Hard work is at the core of our social system here in the United States. For centuries, the lives of most American people have been rooted in industry and productivity. The very foundation of this country is built atop a people who valued industriousness over personal well-being and who defined success as domination rather than happiness. The American Dream itself is defined as a “set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, as well as an upward social mobility achieved through hard work in a society.” In a society where overworking is deserving of praise and burnout is a sign of dedication, have life’s simple pleasures become extraneous?
With so many students and employers moving online over the past two years, the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly blurred the line between home and work life. For many of us, our living rooms have become our offices and our family members have become our coworkers, further separating us from any semblance of work-life balance. Hustle culture has even made us think our hobbies need to be productive.
“Hustle culture” is the idea that non-stop working and constant productivity is the metric for success, and it has taken the workforce in America by storm. However, it hasn’t always been this way. Over the past several centuries, individuals have, at times, explored the idea of living a simpler life. 19th Century philosopher and transcendentalist writer, Henry David Thoreau, is well known for doing just that. Thoreau’s most famous work entitled “Walden,” explores what it means to simplify life and live it to the fullest. During his personal voyage of self-discovery and spirituality, Thoreau pioneered, perhaps, the very concept of “minimalist” living.
“Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand,” Thoreau writes.
Though his approach to living a fuller life may be considered obsolete, as life looks a lot different in 2022 than it did back in 1854, I believe there is something to be said for the relevance of Thoreau’s philosophy. In fact, many European countries today serve as proof that a balance between work and pleasure is in fact reachable, but it requires a reprioritization that some Americans may not be comfortable with and that others may not be physically capable of. In countries such as Denmark, Germany, and France, work-life balance is a philosophy adhered to by most. Several of the “happiest countries in the world” are located in Europe, perhaps in direct correlation with their anti-workaholic lifestyle that so many Americans envy.
Things like universal healthcare, enforced living wages, and mandated vacation days undoubtedly contribute to the ease of achieving work-life balance in Europe. Simply working less is not an option for many Americans, especially those who live in a state where the minimum wage is less than half of what is required to survive. All hope is not lost, though, and there are steps we can take to move away from hustle culture and towards a more meaningful life:
(1) Declutter – Things have a way of weighing us down. Take some time to rid yourself of unnecessary things that are just taking up space and donate them!
(2) Focus on fulfillment, not finances – Climbing the corporate ladder often leads to higher salaries, but more money doesn’t always mean more happiness.
(3) Get Outside – Spending time in nature is scientifically proven to reduce feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression. We are just animals, after all!
(4) When in doubt, “simplify, simplify, simplify!”