Working is part of life. Nothing would be there without people working to make it and exchange with others. Money as a medium of exchange helps make things simpler, as opposed to always bartering. Work is important, and when meeting someone new one of the first questions we often ask is "what do you do?"
In general, we heavily identify with what we do, and rightly so because a large part of who we are is what we do. Our work life takes up 1/3 of our days, for 5 out of 7 days usually. Regardless of how often many people may move from job to job or career to career, 55% of U.S. workers get identity, meaning and purpose from what they do. Those in early life, like college graduates, get even more identify from their excitement and devotion to enter the work force, with a 70% identification to their jobs. I've heard of old people also finding life meaningless when they retire, and regret it. Some get depressed as they don't have anything to do that gives them meaning anymore.
Working for a certain numbers of hours each week is recent. As new jobs developed, some surnames were changed to reflect the profession a craftsman worked at. Yet, many people derived their sense of belonging based on family, religion or geographic location. Church identity has previously been eroded for the last half century and more with multiculturalism bleeding away geographic and religious identity boundaries for identity. Family still plays a large part in our identity for most people though.
Work life has declined in the past 50 years. More paid-leave, such as vacations, account for much of that reduction. Working over 50 hours each week in high skilled jobs accounted for 20% of people in the UK. This trend has increased overall since 1970, despite the 20% stats having gone down in the UK.
Work-reward exchanges have been around for at least 5000 years, with alcohol "soma" as payments done in Uruk (modern Iraq). In ancient Turkey, remains of a town from 9000 years ago suggest similar conditions. Everyone was involved in producing food, with common land ownership and sharing. These activities were likely seen as daily living for survival in a society or community, as opposed to work.
The agricultural revolution seems to have changed how civilization specializes its individual unit constructors (human resources). Increased food production allowed people to go into different niches to exploit and build up wealth in mastering their specialized type of work. Innovation and development can progress more quickly by outsourcing certain parts of our lives. The advent of specialized tasks, exchange of labor, eventually leads to our modern understanding of work.
Life of sharing in a community changed as the community grew. Hierarchy replaced the social communal living. As towns become bigger, power centralizes into fewer hands and a powerful elite tends to develop in all societies as history progressed this way. Not only were property resources being managed between people on a larger scale, but the elite were now managing people themselves through the control of labor.
Before money to survive, you worked for food, water and shelter. This is how many slaves viewed their "fortunate" situations, that their masters were good because they fed and sheltered them, took care of them, so that they wouldn't need to do so on their own in the "wild". The plantation become a form of economic security. Society is also a farm for economic security.
Ball and Chain
Modern technology has made us latched onto our jobs even when we leave work. Smartphones keep white collar workers connected to their jobs, where everywhere is a "home-office" when they are not at the official office. We are in an "always on" culture. Despite this "ball and chain" living where things can be demanding, stressful, boring or hard, it's overall good as the alternative is usually unemployment.
Employment tends to give identity, meaning and purpose in some aspect of our life. Unemployment, may take parts of ourselves away as a result. We can become depressed, lose meaning and purpose, and lose ourselves. We can become dissatisfied with life and that leads to unhealthiness. This isn't to say all jobs will prevent this, but many people gain satisfaction, meaning, purpose and health through the economic opportunity of being employed. Depression, anxiety and low self-worth are greatly diminished.
Live to Work, or Work to Live?
Victor Frankl demonstrated the power of finding meaning and purpose, if not now, then in the future, as he tried to motivate concentration camp prisoners to survive. He motivated people to survive by not focusing on the dreadful present condition, but on the future they could have afterwards. Having a purpose and meaning brings fulfillment and a desire to survive. Purpose and well-being are linked.
Mortality is linked to meaning and purpose. I have talked about this in relation to people's fixation on the desire for transhumanism, as well as religion. I mentioned how the fear of death leads many to attach themselves to ideas that evade and negate this future we fear. Be immortal, live forever, time doesn't matter, no death, devalue the sacredness of life that has death, lose meaning and purpose, then wander lost. Those who have a sense of purpose live longer. Mind over matter. We can get through concentration camps and survive while others die, and we can also survive past our retirement while others die who retire. How we think about ourselves and our lives, our purpose and the value and worth we have to ourselves and others, matters greatly.
Those who have stronger meaning, purpose and value in life, can handle stress better and allow themselves change in accordance. They are secure enough to face their worldview and selfview, and fix what needs fixing to optimize their living and survival. Cognitive decline is reduced by meaningful use of our time. We may think this is simply a factor of being cognitively active that will allow us to prevent cognitive decline. But that is not the case. As mentioned, purpose is important for health, and this is still true for mental psychological and physical brain health. The biological mechanism is unknown, but purpose and meaning improve overall immune functionality and decrease the risk of cardiovascular disease.
There are many benefits to working indeed, but these all presume an actualization of meaning and purposeful work for us to enjoy these positive psychological benefits. If we don't have a greater meaning and purpose in our jobs, the benefits might be cut. All jobs provide some level of self worth, value, and meaning since they permit us to survive.
This isn't to say there is no other value gained. Neither is a job the only way to gain value. I would suggest most people gain value from doing things they like and enjoy doing. For some lucky people, they work doing what they like to do. Our family, culture, society and the personalities we have developed through our lives can tend to influence what careers we will find meaningful, and which ones we will find pointless and boring. We derive a sense of self and a sense of belonging from our family, parents, friends, society and even media. This sense of belonging extends to what we will do for a living.
Those we interact with, we identify with, are those we are going to derive connection, comradery and a sense of belonging to a "family" of sorts. The more we interact with others, the more we communicate and exchange personal stories, gossip, chat, share vulnerabilities and strengths, and the more we tend to trust each and get along to achieve a common goal.
As work will continue to evolve over the coming years with automation, we must also change the work to find meaning within it. Not all work is equal, some people like what others hate, and vice versa. Simply working, exerting physical labor, is not enough for some. Automation will replace much of -- if no most of -- the physical jobs we currently have in many areas of the world. The future is always changing and uncertain. The advent of robotics and more developed AI will affect how we lead our lives into the future.
- What It Means to Live to Work
- Division of labour
- The world’s oldest paycheck was cashed in beer
- New Scientist 3079
Thank you for your time and attention. Peace.
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