President Bush has a theory: tax breaks and tax rebates put more money in our pockets, which increases consumer spending, which boosts the economy, which, in turn, makes us patriotic, happy Americans. But is working more to earn more to shop more really the answer to our problems?
What about working less and earning less as a way of spreading the wealth, boosting the economy, fostering family values and making us a less harried, more content culture? The organizers of Take Back Your Time Day, a nationwide movement to challenge the epidemic of "time poverty," hope Americans will begin to recognize that our increasingly stressed lives are actually driving us crazy. This Sunday, October 24, marks the second annual Take Back Your Time day--a date significant because it falls nine weeks before the end of the year, symbolizing that the average American works a full nine weeks longer than the average Western European worker.
Take Back Your Time Day is modeled after Earth Day, which brought a new level of environmental awareness to America and led to the passage of significant ecological legislation including the Endangered Species Act and the Clean Air and Water Acts. John de Graaf, one of the founders of Time Day and co-chair of the Public Policy Committee for the Simplicity Forum, hopes the day will spark new attitudes toward the 9-to-5 lifestyle and spur people to commiserate about overly busy, work-centered lives.
So how does working too much impact us? For starters, it takes a toll on health by increasing fatigue, accidents and injuries and decreasing time for exercise or eating healthy meals. Overworking also leads to job stress and burnout calculated to cost more than $300 billion a year. Joe Robinson asserts in his article, "The Incredible Shrinking Vacation," in de Graf's book, Take Back Your Time, that half of all Americans are currently suffering from burnout.
Clocking in mega hours also impacts our relationships by depriving us of meaningful, quality time with loved ones. Americans today spend 40 percent less time with their children than they did in the 1960s. And it's not just adults who lack time; children too are now tethered to ridiculously busy schedules leaving precious little free or play time.
The fact that fewer people are working longer hours directly impacts our economy and employment rate. Many European nations have discovered that shorter work-time policies better distribute jobs, reduce unemployment and promote work-family balance, gender equity and lifelong learning opportunities. Fewer hours at work often means improved overall quality of life--a recent study revealed 60 percent of French workers said shorter hours had indeed improved their quality of life.
So how can you combat our work-obsessed, stressed out culture? Just recognizing that busy bee-hood can cause neglect of other values like strong families and communities, good health, a clean environment, active citizenship and social justice is a good start. Other suggestions from Time Day organizers include sleeping in or planting a tree. More involved ideas include starting a book group focused on time issues or asking your employer if you can job share or better yet, take a sabbatical.
For more information and resources related to Time Day, visit www.simpleliving.net/timeday.