate.

  3. Glencanno:

    1. I addressed “inequality, per se” because there was nothing other than inequality mentioned in the article as showing how wrong/evil it was. Without more, one naturally assumes that the author thinks all inequality is bad. If not all inequality is bad, then why is this inequality bad?

    2. You basically commit the same kind of error when you suggest that the degree of inequality here suggests that the inequality tends to show that the economy is a “rigged game.” It seems to me perfectly plausible that some people are 100x or 1000x time more productive than other people, and therefore earn that much more in a fair system, without any rigging. I agree that certain parts of the economy (e.g., the primary dealer system and the Federal Reserve) involve some unfairness. But other billionaires seem to earn their money fair and square, like Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates.

    3. “generously a complete ignorance of, human psychology”

    You realize that A. this is not “generous” at all, and B. it’s patently false and absurd to assume that I am completely ignorant of human psychology – I’ve read 8+ books on positive/hedonic psychology alone. This kind of uncharitable, hyperventilating exaggeration makes you sound unreasonable and not deserving of further argument.

    4. “Two errors here: one is misunderstanding, or generously a complete ignorance of, human psychology and the role of relative happiness to your social circle hence explaining the observation that telling someone who lives paycheck to paycheck that people somewhere remote make $1 a day does not make them feel better about their situation ; the other that you are somehow capable of comparing the psychological trauma inflicted upon “creatives” to the physical trauma endured by those in the industrial revolution and dubbing one more valid than the other.”

    I don’t really understand what you’re saying – trying to read through all 88 words in that sentence is like crawling through mud. You seem to be alluding the contrast effect, about which I’m already quite familiar.

    Also, I never said that one type of “overwork” trauma is more “valid” than another. I said, and still say, that many or most impoverished workers in the Industrial Revolution, slaving away with machines for 12+ hours a day for a tiny salary, had it worse than most middle class programmers and accountants today.

    5. . “Finally, okay so three errors, that simply because a worse situation exists or has existed in the past is justification for the current situation is just poor critical thinking.”

    I am not saying that our current system is “justified” (whatever that means) or that it is optimal. I’m saying that it’s far preferable to what most people had in very recent history.

    6. You fault me for not citing data, like the shrinking work week and the shrinking work day. I could easily find that data with Google, and it is widely publicized. But I won’t bother. You know what your comment was missing? Any data! Is this a double standard or what? 😉

  4. oh god. I’m arguing with a libertarian aren’t I? shoot me now. ad hominem I know but there’s just no arguing with you guys. next you’ll be screaming for a return to the gold standard and arguing that slavery is moral as long as the person entered into it freely and that nuclear weapons would be just dandy in the marketplace. never mind kip, you win. p.s. who actually takes the time to count the number of words in a sentence? get a girlfriend…I’m sure there’s a market somewhere for that.

  5. Are we overworked? That could turn out to be the question of the millennium. Something like: what is reality? There are plausible answers, one of which asserts: yes ,we are, however it is a self-imposed burden based on expectations—those of others, and, those we place upon ourselves, based on what we believe others expect. There are movements afoot now to shift to a four-day work week. Several decades ago, at least one corporation installed the three twelve hour day work week….thirty-six hours instead of forty. I don’t know how or if that schedule proceeds. Employee burn out is a problem. Overachievement is, as well.

  6. The pictorial, showing reapers with scythes, struck a chord: Gmajor, augmented. A dozen years ago, a friend asked to borrow a scythe which I owned, it had belonged to my father. I had used it to cut some vegetation, in back of my home, before selling and leaving that residence. It was antique, in every sense of the word. At least seventy-five years old. So, the ‘friend’had his truck broken in to. Lost other tools(?)—my scythe, collateral damage. But, was it, really? The custodian of the lent tool was not MY friend. I trusted two people. Was betrayed by both. One betrayal was accidental(?), the other, intentional(?) It is complicated, isn’t it?

  7. Much of the hand-wringing about overwork is true; but it’s only half the story. The glass is in some ways at least half empty, but in other ways, it’s more than half full.

    Consider the rough parallel in psychology, where over 100 years ago, Freud concentrated on pathology, whereas more recently, American Abraham Maslow concentrated on humanity’s positive qualities and higher potential.

    For every survey bemoaning how work brings us down, is another survey noting how many millions of people find their work gratifying. It’s time to identify and cultivate the positive sources of fulfillment from work, even while recognizing the downsides and pitfalls, obvious and subtle.

    That’s the focus of my book, “Wellsprings of Work,” ( The subtitle says it all: “Surprising Sources of Meaning and Motivation in Work.” As Dr. Messerly put it on this blog last year, shortly after the book was published, “This is one of the most philosophical discussions of work and from a successful businessperson, that I’ve ever found. It comes highly recommended..Halpern’s discussion of work touches on philosophical themes like transcendence and eternality as well as relating work to Buddhist and Hindu perspectives.”

  8. These are great topics for a Snowy Sunday afternoon, thank you Dr. John

    Are we over worked?

    What is greed?

    Why do we want so much? Can modern man ever know satiation? And if not, why not?

    Let us start with ‘Greed” what is it really? I think it is instinct no longer bound (controlled) by Nature, for example.

    Many creatures, including birds and Mammals, are instinctively urged to save food in times of plenty for the times when food is scarce, I am not implying that they consciously contemplate their own behaviour, but because they instinctively follow natures commands they (usually)
    have food when food is scarce!
    In times long past, as humans we also were exclusively guided by Nature’s commands conveyed by instinct, and so in times of plenty we stored food and fuel for the times when these things were scarce. In those times there was no ‘Greed’ because there was no point in storing more than you could use, it was hard work to get it and the excess food would spoil, so having enough meant enough to last until the next harvest.

    With the invention of money things began to change, Money is (now) the magical metaphorical Token for the essential things we once stored, and money doesn’t spoil so there is no limit to how much Money you can have, and everyone wants more, including those who have a lot!
    Please remember, the money is a metaphor, it’s power is in the minds of men, it isn’t the essentials we need, it is a symbol of the things we need, a symbol we can trade for the things we want for as long as the things we want are available and the entity that has what we want and will accept our tokens as valuable!

    Are We over worked?, only our desire for more, however that ‘More’ is defined drives those with comfortable lives to seek more and to seek sympathy from their friends and colleagues, who are themselves caught up it what is colloquially known as the Rat Race, as is every modern person who has a chance to run in this Race, myself included. I also want more, and don’t know why!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.