Do We Need Work To Be Happy?

"The actual living of life in the utopian world is dealt with quickly, and parenthetically probably because it's tedious and boring," writes Ben Hayden of Psychology Today.

This weekend, I had a three-day weekend. I spent a lot of the weekend idly: playing video games, playing basketball and running, going out to eat, and basically not doing anything productive. It is the last day of my three-day weekend taking a break from my very chaotic and stressful job as an inner-city teacher, and how do I feel right now?

Not good.

I feel like I've wasted a lot of time over the weekend when I could have gotten a lot done. I could have put more grades in, lesson planned for the whole week, finished some homework, and done a lot more for work in between. The fact that I feel guilty in itself is an indication that I've bought into bourgeois, capitalist hustle culture: if you're not being productive, if you're not hustling, you're wasting your time.

But I believe there's no such thing as wasting time. As such, my time being idle wasn't exactly wasted. I helped myself hit the reset button for the weeks to come of constant work and teaching. I spent time praying, going to church, and reading Scripture to improve my relationship with God.

The weekend brought into question, however, where would I be without work? Where would we all be without work? We know the emptiness we feel when we're unemployed, when we spend too much time sitting on the couch, watching TV. No adult wants to live in a parent's basement or not be employed.

One of the first questions we ask a stranger as a form of small-talk is "what do you do?" I have been fortunate enough to have a respectable and proud answer to the question, but I have also been on the other end asking the question to people who have said "I'm unemployed". As a somewhat considerate person, I felt like absolute shit, insensitive and oblivious to the fact that the question of "what do you do?" can be a sore and triggering spot for a lot of people, especially the 3.6% of adults in our country that are currently unemployed.

Do we need work, then to be happy? Or does society simply condition us to think that way? That is a question I genuinely struggle with. In education, we have a buzzword called "productive struggle" that is defined as "the process of effortful learning that develops grit and creative problem solving". Productive struggle, in our work culture, is a necessary part of what it means to improve and be happy.

I am one of many people that hates being on vacation. Even now, I am looking for work opportunities and jobs to spend my summer, as I have the summer off as a teacher. I would absolutely dread having a read break where I'm not being productive and not working. I'm applying for service-oriented jobs where I can give back, work, and feel like a contributing and altruistic member of society.

"We need stakes. We thrive on conflict," Hayden continues. "We need to constantly overcome obstacles to be happy."

I have seen the fact that if you don't give your students a worksheet and a lesson to engage with, they get bored. If they're not engaged in their work, they start to misbehave. I have been the witness to far too many occasions of these incidents and misbehaviors in a classroom setting.

And children's behaviors are a microcosm of the human condition and our social compact. If we don't have work, if we're not constantly moving towards making the world a better place and making progress, then where do we go? I struggle against this capitalist mindset, but I don't know if it's effective to just give things off that aren't earned or deserved. I have come under heavy fire from other teachers and adults in my school for giving candy or snacks or food to my kids when it wasn't well-deserved by their academic growth or achievement.

And while I have a lot of misgivings that you always have to deserve or earn a reward, I know how the world works. The world is a cruel place, and especially urban environments like the city I live in. While a lot of us give to charity and give to help others survive, not everyone does. And people will look at others they perceive as undeserving as a form of self-righteousness to validate that perhaps they are the deserving ones of the money they make or the food they put on their plate.

As a believer, I know my self-worth is not predicated on my job or my work. I know the worth of others is also not dependent on their work. As a Christian, every person is a good person and deserving of love and generosity, especially because I've made mistakes in the past and because I'm such a bad person.

Proverbs 14:23 tells us that "all hard work brings profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." In the New Testament, 2 Timothy 2:6 tells us that "the hardworking farmer should be the first to receive a share of the crops."

But reconciling my faith with the cruel conditions of this world has been a severe challenge. I do not know if I can raise my kids without letting them know that they have to work, that people will judge them by their employment status and what they do.

Maybe we need work to be happy. And maybe we don't. But in the meantime, I would tell my kids to do work that they love. I come home tired and exhausted from teaching every single day, but there's not a moment when the work isn't rewarding and I didn't feel like I made a good difference in the world. Not all of us have the luxury to follow our passions, but we spend so much of our lives working.

Think about how much time we spend working. A typical week has 168 hours. On average, 40 of those hours are spent working. On average, about 56 of those hours are spent sleeping. That leaves 72 hours spent not working. Mathematically, we spend about 1/3 of our waking moments working.

Why not make it count? Why not make it happy?

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