Thursday, August 28, 2008

I don't need no stinkin' labor.

When you tell people that maybe they should do more work, undoubtedly you're going to catch some hell. Americans already work more hours and take fewer vacations than anyone in the Western world, including the Japanese. And twenty percent of us even work while on vacation.

You'd think that with all this productivity, we'd all be delighted with our industriousness. But we're not. In fact, a recent study showed that happiness levels have remained the same since World War II, although income levels have risen considerably. In other words, we're working more and earning more, but it's not making us any happier. So why is that?

Well, for one, I think it's HOW we're working. Millions of us have become cogs in the giant wheel of industry, working for large corporations that neither value our humanity nor honor our contribution. Our bosses demand longer hours and greater output, but when our work leads to greater company profits, we are rarely the ones rewarded.

The average American CEO now earns 344 times the pay of the average worker - and that gap has increased ten-fold in the past 30 years. All of this at a time when pensions and healthcare are being cut, and countless middle-class jobs are being lost. Even worse, most of us now work so hard for other people that we have little energy left to work hard for do the kind of "joyful labor" that enriches our households and our communities.

So that's HOW we're working. I think we should also examine WHY we're working.
Why do you work? Have you ever really thought about it? Most people will say that they work for the basics - food, clothes, housing, education, transportation. We all work for those same essentials, and those are all good things to work for. But for many Americans, working is about obtaining better basics.

These folks work more so they can buy more - nicer clothes, a bigger house, newer cars. They also expend more time working so they can
save time on activities like cooking and cleaning. You know the drill.... You work all day, sit in traffic, you're tired. You buy take-out for dinner, which frees up some up time. You (and the kids) pile in front of the TV (or the computer), where you'll be slapped with ads reminding you to buy more (and work more) so you can do what? Save time and live better.

It's the vicious treadmill of consumerism, and many of us don't even realize we're on it. We never step back to ask why we're working so hard, or whether our efforts are really yielding a quality life. A life in which our most important assets - our loved ones, our community, and our unique purpose - are really being honored.

It's a lot to think about, I know. And it's not going to change overnight. So for my part, I'm going to think about it over cake: Poor Man's Fruit Cake. Here's the recipe. The results of my joyful labor still to come.....

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