Memorial Day weekend marks the first
break since the winter holidays for many Americans and the overworked are
feeling the effects of those grueling months. Yesterday, a friend of mine (it's
not me, really) recounted a recent drive home after a long day.
She had just
collected her car from the detailer and, upon entering the highway, another
driver cut her off and forced her into the gravel, dirtying her shiny, clean car.
This angered her to such an extent that she followed him for the next several
miles, planning to tell him exactly what she thought of his rude behavior as
soon as he pulled over.
When he finally stopped his car, in his driveway, she forgot her words and instead piled straight over his mailbox. She attempted to flee the scene, but only made it as far as a cul-de-sac when she realized she would have to double back past the mailbox where she had just committed a felony offense. This time the rude driver, his wife and their teenage son were standing in the driveway and took down her license plate number. She is currently awaiting a court date.
This friend is experiencing what
psychologists call burnout and what laypersons call "had the f*ck enough." She
gets one week off per year and that time is usually spent catching up on some
household project she has previously neglected, or spending an even more
stressful week at the beach with family, extended family and their extended
family of cats who come along for the trip each year. The rest of the year she
feels like the sole hamster in a wheel marathon and has grown weary,
emotionally exhausted and never seems to get anywhere.
My friend's experience is not uncommon. In today's economy, workers are overstressed and overextended, yet having a job puts us among the lucky ones. We are taught to be thankful regardless of what that demands of us, as it is the American Way.
It seems this notion is only the American Way. The citizens of other industrialized nations would balk at the small handful of public holidays and two weeks' vacation we receive per annum. Most employers in Europe, South America, Australia and Asia (with the exclusion of the Chinese, who never get a day off) offer four to six weeks of paid vacation each year. This might seem like a luxury, but don't fool yourselves, we love working. In fact, researchers at the University of Texas recently conducted a study on happiness and found that Americans maximize happiness by working, whereas Europeans maximize happiness through leisure. I have a strong intuition a Fortune 500 CEO who spends most of his time on the golf course paid them to write that.
We are taught that what is good for business is good for the economy and success will only happen if we stay on our hamster wheel until further notice, even if the stress of a commute, long hours, insane coworkers and impending deadlines can leave us feeling cynical, detached and annoyed. This effect manifests itself when we run over mailboxes and get frustrated with the elderly lady at the supermarket who writes a check in the same length of time it took you to learn Spanish. Our emotional well-being suffers for the sake of working harder.
Even though we feel success is garnered through hard work, hard work is not always smart work and sometimes neither pays off. A job will pay bills and feed us but when we overextend ourselves, our work becomes sloppy, our thoughts jumbled, and our happiness diminished. And money can't generally buy happiness unless there is a whole lot of it. So, this Memorial Day weekend, forget about work and remember to relax and recharge; call in sick if you have to because mental illness is an illness too. Just take a break so you don't also find yourself awaiting a court date for mailbox assault.