Brian Edwards Media

Down With Work! (Why lethargy is the key to longevity.)

We spend too much time working and too little time not working. Our periods of employment are too long and our holidays too short. We have got things totally out of perspective. It’s absurd that we devote 48 weeks of the year to our jobs and only four to leisure. It’s preposterous that we take only two days off in seven. No wonder we’re all falling apart at the seams.

We’re being brainwashed literally to death by the purveyors  of the work ethic, by those who believe in the nobility of toil and the sinfulness of sloth. We’ve been intimidated by their moralising self-righteousness, browbeaten by their puritanical spartanism, seduced by their appointment-diary ethics.

People increasingly justify their existence in terms of their workloads:

‘You wouldn’t believe how busy we are at the moment.’

‘I’d love to, but I really don’t think I can fit it in.’

 ‘Things are just crazy at the office.’

 ‘Couldn’t possibly make it before Friday week. The diary’s simply chocka.’

 ‘A holiday? Maybe next year. I’m already up to here. You know  how it is.’

People now boast about being overworked in the same way they used to boast about getting drunk. ‘Boy, did I hang one on last night!’ Yet it makes about as much sense to admire people who are  driving themselves to an early grave through stress and hypertension as it does to admire people who are pickling their livers. 

Me, I’m in favour of doing as little as possible. I like to spend most of my time lying in bed or in the sun. I like nattering with friends, watching TV and eating out. I have programmed my working life for short bursts of hyperactivity interspersed with lengthy periods of inertia. My ideal scenario is one day on, four days off. I don’t consider myself lazy. I consider myself sensible and well adjusted. I believe I have perspective.

I take my cue from nature. If it’s longevity you’re after, move as little as possible.

Take the tuatara. It lives for at least 60 and possibly 100 years. The females rarely wander more than three or four metres from their burrows, other than during the egg-laying season when they manage the odd out-of-town trip of a couple of hundred metres.

As to making a living, the tuatara is what’s called a ‘sit and wait’ predator. None of this hunting rubbish. He just sits and waits till a wandering weta comes by. Now that’s perspective.

The kiwi’s another example. It lives 30 years and more, exceptionally long for a bird. And the kiwi’s distinguishing characteristic? It doesn’t waste energy flying, of course!

Then there are the giant tortoises of the Galapagos. Captain  Cook presented the King of Tonga with one of them in 1769. It died in 1970, still sitting in the same spot (more or less).

So what we learn from nature is that the more you whizz around the sooner you kick the bucket. Put the other way, there’s a correlation between lethargy and longevity.

There’s another problem about holidays being too short. People on holiday suffer from two related ailments: after-burn and reach-back. The terms were invented by the American psychologist, Eric Berne.  After-burn is ‘that period of time during which a past event has an independent influence on the individual’s behaviour’. Reach-back is ‘that period of time during which an impending event begins to have an independent influence on the individual’s behaviour’.

In layperson’s language, after-burn is the time it takes to wind down from business stress and anxiety, and reach-back is the premature return of that stress and anxiety to grab you by the throat (and stomach). Berne estimated that after-burn and reach-back each lasted for about six days. So, out of your fortnight’s holiday in Tahiti or the Bay of Islands, you get only two genuinely carefree days.

That’s why holidays so often end in tears. People expect to feel great from day one to day last. But they don’t. And they’re disappointed. And they blame one another.

The weekend is a microcosm of the annual holiday. Saturday is spent getting over the working week and the excesses of Friday night, while Sunday is overshadowed by thoughts of having to go back to work or school. The two-day weekend never feels like a real break. The long weekend does.

The nice thing about this problem is that it’s so easy to solve. A three-day weekend, combined with triennial holidays of no less than four weeks apiece, would redress the current iniquitous imbalance between work and leisure to an acceptable 50/50, allowing people to enjoy their time off and return to their jobs refreshed and revitalised. If productivity fell off at all, the unemployed would take up the slack. Another problem solved.

And there’s more good news. Sex, according to Berne, is an excellent antidote to after-burn and reach-back:

‘For many couples a week or even a weekend away from the children restores sexual desire and power, and replaces after-burn  and reach-back with warm-up and after-glow.’

Try doing that slowly as well.

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  1. I believe that in medieval times people behaved much as you advise. For much of the year, like winter, there was little work to be done. Brunch was a very basic affair but it set the tone.
    But then came the Industrial Revolution. “Aha,” say the industrialists, who were often connected to the Church. “What we need to make this here Revolution work is a workforce. Lets invent the Work Ethic! Ministers, Priests Unite. Fill your Flocking Flocks with Guilt. Persuade them that Working long hours is a privilege and God’s Will!”
    And they did and keep on doing it.
    And Heretics like you Brian were burnt at the stake for daring to suggest that leisure, not work, is the Essence of our Economic Survival! Don’tcha want our Glorious Motherland to rise up again – and catch Australia? Traitor!

  2. At the very least we need to reinstate the 40 hour week as a maximum for all workers. The present situation is nonsensical. Any work beyond 40 hours should come with double time and extra leave to compensate. The pressures to work much longer fail to understand that while the body can be forced to be present, the mind and spirit will be lacking, with loss of efficiency and effectiveness.
    Samuel Parnell, where are you?

  3. Where’s Samuel Parnell?

    Resting…in peace.

  4. all of this depends on earning a decent wage during the hours worked to support a person. working those kinds of hours on the minimum wage or low paying jobs is just not an option.

    • all of this depends on earning a decent wage during the hours worked to support a person. working those kinds of hours on the minimum wage or low paying jobs is just not an option.

      Quite right. But there are several alternatives: if we consume less, we will need to manufacture less and consequently we will need to work less; it makes no sense to have thousands of people unemployed while others are worked to death (or working themselves to death) Let’s share the work around more; change the ownership/display mindset; change the ‘get to the top’ mindset; change the mindset that says (to children in particular) that inactivity is sinful.

  5. No wonder this country is on the bones of its arse when you can’t adopt an honest work ethic. Here you are singing the song of praise for laziness and Gimme-Gimme. It’s this kind of thinking that accounts for “we’re all falling apart at the seams”, not because “we’re” working too hard now.

    It’s made worse by the motivation-killing social welfare system that encourages the poor to breed like rats, gleefully freeloading on those of who are working and paying their crippling taxes. And then the Govt. wonders why the newly graduated take flight for overseas at the first opportunity leaving their student debt to fester and become a burden to all.

    Instead of crying out for a capped 40-hour working week the 11-13 statutory holidays and 4-week annual holiday entitlement you need to get off your fat, lazy chuff, and learn to do an honest day’s work.

    If you want the fruits of the Good Life you have to learn to stand up and walk over to the fruit bowl to get it. Or are you wanting someone to bring it over to you while you’re lying prone in your horizontal position?

    • If you want the fruits of the Good Life you have to learn to stand up and walk over to the fruit bowl to get it. Or are you wanting someone to bring it over to you while you’re lying prone in your horizontal position?

      Or you might think that it’s ‘wanting the good life’ that’s the problem. I assume you’ve achieved that ‘good life’ or you wouldn’t be writing like this. Your comment is full of bitterness and anger towards your fellow man and woman. And you appear to have no sense of humour or irony at all. What you need is a good lie down.

  6. I’m so pleased that you raised this issue Brian, although I’m bound to challenge the process towards a leisure based economy.
    Firstly, we must get all men completely out of the paid workforce. Work, as many burnt out men come to realise with maturity, is the role of women. Each man would have a large harem of women: a luscious breeder or two, a couple of intellectual equals, and a few grafters including a chef.
    In my scenario, men would live in complete leisure only engaging in activities that amused them. They would lay about surfing the channels, playing with children, indulging in male bonding rituals, and building useful things in small sheds at the bottom of the garden. Women would run the world.
    Eugenics would be widely practised to prevent too many men being bred, and only selecting the most passive male bloodlines as breeding units.
    I’m not suggesting that men not participate in professions, but it would be unpaid work richly rewarded by community acclaim and lots more wives.
    The definition of ‘holiday’ would be officially changed with the ‘holidayee’ going into prison for about twelve days on a diet of stale bread and water in solitary confinement. On release, the ‘holidayee’ experiences the euphoria of freedom, sex, good food, and a loving attentive family.
    Does that solve your problem?

  7. Personally I worship at the altar of the siesta.

  8. I would be in favour of a 5 and a 1/2 day week over 37 hours.I would be happy to replace benefits with job sharing.I would be happy for high earners income to be capped to allow lesser beings to have a job.Does this sound like deja vu?

  9. Little Toot! Didn’t you know that you have described Brian’s lifestyle to a T, though I don’t think he has stayed in prison that long. Fancy you knowing about it. Sounds great.

  10. Really Ianmac? You must have special inside knowledge that the Fish ‘n’ Chip wrappers haven’t covered, I’m impressed! I’d trade my beloved solitude for a vertical position in Brian’s harem if he’d only teach me to write half as well as he does.

  11. Little Toot, it took me a while, but I’ve finally found the flaw in your otherwise spiffing plan. Several wives = several mothers-in-law.

    And as for the dreaded ‘work ethic” I think I can – for once – blame the Protestants and get away with it…

    • And as for the dreaded ‘work ethic” I think I can – for once – blame the Protestants and get away with it…

      You can indeed. The Catholics were always more fun-loving.

  12. This reminds me of the fable about the ant and the grasshopper – will there be an eventual reckoning if we all take your advice? The French have more or less followed it, but they have the workaholic Germans to help subsidise it via the EU.

    Personally I entirely agree, work smarter, not harder. No-one lies on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office!

  13. “The Catholics were always more fun-loving”.

    …and generally poorer economically.

    Ianmac – the “Protestant work ethic” had its origin with Martin Luther, reinforced by John Calvin, about 300 years before the Industrial Revolution.

    Luther railed against the privilege and power of the clergy, and stressed that all of life, especially the various vocations of the lay people, were equally pleasing to God, and a worthwhile avenue for human endeavour. Calvin was especially taking aim at French Protestant refugees (like himself) in Geneva, who had enough wealth to put their feet up, rather than contribute to the life of the desperately struggling community.

    However, the Protestant work ethic obviously took on an extra (often sinister, misapplied) dimension once the ‘satanic mills’ got going, and the seasonal rhythm of the agricultural year took second place.

    Interestingly, the first 3 industrialised nations, Britain, USA, and (northern) Germany were predominantly Protestant, although the former two were built on the backs of the Irish Catholic diaspora from the Potato Famine. I also once heard the observation that India, for all its gifts to the world, could never have been the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution.

    I’ve had friends who’ve lived in third world countries, with the rhythm of life you suggest, Brian. Generally, life is relaxed, unless you get sick, or there is a natural disaster. The contrast between the Haiti and Christchurch earthquakes is possibly a telling critique against your suggestion.

    I’m not sure one can have one (material progress that ensures a relatively predictable measure of physical security), without the other (the burn-out issue). Seems a better option than cholera epidemics.

  14. Kimbo:”I’ve had friends who’ve lived in third world countries, with the rhythm of life you suggest, Brian. Generally, life is relaxed, unless you get sick.”
    Kimbo. So it was in Vietnam. But after the war the community free health and free schools were abolished by the Bankers (World Bank?) who wanted all those things gone in favour of “User Pays” as a condition for their investing in Hotels to provide employment for the locals. Of course the reality became very few local jobs, profits out from the country, and education/health diminished.

    Don: Hey! Both of my Mothers in Law have been great to me. Probably because I took their daughters off their hands.

  15. @ Ianmac

    That’s funny – Didn’t Hanoi assist in the “National War of Liberation” in South Vietnam so that they no longer had to tolerate Western economic imperialism?! Seems like the system didn’t work out that way.

    Not really interested in an ideological (or religious) battle. However doctors, nurses, medicines, and health technology doesn’t grow on trees.

  16. Kimbo: OK. Though rural Vietnam had had an intricate system of community health and education available to all. The “rescue package” changed all that.

  17. Don: I’d have thought the flaw in the plan of several wives was…several wives.

  18. Nell – well there is that, but the mother-in-law flaw really stuck out for me. As for the number of wives, one was probably too many for me.

  19. @ Ianmac

    …yes, but I’m not sure if you understood the point

    What was wrong with the system/classless worker’s Maxist paradise that they had fought so tenaciously and zealously for, that they needed to call in the World Bank a few years later for funding?

  20. I believe that after the war Vietnam was broke. America offered a huge amount of money to rebuild- but it didn’t materialise. Instead the Bankers offered to invest on the conditions as outlined. Now?
    Anyway Kimbo I guess the “Brian Edwards Laid Back Society” will flourish regardless.

  21. …I’m sure they were very broke – although their comrades in China and the USSR seemed to have no problem supplying them with weapons during the fighting. Seems humanitarian nation-building didn’t figure highly in Moscow’s or Peking’s priorities. Funny that.

    My understanding is that the North Vietnamese refused the possibility of aid at the Paris peace talks, because it would have been an admission of a need to rely on the fruits of western capitalism. Instead they dogmatically insisted on unnecessarily rubbing the USA’s face’s in it by demanding ‘reparations’.

    Le Duc Tho and his merry band of psychotics (remember the boat people?) were less than amenable to a sensible compromise, having waged the “people revolution” for nearly 30 years.

    Then again, if their ‘struggle’ and system had any merit, they should have been able to make a go of it without foreign intervention and cash. I repeat, that was the reason they waged their stupid, unnecessary war!

  22. I agree largely with your message, and the comments about consumerism, not however that lethargy is the key to longevity, or the ‘down with work’ notion. Leisure is the key.

    Work can provide meaning, security, activity, company and value, and is a vital component for quality of life. Lethargy is an effect of overwork, and both have the potential to rob people of their leisure (overwork and low wages are yuk…)

    NB: with ‘Leisure’ the reference goes to something beyond free time. In a classic book by Josef Pieper entitled ‘Leisure, the basis of culture’, he states:

    “The original conception of leisure, as it arose in the civilized world of Greece, has, however, become unrecognizable in the world of planned diligence and ‘total labour'; and in order to gain a clear notion of leisure we must begin by setting aside the prejudice, our prejudice that comes from overvaluing the sphere of work”(p. 26).

    There is an expression that ‘fitness is gained through exercising then resting’. Another viewpoint states something like ‘a perpetual holiday is a good working definition of hell’.
    (ie., work and leisure are not opposites, they are mutually beneficial – it is possible to experience leisure in the workplace).

    An academic treatment of leisure looks at the philosophy of Aristotle as seen through the eyes of leisure philosopher Sebastian de Grazia and his 1964 book ‘Of Time, Work and Leisure':
    “it is a Greek ideal, based on the strength of character necessary to the search for truth and which insists on the level of devotion and morality demanded by truth” (Hemingway, 1988).

    Obviously this goes way beyond contemporary definitions of leisure, but to me that’s preferable to the treatment given to it by a market economy which tries to break leisure down into measurable units and subsume leisure to work (when it really should be the other way round).

    Related website for Juliet Schor and summary of her ‘The Overworked American’ book:
    See also: “a major US/Canadian initiative to challenge the epidemic of overwork, overscheduling and time famine…”.
    Listen for the summit quote: “Leisure frees us up to pursue the higher things that make us human”.