Meaningless work versus meaningful leisure

meaningless-work-versus-meaningful-leisure
September 3, 2018 by Kristine Harper

Time is the most valuable thing we really have or own (also discussed in this post), and we even seem to have a cultural and societal agreement hereon, which materialises in sayings like “time flies”, “life is short”, “the children grow so fast” or “our children are only on loan” and so on. Therefore, it seems odd that time is the one “thing” that we so easily give away. We sell our time for money that we spend on new consumer goods instead of limiting our consumption in order to make it possible to sell less of our time. We engage in “ought to” events and arrangements that we don’t really want to attend. We waste our time on insignificant television programmes and movies, provided to us by endless streaming services, with the purpose of making us feel ready for another day of selling our time.

Why is the general consensus that one cannot be ambitious or passionate about something and simultaneously frugal with one’s time? Why are we still paid by the hour in most industries? A job well done is a job well done, no matter the time spent on it. One can easily be industrious and spend one’s time well.

In line herewith, I recently stumbled upon a rather thought provoking Danish book on pseudo-work. In the book the two Danish authors (an anthropologist and a philosopher) argue that a large part of the work we do is indifferent, as it doesn’t provide us with any existential or financial meaning and is hence what they call pseudo-work (Nørmark and Fogh Jensen 2018). One of the main questions of the book is: why do people engage in pseudo-work or meaningless work every single day, instead of just ditching work or handing in a notification of illness? I find this question both relevant and important. It seems genuinely hard to understand, why so many of us engage in a philistine existence that includes being constantly busy for no real reason. Apparently, even though the majority of the work we do is meaningless it is still more important to us to have a job, and to be a part of the diligent daily workforce of the capitalist society than to question this state of affairs and protest against it. But the fact is that a large part of the work we used to do has been superseded due to technological and societal developments. But why don’t we indulge in more freedom and nurture and support the idea of citizen’s salary?

In correspondence with the Danish book on pseudo-work, sociologist Roland Paulsen reasons in his book from 2014 Empty Labor that we should embrace shorter working hours, since much of the work we do is unnecessary. Paulsen defines empty labour as everything you do at work that is not your work (Paulsen 2014: 5). When living and working passionately work time and leisure time are no longer separated anyway. As Paulsen writes in the preface for his book:

Every now and then I hear colleagues saying that academic research is not only work, but hard work, that you can get burned out if you are not careful. My experience is very different. Yet I sympathise with those who are less content with this job than I am. (…) Most fundamentally I would like to stress the fact that hard work does not necessarily pay off.

Paulsen 2014: xiii

Why is it so important to people to label themselves as hard working individuals? And why is that label still status providing? As Paulsen argues in the book, one of the problems with the societal status of the hardworking man is that it becomes important to seem and to look busy, and hence, what you are actually doing and whether or not you are passionate about it, becomes less essential. Now, this is not really a meaning-providing scenario. It seems that being busy, and even slightly stressed out, is almost a societal and commonly agreed status-giving state, and a positive one. Whereas on the other hand, having plenty of time – to reflect, to take breaks, to eat lunch and to fill out a day with a variety of activities, including family time and pleasure, provides us with the opposite image, namely that of a lazy, non-ambitious person. Therefore, even though we might fill our days with meaningless empty labour and spend most of the days at the office just trying to get time to pass by, we make an effort to seem busy and thereby appear hardworking and important.

However, I guess the big problem in relation to the presented dispute between meaningless work and meaningful leisure time is that even if we submit ourselves to degrowth and citizen’s salary in order to pursue meaningful activities and mental growth, it requires that we are passionate about something, and that we know what we want to spend our newly obtained leisure time on. Furthermore, without work, we have to charge our activities with purpose and meaning ourselves. We have to accept the fact that if we are doing something fruitless or insignificant it is solely because we have been unable to find a purposeful usage of our time, and not because our employer has forced us to do it. We have to take full responsibility for ourselves. Then, we are essentially back at Kierkegaard´s plea for us to choose ourselves.
But, is it our more wants more doctrine that obstructs our ability to live freely, choose ourselves and engage in self-developing or community-developing activities instead of pseudo-work; are we simply willing to jeopardise meaningfulness over economic gain? Or is it our fear of having to fill out our time with meaningful activities that keep us from pursuing a life without pseudo-work or empty labour?

How does this relate to trading?

The process of trading should not be meaningless – and if it is, then you’re likely going about it wrong. Trading is about following a series of meaningful steps, which make up your process, just like the checklist a pilot carefully and mindfully moves through prior to takeoff, and he/she is very mindful of just how meaningful each step in the process is. The important part about trading is that one must not focus on the outcome of individual trades, as this will likely pull you into an emotional trade by trade state, which we ultimately want to avoid; do your analysis without over analysing and move on to the next one, with zero attachment to the outcome of any individual trade. After all, trading is about working smarter not harder, otherwise we might as well begin selling our time again.

What do you choose, meaningless work or meaningful leisure?

References