Lately, I've been noticing that one of the things my clients suffer from is a pervasive lack of rest. They come down with colds and go to work. They never give themselves a minute to convalesce. They don't get enough sleep and can't find the time to catch up. Some work full time and go to school and run a home, others work two or three jobs, yet others take care of families and have barely two seconds to rub together. There is simply no downtime whatsoever. No one takes a breaknot even here in New Mexico where siestas used to be a way of life. This is the new Americaa land where no one stops working and no one ever stops shopping.
Then, as if the universe saw fit to confirm these musings, the other day I saw an ad in Delta's flight magazine. It read: The five things that stand between busy professionals and dating: Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.
And I wondered: Why are we working so much?
And I answered that pretty quickly: To buy stuff. Mostly stuff we will outgrow or throw out in a year or stuff we don't need at all.
Fine, then. But we're tired. Why don't we rest?
I mentioned it to my husband.
And he answered, "Because there's no Sabbath anymore. We'll rest when we have no choice."
Well, why don't we have a Sabbath? Americans are an overwhelmingly religious
group of people and most do have some sort of affiliation with a church, a synagogue, a mosque, a temple, a tribal group. Something that gives them a structure. Almost all have philosophies that stress balance and the cultivation of quiet time as part of worship.
Then, the thought struck me: What if democracy killed the Sabbath? What if we don't have a Sabbath because we have so many different ones? How do you keep the stores closed on Sunday without accidentally penalizing Jews, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Muslims who would rather close stores on Saturday or Friday? And vice versa? What started as a way of honoring diversity has become a capitalist cramp. To uphold the broad-backed economy we treasure, we all have to keep working all the time.
I decided to do an informal survey of colleagues and friends who range from doctors to social workers to teachers of theology, priests, and lawyers. I asked them a few questions:
Do you feel a day of rest is a good idea? Should that include shutting down businesses for the day and giving people who work in the retail industry a chance to rest as well?
What day would be a good day? And why?
Many Christians said to keep it on Sunday since the majority of the United States is Christian of one denomination or another.
One womana very diplomatic social workersaid to choose a universal Sabbath that was neither a Friday, a Saturday, or a Sunday and that anyone who wanted another day off could take one without penalty from an employer.
Another woman suggested having a 4-day work week, which she believed was not only a good idea emotionally and spiritually, but environmentally. This sounds like a great idea if you work for someone else, travel to work by car, or don't need the money at the moment. Many local governments are, in fact, opting for this because it lowers their maintenance costs significantly. If, however, you're paying a mortgage and raising a family and can't afford to work fewer hours or you're running your own business and every day you're not open, you're not earning, things become complicated once again.
What to do?
So far, the universal solution has eluded me. But, personally, I take one day a week and dedicate it to one part quiet contemplation and prayer and two parts outdoors. On that day, work stops. I don't shop. I've also made the decision that when I am sick I will (and do) wait till I'm well to go back to work. If that means I make less, so be it. The decision to have a Sabbath, whichever day it is, is a decision about priorities. On that day, money, stuff, and bottom lines take a back seat to God and home and friendship.
In fact, the latest data support this as a basis for overall happiness. While gross national product is important in predicting the wellbeing of a country, it's actually personal productivity that weighs in highest.
According to one study: "Wealth alone does not bring the greatest degree of happiness. Norway has the highest GDP per capita on the list $98,822 yet it ranked ninth, not first. On the other hand, New Zealand's happiness level is 76.7 out of 100 on the OECD list, but its 2009 GDP per capita is $30,556." In an editorial on that study in The British Medical Journal (Delamothe, 2005), it was noted that research done in numerous countries shows that while people may get richer, they don't get happier." It is family, social and community networks that bring joy to one's life," according to the editor, Delamothe.
The OECD data shows that another important factor is work-life balance. While Scandinavian countries boast a high GDP per capita, the average workweek in that part of the world is no more than 37 hours. In China, which got a low score of just 14.8, the workweek is 47 hours and the GDP per capita is just $3,600.
Working too much seems to be the American Way, but it doesn't seem to be working very well. As the Chinese are rapidly finding out.