In this day and age never a more valid question was posed… why has being alive become such a serious, unrelenting charade? A constant battle with stress in the endless search for “success”, an ever elusive target which we use as validation for our existence?
Okay… My (slight) flair for the dramatic aside, it does appear we’ve become a culture who have lost sight of contentment, that have been indoctrinated to believe that stress and success must go hand in hand and to be truly fulfilled your life must equate to a set of external criteria. We strive to accomplish this no matter the cost to ourselves; both mentally and physically, but more and more I question why we martyr our own happiness in its’ pursuit.
As a proud member of the post 80’s generation, I am of a time where jobs aren’t quite as bountiful nor employers quite as nurturing as they once were and the employee-company relationship has become less symbiotic and more parasitic with each party trying to absorb as much as possible for the period the two are in contact. For the individual, the concept of “Career Progression” has become mercenary and the way to “progress” is by plundering what experience you can then offering yourself to the highest bidder, promoting constant self-assessment and thinking (*he shudders*) about ones station. Spending your entire working-life on edge or lusting after a more-profitable opportunities makes the notion of fulfilment nearly impossible and; what’s more, for those few who have “decided to settle”, they will likely be perceived as lacking ambition or branded as “lazy”. Employers fuel the overarching lack of fulfilment and strain through the clandestine (or sometimes blatant) expectation that employees should work long hours, overtime or to be permanently contactable based on the illusion that it equates to more productivity/profitability but studies suggest to the contrary. Recently many Swedish companies changed their working pattern to a 6 hour working day which both increased day-to-day productivity as well as promoted wellness within their work force as they had more time to do what they enjoyed most.
To single out working life as the key factor in our general discontent would be naive as this mentality is imbued in us much earlier in life. Not long after we’ve put down the crayons and stopped painting animals with our fingers in the hope of it being proudly exhibited on the fridge (just me?), we are expected to begin shaping our futures with the notions of success and failure instilled into us through exams and aptitude tests. Our education system has become such that performance dictates the worth, both for the children and the teachers, which is a chip we carry into adult life.
With this culture of pressure it is no wonder that the NHS is becoming overwhelmed with stress and mental illness related issues nor that the government is set to invest 1 billion into mental health care this year. Society itself is trying to adapt to the issues with an increase meditative technology/services (Headspace, Calm, etc) and general awareness of relaxation techniques like Mindfulness but these are ultimately remedies which don’t address the underlying problem that we’re a society hanging by a thread. One which has been conditioned from a young age to the point that I’m not certain we know how to be content with our existence any more or how to find the required balance needed to be truly happy. Previous generations went through their own turmoil; some of which unfathomable to us now, but it seems like ours has been cultivated to its current state by us. We need to shift our mentality away from this “live fast”, “smash and grab” attitude towards a “just enough” ethos which we can start by reviewing our working patterns and do just enough to finance things that bring us joy and learn to take what we need rather than what we can… Failing that… I’m on the next flight to Sweden.
By Rob Mitchell, January 2016