❝Dig that hole. Forget the sun. When, at last, the work is done, don't sit down; it's time to dig another one.❞ -Pink Floyd, "Breathe"
Jasmine is very productive. She always has something going on; a project at work, projects at home, errands to run, and checklists to complete. Everyone she surrounds herself with remarks how hard a worker she is and how productive she can be.
At work, she is the first one in the office. She eats lunch at her desk and is the last to leave. At home, after a quick dinner, she works for a couple more hours before doing her household tasks. She fills her schedule on the weekends, catching up with work and doing many home projects.
On rare occasions, she finds herself with nothing to do and becomes anxious and fidgety. She doesn’t know what to do if she has nothing to do. She’s uncomfortable having unstructured free time. She’ll invent projects to fill the time rather than relax or rest.
Even her social life is treated as a checklist and a chore. She’ll visit with friends or family members simply to tell herself that she got that out of the way.
Unfortunately, Jasmine gets to the end of her life and realizes she worked too hard. She didn’t “take time to smell the roses.” She never enjoyed her life. Sure, she never felt lazy, but she never felt satisfied, either.
Work addiction, either paid or unpaid, is tough because not only is it not frowned upon, it’s actually celebrated. The celebrations offer feedback, incentivizing people to continue working harder and harder until they find themselves at their graves, never having given themselves a chance to enjoy life.
Workaholism is a drive and sometimes even a compulsion to be busy. It is an addiction to working. Workaholics tend to feel guilty if they don’t have something to do. They are uncomfortable during weekends or evenings when not at the office.
This isn’t strictly related to the job for which they paid. Many workaholics feel the need to do something, anything, with their time. If they find themselves at the end of their chore list, they make up chores, like washing the car, rearranging the furniture, or dusting the ceiling.
There are many reasons people develop work addiction. One is the belief that the more they work, the more money they will get.
Related to that is the belief that the more money we have, the happier we will be.
Thus, it’s possible that people who have a drive to work believe that the amount of work they do is tied to how happy they will be. This is their perception.
Yet we know that income is not directly correlated to how hard we work. For many, of course, the more you work, the more money you will make. But we all know people who make good money and don’t do a lot of work. We also know people who work hard just to stay busy, the so-called 'work harder instead of smarter' crowd. And we also know that we don’t have unlimited energy, so if we work and work and work, we may find a negative impact on our income.
The relationship between money and happiness is complicated, but we know that money doesn’t buy happiness in and of itself. This is especially true once you get into higher levels of income. Simply having or making money when you already have enough money doesn’t bring you more happiness in and of itself.
So the fact is the relationship between work and happiness is complicated at best. There are people who work a little bit and are very happy, just like there are people who are overworked and stressed out.
Author Bronnie Ware, author of the book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, writes that working too hard is the second most common regret people have at the end of their lives. Many people work because that’s what they thought they liked to do. Others worked hard because they thought they were supposed to. In any case, when people get to the end of their lives, they wish they would have enjoyed their lives more and worked less.
To understand why, we can think about the ways you can spend your day. Many people spend about eight hours sleeping. An average workday is also eight hours. So sleeping and working account for 16 of our 24 hours. The other eight hours is where life lives.
In those eight hours I’m calling life, you have to cram in self-care, eating, exercise, rest, etc. Then your remaining time, you can enjoy some hobbies, exercise, read, watch a movie, and anything else you enjoy. If you’re a parent, raising and playing with your children also falls into this group.
What happens if the work takes up a more significant piece of the pie? Working more leaves less room for life. Working more leaves less time to take care of yourself. Working more leaves less time for the things you enjoy. Working more means less time with your children.
Many times people will work hard, thinking it’s just for the short run because, at some point in the future, they’ll be able to shrink the work slice and increase the life slice. But many people never get that chance.
Even if people work hard and are rewarded for their hard work, they may not have the time nor the energy to enjoy their financial success.
YOUR MONEY STORY
If you find yourself working too much, whether because of workaholism or not, it may be helpful to ask yourself why you feel the drive to work. The moment you catch yourself saying, “I’ve got to do some work,” you can pause and investigate.
We all have Money Stories that inform our decisions. Our Money Stories give us a sense of coherence around money’s role in our lives. We wrote our stories through our experiences, mainly in childhood. The thing about our financial behaviors is that every behavior, no matter how crazy it looks from the outside, makes perfect sense when we understand what our Money Stories tell us. If we can understand the belief behind the decision, we can understand more about our thought patterns and why we do what we do.
Thus, we might find that we're driven to work because our Money Story tells us that people are going to think we're lazy if we don’t. For others, their Money Story might tell them that they're only as good as what they produce. Others' Money Stories might tell them that they are uncomfortable with silence and working as a way to distract themselves.
Pausing to investigate what your Money Story is telling you gives you the opportunity to understand what need or value you are trying to meet with your drive to work.
DIVERSIFY YOUR SOURCES OF MEANING
Along with investigating what your Money Story is telling you, you can consider diversifying your sources of meaning. We all want to live a meaningful life and to do so, we find things that we can bring into our lives that we find meaningful. These are our sources of meaning.
Working too much, especially workaholism, is effectively an overfocus on one source of meaning, namely work. Work is an important source of meaning for many people. In fact, the more people feel a sense of meaning from their work, the more likely they may overemphasize that source of meaning.
Diversifying your sources of meaning is about finding more ways to find meaning in your life. Having a more robust number of sources meaning is less risky. If you find yourself unable to express a particular source of meaning (like, say, you retire), you’ll have other sources of meaning to take its place.
People have to work. Nothing of this suggests you should quit working, sell everything you own, and move to a cheaper country. Generating income and saving a portion of the future is definitely important. Where we can get into trouble is when we over-prioritize our work. We can get into trouble when we choose to work at the expense of experiencing other areas of life brings meaning.
You get one life; live intentionally.
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References and Influences
Burkeman, Oliver: Four Thousand Weeks
Dunn, Elizabeth & Michael Norton: Happy Money
Hagen, Derek: Your Money, Your Values, and Your Life
Kinder, George: Seven Stages of Money Maturity
Klontz, Brad & Ted Klontz: Mind Over Money
Krueger, David: A New Money Story
Krueger, David & John David Mann: The Secret Language of Money
McKeown, Greg: Essentialism
Millburn, Joshua Fields & Ryan Nicodemus: Essential
PositivePsychology.com: Meaning and Valued Living Masterclass
Robin, Vicki: Your Money or Your Life
Steger, Michael & Pninit Russo-Netzer: Meaning360
Vos, Joel: Meaning in Life
Ware, Bronnie: The Top Five Regrets of the Dying
Note: Above is a list of references that I intentionally looked at while writing this post. It is not meant to be a definitive list of everything that influenced by thinking and writing. It's very likely that I left something out. If you notice something that you think I left out, please let me know; I will be happy to update the list.