Today the statistics that characterize Americans’ intensity of work and proportion between work and leisure have made researchers to talk about the phenomenon of “workaholism”; the title of this notion is so similar to those given to dramatic diseases that one has opportunity to imagine how serious it is.
In his Are Americans Workaholics – Or Just Passionate Workers?, Tibor Machin opposes to this widespread opinion stating that the American traditional “workaholism” is nothing else but “love of their work”, inspiration and enthusiasm in their profession.
Machin explains that since the early years, an American child has opportunity to develop his/her talents and come up with his/her future professional interests, which gives him/her opportunity to choose a job that he/she really enjoys. As a result, an average adult American has a 10-day vacation during a year while Europeans have rest about 25 days annually. In other words, according to Machin, Americans are 2.5 times luckier in finding working places that they enjoy and 2.5 times happier at work.
This statement sounds very optimistic and promising, and probably the whole society would like it to be true; however, there are several arguments that do not give me opportunity to agree with it. In my opinion, Machin’s “love for work” is a kind of obsession that is performed and perceived as the aspiration for self-realization and success.
First, let me touch the question that seems to be crucial in this discussion: do the Americans have opportunity to choose a job that they dream of and that satisfies their needs, interests and talents? “After all, many who work, say, in the sciences, the arts, entertainment, even farming see themselves as doing what they want to do”, says Machin (Machin) emphasizing that any person has a chance to find such a job and enjoy it.
Sam Keen, the author of The Rite of Work: The Economic Man (Keen), calls these artists and other professionals “a fortunate minority” and says that the rest of the people in our society are in the position of serfs in the medieval feudal system (258). Indeed, are there many artists in our society so that we can state that Machin’s statement is true?
However, even if we allude to the world of art, we may see that quite a little part of people who get the education of an artist are satisfied with their jobs: instead of working on paintings that express their world-view and their soul, they work on labels for consumer goods or businessmen’s and lawyers’ business cards.
At the same time, if the opportunity to choose is at least to some extent peculiar to the artistic professions, the situation is much worse with a farmer or a blue-collar.
Keen formulates the unwritten rule that prevails in corporate the today’s society, “Sweat is lower class, lower status… As a nation we are proud that only three percent of the population has to work on the land…to feed the other ninety-seven percent” (263). Indeed, this strongly opposes to optimistic words of Machin about those “many who work … in… farming [and] see themselves as doing what they want to do”.
The society has outline a range of professions that are considered prestigious and has connected them tightly with the notions of success, wealth and respectability; if one stays beyond this circle, he/she will not be considered a successful person, “no matter how much money a blue-collar worker earns, he is considered poor” (261).
This leads me to the second aspect, which is not the choice of a working place or even the choice of one’s own success, but the choice of one’s own happiness, “Men abandoned the power to define happiness for themselves, and… do not attempt to regain it” (Keen 261).
Today happiness is defined by a set of stereotypes, such as a house, a car, trips, a Rolex instead of a Timex (257); without these attributes, one cannot be considered successful and, correspondingly, happy. Having taken “the lion’s share” of an employee’s work, corporations now begin to encroach on his/her personal space, the way of spending free time et al.
Companies cultivate the notion of corporate families that are aimed at substituting those real (258). Machin asks, “If they did indeed manage to find a line of work or career that is self-satisfying, that fulfills their hopes for matching their preferences and talents, why would they look for work that gives them so much time off?”, not even mentioning such aspect as spending free time with one’s own children.
I cannot state with confidence that an American is 2.5 times happier at work; however, it seems obvious that an American child that spends 2.5 times less full days with his/her parents is hardly so happy about this fact. Thus, Americans are imposed a “standardized” notion of happiness and burn at work in order to reach it.
To illustrate this idea and conclude my reasoning, I would like to allude to the movie The Pursuit of Happyness (2006). The story is about Chris Gardner, a man whose life is strongly affected by his poorness.
Trying to earn money by selling bone-density scanners which turn out to be not a good offer, Gardner gradually loses his wife and home. However, in the end of the movie, Chris manages to recover from his losses and get the job that gives him satisfaction and money. One may say that this movie is about the idea that if you are well-motivated and have clear goals, you will reach success.
However, I interpret this movie in another way: Chris’s initial mistake was that he was pursuing “happyness” instead of his own real happiness; the title of the movie reflects it quite precisely. Desire to earn money brought Gardner to numerous miseries. Instead of pursuing the mysterious “happyness”, we should listen to our souls and come out what a real happiness means for us. Only in this case one can find a job that he/she will really enjoy and feel happy at work.
Keen, Sam. “The Rite of Work: The Economic Man.” Transitions: Lives in America. Eds. Raicu, Irina L. and Gregory Grewell. Mountain View, Calif.: Mayfield Pub. Co., 1997. Print. 255-267.
Machin, Tibor. “Are Americans Wohkaholics – Or Just Passionate Workers?” Pacific Research Institute. Pacificresearch.Org, 7 September 2006. Web. 7 December 2010.
Muccino, Gabriele, dir. The Pursuit of Happyness. Columbia Pictures, 2006. Film.