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Are we lazy?

Yesterday, I got into an interesting debate with a client regarding our society and where we stand in terms of being “lazy”.  I made the comment that I can literally feel a decline in the civility of our society and I believe there is a direct correlation with the number of hours we all work, not to mention the expectation, especially in the business world, that we should all be plugged-in 24/7, 365.  My client said he disagrees and feels that we have gotten much more lazy as a whole, complaining when we have to work more than 40 hours a week.  He feels that if we have a job, we should have an attitude of gratitude, leaving no room for complaint. He went on to cite to our ancestors, who often did heavy manual labor for 12-14 hours at a time.  He thinks we have all of these conveniences now and are too soft, that humans are built to work hard.  I pointed-out that we may do less physical labor (not all of us, though), but the mental stress that we deal with can actually make us even more tired than sheer physical work.  He couldn’t completely disagree, but felt that I was oversimplifying things.  That’s probably true because we were having this discussion in the middle of the work day and who has time to sit around and philosophize, theorize or even think, for that matter.  But it did make me think.

Later in the day, I was talking to my friend JZ.

(image found here)

Not that Jay-Z, but JZ.  JZ is a self-described hedonist, so I wanted his take of what constitutes lazy and how that translates for him.  I know he values his free time and often calls himself  the “Doctor of Fun”.  JZ is all about living life to the fullest and turning every occasion possible into a celebration.  I love that about him but find that I can’t always fit a mid-week “let’s get together because it’s Tuesday at 9 p.m., I have a pitcher of martinis in the fridge and we should live this moment to the fullest” celebration into my busy life.  But make no mistake, JZ is not lazy.  He’s one of the hardest working individuals I know.  When I posed my question to him, he told me that he hasn’t had a true, non-working vacation in over seven years.  Even when he’s off on an adventure, he’s switched-on, working, 24/7, 365.  He has the most positive attitude of anyone I know, but it’s starting to take its toll.  He needs a break, a real break.  He deals with the public all day, every day, and has also noticed a definite decline in the social niceties.  People demand immediate satisfaction, they don’t hesitate to be rude and everyone is in a hurry.  He doesn’t know why, exactly, but suspects, like I do, that it’s a combination of the expectation of immediate service, no matter what the hour, and external financial pressure.

There is this pervasive image of “the lazy American”.  I don’t know why that is, exactly, because everyone I know works hard.  I work hard.  I start my day before the sun comes up and by the time it’s 8:00 a.m., I’ve made four meals, unloaded the dishwasher, got two kids off to school, usually started a load of laundry and probably checked my work e-mail for the nightly deluge that’s poured in (yes, I have clients that write to me all through-out the night).  By 9:00 a.m., I’m firmly planted at my desk where I will remain until 11:00 a.m., or so, when I will finally take a shower and get dressed for the day.  I’m usually back at my desk by 11:30 a.m. and eat my lunch at my desk while working.  I will keep working at my desk until at least 6:00 p.m., although lately, due to a huge increase in my work-load, it’s more like 7:00 p.m., or 8:00 p.m.  At that point I’ll actually start dinner, which J and I make together.  That’s one of our rituals that we won’t give up.  We’ll get dinner on the table and then clean-up, by which time it’s usually 9:00 p.m., at least.  Sometimes we’ll watch an episode of something like “The Patty Duke Show” on DVD, and then it’s time to get my youngest to bed.  My oldest can take care of herself in that regard, so sometimes I barely see her in a day, even though we’re in the same house.  Finally, around 10:30 p.m., I’ll get another shower, just to unwind, and collapse into bed by 11:00 p.m.  Then, the alarm goes off and I start the process all over again.  By the time the weekend rolls around I’m exhausted and if I do leave the house, it’s to go to the grocery store, which is sometimes my only outing for the entire week.  Since I work from home, I often don’t leave my house except on Saturdays, unless it’s to run a kid somewhere.  Sundays, I do the chores I couldn’t get to during the week, i.e. more laundry.  I haven’t had a real day off since the holidays and, even then, I had clients contacting me on Christmas Day and New Years.  I don’t even know when I last had a real vacation, where I took a good solid week and didn’t work at all.  I believe it was in 2003, though, when I took my then-small children to Disney World.  I have taken a few small trips since then, but even then I’m usually lugging my laptop along so I can “check-in”.  By the way, I earn a salary, not an hourly wage, so I get paid the same no matter how many hours I work.  No overtime for me.

If I have clients writing to me at 3:30 a.m., working on Christmas Day and expecting a reply, are they lazy or crazy?  I found these statistics:

American Average Work Hours:

  • At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.
  • In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.
  • According to the ILO, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.”
  • Using data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950. One way to look at that is that it should only take one-quarter the work hours, or 11 hours per week, to afford the same standard of living as a worker in 1950 (or our standard of living should be 4 times higher). Is that the case? Obviously not. Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.

American Paid Vacation Time & Sick Time:

  • There is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States.
  • The U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.
  • In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.

No wonder we’re TIRED.  Not to mention, in this current economy, if we have jobs, we feel as though we should be grateful and keep our mouths shut.  The problem is that employers are hesitant to hire more workers and probably have found, as an added bonus, they don’t have to as long as we’re all willing to do the work of 2-3 people.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful to have a job and I am thankful for all the blessings that have been bestowed upon me.  However, I don’t believe that we humans are wired to do only hard work and not have any leisure time.  If we were, then why are we so inclined towards art and music and things that make us think.  Sure we’re an adaptable species, but there has to be a balance.

My friend Jen will not allow the word “lazy” to be used in her house.  She always uses the word “leisure” because she feels that there is such a negative connotation to being “lazy”, even if there is a real, human, biological need for it.  I’ve adopted her word and now force myself to take some leisure time, even if it’s reading a book on a Sunday afternoon for a while.  It’s absolutely vital to my well-being.  I’m reaching the breaking point, though, and I need a real break soon.  I know this because the other night I actually went to play bingo with another friend.  I got there, took one look at all those rows of numbers and said “I just can’t do this”.  So I hung-out at the bingo hall while she played.  I enjoyed the fellowship with friends but the best part of the night came when I had to use the bathroom.  The women’s bathroom was out-of-order and I was directed to use the men’s room.  It was empty, and stinky, but I went into a stall and shut the door.  Everyone else was occupied playing bingo and it occurred to me that for the first time, in a long time, no one knew where I was, no one knew how to reach me, no one was missing me and it felt GREAT.  I sat in there for 20 minutes, in a stinky men’s bathroom in the basement of a church and reveled in my solitude.  That’s just sad.

Personally, I don’t think we’re lazy, at least not the people I know.  I don’t think we can fairly compare today’s society to a hundred, or two hundred years ago.  It’s like apples and oranges.  I can only look at the here and now.  Of course there are lazy people out there in every country all over the world, just like there are super-charged go-getters that never rest.  I’m only speaking in generalities.  Of course there is that pervasive attitude toward the lazy American, especially when products like these are marketed.

(Image found here)

It truly doesn’t help our image.  On the other hand, I don’t know one single soul that would wear this in public and, to be honest, I sort of find it to be offensive.  I don’t want to be “forever lazy”, I just want some freaking leisure time to rest my brain and fuel the part of me that makes me uniquely human.  After all, if there’s one thing I’ve learned at the ripe-old age of almost 39, it’s that life is all about the journey and not the destination.  I don’t want to spend the entire journey chained to a desk.

Honestly, in trying to find balance, I think this quote from Daniel L. Dustin, chairman of the Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department at the University of Utah, sums it up best. “Laziness, oftentimes interchanged with leisureliness, has a negative connotation that suggests a person hasn’t bought in to the utilitarian agenda. I think leisureliness refers to a pace of life that is not governed by the clock. It tends to run counter to the notions of economic efficiency, economies of scale, mass production, etc. Yet leisureliness to me suggests slowing down and milking life for all it is worth. I see it as a good thing.”

So, what do you think?  Are we a lazy society as a whole?  Do we have it harder or easier than our ancestors, or is it even a fair comparison?  Have you noticed a decline in civility?  Are you expected to do the job of more than one person and suck-it-up because you should feel grateful to have a job at all?  I’m curious as to what you think.  Remember, this is only my opinion and I’m not stating anything as fact, other than the statistics I found.


About sugarshellandbutterknife

I am a work-at-home mother of two, daughter K who is 16 and son N who is 12. I live in a 1956 mid-mod ranch with my children and the love of my life, J. We're slowly renovating our house on a budget and love all things DIY. I hope to make this a place where frugal-minded folks like myself can exchange ideas, gain inspiration and find encouragement to tackle whatever life throws our way.

2 responses »

  1. Great post Jenny. I agree with you and JZ (not to be confused with Jay Z – HA!). I think external financial pressure is making society, particularly hard work minded middle class, more uptight and less civil in general. There is a lot of pressure to maintain the “dream”. Folks can’t afford to fall behind, but there is no room to get ahead. We are in a giant pressure cooker right now. I agree, there is a lot of laziness, but there is a whole lot of stress going on with a good majority of folks. We all need vacations! I say so!


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