An Alternative Take on Work and Happiness

 Contempt for the glorification of work, of toiling ceaselessly for the attainment of wealth, and the general disdain for materialism have been common themes in this blog. For the most part, the society of the world operates under the idea that attainment of financial wealth and material possessions is the epitome of happiness and that one’s position on the corporate ladder defines their worth as a human. This is a cynical view and one of the endeavors I have recently begun is to always search for the positive in everything. In this blog post I aim to search for the positive in work, in capitalism, and corporate culture. What I am about to write does not mean that there aren’t issues with how today’s culture assesses value, there is still too much greed, and there is far too much emphasis placed on possessions rather than on relationships, values, and experiences. Nevertheless, there is plenty of opportunity to appreciate the positive. 

Perhaps the best part of this system is that work allows us the opportunity to provide for ourselves and our loved ones. For the majority of human history, our distant ancestors toiled mightily to survive the elements, to provide food, and to persevere through disease and illness. Winters were brutal, food was scarce, and disease could decimate a tribe. Those problems still exist today but the reality is that for most people they are far less of a concern than they were. People have homes that provide insulation against wind, rain, snow, and cold. Some people are even lucky enough to have running water and electricity in their homes. Many of us are now able to get our food from a grocery store or farmer’s market rather than spend days hunting down our next meal or foraging tirelessly for even a morsel of sustenance from the ground. Just the other day I ordered groceries to be delivered to my house. Imagine that, a week worth of food without even getting off of the couch. Lastly, when it comes to disease, we are able to get vaccinated against many illnesses that have historically plagued our societies. If we do happen to get sick, we can go to a local doctor, hospital or pharmacy and receive medication that will help us recover and stay alive. 

All of this is in some way or other a byproduct of work. That house that you live in that provides shelter against the elements, somebody built that. That person or those people built your house with their work, and in return work was assessed to have some sort of value, a value which they then transferred over such that they might be able to afford food. The food you eat, a farmer grew that, a form of work, and sold the produce so that you or I might eat, and he in turn can take the efforts of that work and the ensuing reward to pay for his medication that keeps him alive. The doctor you see when you get ill, he sees you as a patient, providing his expert guidance in a field he has worked to study ceaselessly. His work is seen to have a value and with that value he then hires a contractor to build a home such that he can have shelter for himself and his family. I know you all don’t need this rudimentary example of how our economic system works, but the objective is to simply show the interconnectedness of all people and the value that work has in our lives. 

Sure, there are numerous problems with society and with this economic system. The government and large corporations can buy up all the land, driving local private farmers out of business so that they can increase the price of crops and turn a profit. Drug companies will patent even the most basic of natural compounds, allowing them to drive the price of life-saving medication up so they can make a profit. These are all consequences of greed, perhaps the worst of all human sins. 

In light of the pitfalls of a system that revolves around work, and the negative consequences of such, where would we be without work? Work allows us to take our fate into our own hands. When we work, we earn the ability to provide our wants and needs rather than rely on someone else to provide them for us. There is no worse feeling than having the outcome of your life rest in the hands of another. Obviously, much of life still remains outside of our control, but there is some comfort in knowing that if we need to provide, that we have the power to do so through our own efforts. Many people around the world experienced this revelation last year when the Covid19 pandemic cost many people their jobs. People had suddenly lost their ability to work and as such were faced with the terrifying question of how they were going to pay their rent or mortgage, how they would afford food, or how they could pay for their medication. This was a terrifyingly anxious period for many people that highlighted just how important it is to have the ability to work. Faced with this situation, people depended on their government to provide stimulus checks, relied on their landlords or banks to forgive or postpone house payments, and asked many creditors for extra time to pay bills. Many institutions did step up and work with people during these trying times, but many didn’t. And there is no worse situation than that feeling that the walls are collapsing around you because you have lost your only means to provide for yourself. 

Not only does work give us the opportunity to survive and thrive, it adds meaning to our lives. I know what many of you are thinking: I hate my job, it brings me no satisfaction and has no value, I can’t wait to quit or retire. Trust me, I feel the same way often, especially since giving up an extremely rewarding job for something decidedly less so. Nevertheless, work is meaningful. The harsh reality is that most of us don’t have the opportunity to make a comfortable living doing something we truly love. If you are one of those people, count yourselves lucky. Even so, work that may seem unrewarding at times has value and meaning not just to the worker but to society. Think about what you do for work. Even if it is something as menial as entering numbers on a spreadsheet (I do this daily so don’t take offense if this is your job) your work is valuable. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be a job, simple as that. Whatever it is that you do, it matters. Somehow, somewhere along the line, what you do makes a difference in people’s lives, you just might have to look deeply to see what that value actually is. Take comfort in the fact that your work is meaningful to society and as such it should be meaningful to you. 

There a million ways to critique capitalism, work culture and more, and I have often done so in this blog. It feels as though society evaluates the worth of a human being solely on their wealth and that the single greatest measure of a person’s character is how hard they work. These are obvious consequences of a system that is clearly not without its faults. Greed allows the system to be easily corrupted. Many workers receive next to no compensation, toiling for unfathomable hours in conditions that can most accurately be described as slave like. There are far too many who are unable to work or who work and are yet still unable to afford even the basic necessities for living. Greed remains the culprit behind this, as there are those who have found ways to manipulate the system to their own advantage, taking far more than their fair share of the profits, using others as tools to that aim. Even so, I want choose to remain happily focused on the positive, which is that a system has developed in the world that allows us to provide a standard of living, for the most part, previously unseen on our planet. This system is far from perfect. Perhaps we can make it perfect when we check our greed, remembering to be compassionate towards our fellows near and far, and to be grateful for what we have rather than constantly searching for more. 

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