I was having a casual conversation with a group of people the other day. One of the ladies in the group started to talk about how she works twelve-hour days with no breaks, studies at night, looks after her kids and needs to be up at 5.30am tomorrow for another twelve-hour shift. She was then praised for her dedication and her strength while being cheered on with “wow’s” and “how do you do it’s”.
While this might be a more extreme example, it’s become the norm in Western society. Being constantly busy is seen as good. You will be praised and rewarded for working yourself into the ground.
I learnt my lesson the hard way. I took on too much in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I had just become a single mum to a toddler so I needed to find work to support us, which I did. But instead of cutting down on my uni subjects I continued as I was so I could still finish as planned. Between parenting, working and uni I couldn’t handle it. I had no time to rest. I was eating in my car on the run, shovelling the food in as fast as I could.
I was proud that I was working so hard because that’s what you’re meant to do, right? And that’s what I though until my body said “enough!” I became ill, so ill that I was unable to work and it took me 5 years to recover.
I can now look back and see how being sick has changed the way I live. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and I don’t want others to go through something similar; or worse.
The overworked culture isn’t just happening in the Western world, in Japan they have a word for this, “karoshi” - meaning job related exhaustion or death from overwork. According to the Heart Foundation Australia, more heart attacks occur on Monday mornings, most likely due to the stress and anticipation of the upcoming working week.
It’s not only work that can cause major stress on the body in modern society. In fact, many of us love our careers and balance them very well with life. However there are many other stressors that prevent us from slowing down, such as technology, television, phones, advertising, news and gadgets. Our senses are constantly bombarded, never given a break.
I find it interesting when I'm out in public, almost everyone will be staring at their phone. Even when they sit down on a lovely park bench in front of a nice view; out comes the phone. Why not take ten minutes to relax and look at the view? But don’t take out the phone to take a photo, just enjoy. People feel like they MUST be “doing” something even when they're doing nothing.
It’s definitely not easy to relearn your way of living. I say relearn because we instinctively knew how to live when we were kids. Maybe we need to look at how kids live life to remember how we should be living. We don’t need to “act” like a child. We can maintain maturity while living in the moment and taking care of ourselves.
Yet as an adult we can't avoid those responsibilities which are often the source of our stress. But we do have the power to simplify life as much as possible to reduce stress. You can do this by taking on some, or all of the following ideas:
Today I started my car and the radio came on. It just happened to be the beginning of a song called Mad World by Gary Jules. I first heard this song in the movie Donnie Darko, but I have never really paid attention to the lyrics, although I found the song quite depressing. For some reason today I paid attention. While I believe most music isn’t so much about what is put in, but more about what the listener gets out of it. A song's meaning might be very different depending on the person, and that’s ok, it’s a personal thing.
I felt this song has a very strong message, and it’s probably a similar message many people get. The Gary Jules version is a cover of the Tears For Fears original, however I find the Tears For Fears version doesn’t have the same impact as the newer version. I feel like this song explains perfectly what I try to put into my own writing. For example:
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
To me this verse describes the typical life of those stuck in the “rat race”. “All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces”, seeing the same crowd every day, worn out, depressed, doing the same thing every day, and “going nowhere”. Not following their heart, but doing what the think the must do. Or even what the have to do to get by, even though it’s not what they want to be doing. The next part really got to me, “no expression”. How many times have you sat on public transport during peak hour and looked around? Really looked at the faces around you? So many people look like blank zombies, where’s their happiness gone and how can I help them?
Here are two short films below that I find very inspirational:
I feel like this verse also touches on the loss of connection between humans. We see many people every day, but we aren’t connected anymore. Usually because we are looking at our phones. When did we become so afraid of strangers? Of course you have to be careful, but the majority of people are good and you will find that out when you connect. Smile at a stranger, you never know what that might mean to them, or how it will change their day.
The next verse is probably the most saddest part of the song for me:
Children waiting for the day, they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher, tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
I put the first two lines in bold because this really kicks you in the guts. And I think this applies to adults more than it does to kids. As an adult we believe that happiness will come at some point in the future, usually from something we are trying to “get”. This training starts young. Children know how to be happy, they know how to follow their passions and live in the present. Unfortunately we adults beat this out of them (not literally).
They learn that happiness comes from things, you will be happy when you get “this and that” on your birthday, or at some future point. But right now you must be serious and get your work done. There is a time to be serious and work, but where's the balance gone? Kids want to be creative, they learn from expressing themselves in their own individual way. While many schools are starting to recognise this, they are still placed into boxes and expected to all be the same. And when you’re different, you are bullied at school, or the “weirdo” as an adult.
So why can't we find happiness in the present? We are always looking towards the future, but life isn't there, it's here. "There" doesn't exist yet. And unfortunately it's often the latest "thing" we can buy that we think will bring us happiness. Quite often buying the latest "in thing" will bring some amount of happiness, but it won’t last. So we move on to the next phone, or TV, or whatever is “in” at that moment.
Minimalism is a great movement to get in to. However I personally wouldn’t take it as far as some people do, ending up with one lonely chair in a bare room. I like my home to be cosy and filled with enough, but not too much furniture. I found it very empowering to go through all of my stuff over time (probably about a year), and sell or donate everything that I either didn’t need, serve a practical purpose, or didn’t love. It was a slow process because I found it hard to give up some items, even though they didn’t serve a purpose for me, I guess I was scared that one day I might “need” this item. But I got braver and I haven’t missed anything I have gotten rid of.
I now carefully think about purchases before I make them and decide if I really need the item, or if I will love this item and not get sick of it after a few weeks. One thing I have notice (apart from saving money), is that I now buy better quality things, or secondhand things that will last and bring joy to me over the long term. Instead of cheap rubbish that breaks after a month, or is so mass produced that it has no originality. Quality, not quantity as they say! There’s something beautiful about secondhand furniture. It has a history and quality that you don't get from new furniture.
Now I’ve gotten a little of track here, so lastly I will cover the chorus of the song:
And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very very
Mad world, mad world
I found the verses spoke to me more than the chorus. But the chorus tells me that to some people, dying is more exciting than living in this mad world. A world where we run in circles. In other words getting nowhere. But not nowhere in a physical sense. Nowhere in a spiritual sense. We ignore our spiritual side, and whether we like it or not we are physical, mental and spiritual beings. We must nurture all of these parts to live in harmony with ourselves and others.
At the moment, at least in the Western world, we pay the most attention to the physical and the mental sides. We need to learn how to listen to our hearts more and follow our intuition and passions; which could actually be working in an office. But it could also be singing, or art, or writing, or a doctor, or a scientist; I could go on. Whatever it is, at the very least try. You might fail, but at least you tried.
“It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't.” ~ Paul Arden.
You don’t need to go crazy and quit your job to follow your heart. It could be something as simple as doing what brings you joy in your spare time instead of watching TV or browsing Facebook. Doing what society tells you to do may make you rich, but will it make you happy?
"Everyone you meet always ask if you have a career, are married or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy" ~ Heath Ledger.