Wednesday, November 09, 2020
Most people are familiar with the work ethic: the belief that work is valuable in itself, and that what you get through hard work is somehow better than what comes to you by chance or gift. It’s one of the foundations of conservative American society (and many other, similar societies as well). But it has one aspect that isn’t quite as familiar to people, though it’s just as common. In psychological jargon it’s called delayed gratification. Put simply, it’s accepting dry bread and water today in the hope, or expectation, of a gourmet feast sometime in the future.
My father-in-law was a world-class proponent of delayed gratification. During the first part of his life, he worked hard, saved regularly and dreamed of retirement, when he could relax and enjoy himself. It never happened. He’d trained himself so well he simply wasn’t able to spend the money he’d saved. Other things intervened. Illness. Increasing frailty. Yet he still denied himself even simple pleasures, like adequate household appliances and a relaxed lifestyle. Until he could no longer shop for himself, he found every possible way to save a few pennies on special offers and goods already past their best. He became obsessed with leaving a legacy to his children and grandchildren, though none of them needed it, and they all urged him to put his own comfort first. When he died, he’d spent 91 years in delaying gratification.
You have a right to enjoyment. The US Declaration of Independence speaks of a self-evident right to “the pursuit of happiness” right up there with the rights to life and liberty. The people you lead also have that right. When you delay gratification for yourself, you do the same for them.
Enjoyment needs time. You can’t enjoy anything in a rush. Nor can you rely on reaching that future time when you can at last relish all the pleasure you delayed for so long. Life is too uncertain. Careful plans and saving may be wiped out by a hurricane, a flood, a sudden illness, or a stockmarket crash.
“But there isn’t time,” you say. “I have so much to do. There’s too much pressure right now. Maybe later I can slack off a little.”
Everyone has exactly the same amount of time available, so long as they are alive: 365 days each year, 8,760 hours, 525,600 minutes, 31,536,000 seconds. Add 24 hours each leap year. Every person has an identical time allocation. It’s how they choose to spend it that makes the difference.
The right way is nearly always the balanced way. Slow Leaders understand that, so they make some time for enjoyment as well as work. Workaholics and those enslaved by the work ethic have no sense of balance. That’s why they suffer higher rates of divorce, heart disease, mental illness, stress-related sickness and alienated children. In the past, the rich avoided work. Work was for the peasants. Now work has become so highly esteemed even those with more money than they can ever spend in a lifetime go on working crushing hours to earn still more.
Is there a better definition of respectable insanity?
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