Among the many valuable lessons that I have picked up while traveling, two in particular stood out while re-acclimatizing to living in my beloved home country, the U.S.. The first being that self-reflection is the first means of self-improvement. Such as, ‘I drink too much caffeine, therefore I must cut back in order to sleep better’…that type of thing. The other, is that humans in general are comparative learners. We understand light, because of dark, skinny when we get fat, happiness is more cherished after a time of sadness, and so-on and so-forth. These notions had sharpened in contrast while participating in office conversations over the course of a year, and at times made me extremely grateful to have enhanced my perspective through the lens of intercontinental exploration. The most notable conversation I had the opportunity to catch an audible ‘glimpse’ of was just recently, and listening to it lead to an internal shuffling of priorities.
“2050 man, 2050 is when I’ll finally be able to retire ….that feels like forever and it’s killing me!” said my colleague as he had explained that both he and his wife did the calculations on when they would be able to abandon their desk jobs in order to kick back and, drink beer? He gets paid well, as does his wife, near $150,000 as a collective. Each day lived as a means to an end, and probably not to its fullest; as if the light at the end of the tunnel will provide a total cathartic solution for their young lives being burned up operating as cogs in a corporate machine, or the nights attached to those days escaping the reality of their situation through TV and video games. Their year’s bisected at the midsection by an annual two weeks in… wherever, and an occasional three day jaunt to someplace else. Entranced by the allure of consumption, claiming to themselves that they’re non-conformist, hating to be numbered with the crowd whilst sipping from Starbucks and toying with their iPhones while sitting in front of their TV which was recently purchased at some big retailer due to a recent holiday sale. All of this better recognized as the American middle class lifestyle, and formerly known as The American Dream.
To what end?
The American Psychological Association referred to Americans as ‘Nomads on a treadmill’, and aptly so. Sir Michael Marmot, PhD, of University College London Medical School noted that Americans spend 2.5 times more on health care, and are exponentially less healthy British in rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, heart attack, stroke, lung disease and cancer . It came as no surprise that Americans are also less healthy the farther down they are on the socioeconomic ladder. “However, in absolute terms the richest, “healthiest” Americans are as sick as the poorest Brits” (DeAngelis, 2007). Indeed, the facts are astounding . Staggeringly however, health is the central focus of much of middle class America as the fitness industry permeates nearly every facet of U.S. pop culture.
Time to relax
What is the reason for this discrepancy in desire and result? Very likely, stress is the greatest culprit. Many countries tend to segment their relaxation, this provides a figurative load-bearing quality to the time away from work. Siesta periods in places like Spain and Greece, (even mainland Chinese and many Southeast Asian countries have lunch periods which can last up to several hours), giving internal stakeholders the ability to unwind, see their families during the day and, should they desire, nap to rejuvenate their bodies. Work periods in romantic and Asian countries stray from dividing families and detracting from happiness in favor of treating the body as sacred, much to the benefit of workers. Alternatively, countries which don’t favor the ‘siesta’ such as the UK and Australia generally allow for longer or more frequent vacations, which in turn provides a similar effect on overall life quality.
Recently, the French government executed a policy which requires employees to no longer be allowed to answer work emails while at home (Close, 2018). The country also boasts a an annual work-hours total of roughly 300 less than the typical American, yet however boasts higher worker output, perhaps due to the refreshed minds of its society’s contributers. To put it into context, America ranks 28th among developed nations in the realm of “work-life balance”.
Cup of Joe
Contrarily, Americans often remedy their exhaustion with stimulants like caffeine, which in copious amounts is known to cause insomnia, digestive disorders leading to required macrobiotic treatments, among many long-term health issues. Vacations are few and far between for many entry level positions in the U.S. and can be as small as 1-2 weeks annual (as opposed to cumulative 3-9 weeks in many overseas locations). What’s more, the U.S. also boasts its famed “retail schedule”, known famously for walking hand-in-hand with higher divorce rates among couples subjected to it, higher obesity due to lost sleep, in addition to a myriad of other issues encountered by the whopping 17% of Americans now under the yoke of this cruel lifestyle (White,2015) .
Overcoming the purgatory in question is the stuff of legend; the kind of thing you see in movies probably more often than in real life. However, for Americans currently chasing the carrot on the corporate stick, two solutions seem to openly present themselves. The first? Get out, go abroad, try somewhere else. For everyone else? You may need to be subjected to the American middle class lifestyle for only a little while before you realize how awful it is. Don’t be seduced however by the allure of tranquilizing drugs like retail therapy, T.V. marathons or junk food….there is another way. More to come.
Tori Deangelis. 2007. America: A toxic lifestyle?. Available at: http://www.apa.org/monitor/apr07/america.aspx. [Accessed 26 January 2018].
Gillian B White. 2015. The Very Real Hardship of Unpredictable Work Schedules. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/04/the-very-real-hardship-of-unpredictable-work-schedules/390498/. [Accessed 26 January 2018].
Kerry Close. 2017. The Real Reason the French Work less than Americans Do. Available at time.com/4620759/european-american-work-life-balance/