Is this story right? – Why we work so damn much

I’ve unintentionally assembled this story in my head. Someone with some american history knowledge tell me if I’ve got it.

Why our lives are sucked dry of meaning and pleasure by a 40-hour work week:

1. America is formed in reaction to what is seen as excessive government interference into economic, religious, and private life.
2. America is built in a land of plenty, where the threat of starvation or homelessness is absolutely minima.
3 America structures itself to minimize government interference in these areas, giving it the role of referee – making sure that everyone plays by fair rules (e.g. no monopolies, etc.)
4. With the life of the economy securely in the hands of the population, the possibility of prosperity is seemingly available to anyone with a good idea and a will to work hard. This is the American Dream.
5. Under the American Dream, since most people find themselves in the middle or lower-class, the psychology goes: I don’t have a whole lot, but I could have a whole lot if I worked really hard, so I will work as much as I can.
6. With the economy structured and maintained purely by people with this philosophy, the amount of work performed is extended far beyond what is required to meet the basic needs of life because, with the combination of plentiful resources and the dream of prosperity, work is no longer about meeting one’s needs, but rather is about climbing an economic ladder.
7. The average American, now, is in the historically bizarre situation of having plenty of food and reliable shelter, but still working as if faced with the threat of starvation. Most citizens never realize this – that the average person through history has not seen any need to work far more than what is required to meet their physical needs.
8. This bizarre situation is self perpetuating. For example, consider: in a free (i.e. non-government-run) market, pharmaceutical companies exist, as all other companies, in order to make money for their investors (in other economies, pharmaceuticals are developed, tested, and distributed by a government agency with little strong financial interest). In a society where the threat of death by disease is extremely low, and life expectancy is very high (ours) pharmaceutical companies need a way of generating revenue other than actual need for its products, where, in a society where pharmaceuticals were developed and distributed by the government, that agency would simply have its funding cut, so that the funds could be redirected. Instead, in America, the companies are given the freedom to promote their products commercially, by sending the message that citizens are constantly in danger of infection, disease, etc. This acts as an atom in the carrot hung in front of the worker’s face, giving a (very thin) motivation to continue working when needs are met.
9. So, the cycle continues: though there’s no need to work so much, the sense of need is constantly kept alive by a free market, that thrives not on the basis of its ability to meet real human needs, but to manufacture the perpetual sense of need, and offer a never-ending stream of items that simultaneously generate and meet these needs.
10. The result: Americans spend the majority of their waking hours (that is, most of their conscious lives) working, even though they could get by on far less, and spend more time playing, simply at the cost of giving up many of the items they don’t really want or need.

2 Facts:

– If you work a forty-hour week, you get, on average, about three hours of free time a day. That’s three hours, only 1/8 of your time, to spend on the things you enjoy and the people you love.

– Studies have confirmed and reconfirmed that, once a person makes enough money to meet their basic needs and have just a little (a few thousand dollars a year) left over, their happiness levels out. One’s happiness, then, does not increase with wealth, but rather ceases to increase, regardless of affluence, once one has enough to eat, clothe themselves, have shelter, etc.

  1. #1 by Josh on 3.12.10 - 12.15 pm

    Sadly, I think the story is right. We (Americans), have been fed this idea that the more money we have, the “happier” we will be. Granted, the twisted beauty of America is that we have the freedom to achieve this. If we want to move up in the corporate world and make more money, we have the freedom to work harder and focus a majority of our time on our work. Is it worth it?

    Some people might think so. For some, their life is their work. But for the average person, I do not (and hope not)believe that this is the case. I work a 40 hour week job and it f’in sucks. I hate it. I only get 4-5 hours a day with friends and doing things I enjoy. Half the time, I am so fatigued from work (it is not because I have ACTUAL work, it usually just the fact that I have been bored to fatigue) that by the time I get home, I don’t want to do anything. So I hate my job, but why stick with it? Well they give me a nice chunk of change for sitting around and waiting for something to do, and I need the money to pay for bills and save up for a wedding.

    I am not completely happy and my 40 hour a week job is the cause in my lack of happiness. I miss working in retail for like 5 hours a day, 3-4 days a week. I got paid, I enjoyed what I did, and I had time for everything else. So I think I agree with what you are saying, and that is story explains why we work so damn much.

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