My grandfather immigrated to the United States from Italy just before his 21st birthday; chasing the American Dream. To my grandfather, in that era, that meant he was looking forward to finding a good job, getting rich, and sending money home to Mama to help her care for his 8 younger siblings. The term American Dream takes on a different meaning for Americans and is used to describe the hope that current generations have for the wellbeing of younger generations (Acs, 2011). A big part of that wellbeing is financial because living in America is not cheap. American workers have their noses to the grindstone more than ever (Shabner, 2006). Personally, I have seen the amount of hours people work evolve into an obsession. I’ve been guilty of this myself. This is typical for business owners, but I know of some who work 60 hours per week just to make ends meet. There are numerous explanations for this, but the overarching American definition of success is one variable that is constant (de Botton, 2013).
The definition of success in American culture goes to prove that the old adage “money isn’t everything” is entirely false. That is, unless you would be absolutely content living on a park bench with no schedules to keep, no belongings or dependents to care for, and a clear mind, like Eckhart Tolle, who’s experience seemed to be a pseudo-buddha awakening described in his book, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment (Namaste Publishing, 2004). Eckhart did this for two years and only as an experiment as opposed to Buddha who refused to budge, hence my use of the prefix “pseudo”. We need money. Even if we, as individuals, do not particularly allow money to identify our concept of self or define our character, there is no way around it, we as a society need money to pay for shelter, food, transportation, insurance, medication, clothing, communication devices, and I could add to the list ad infinitum.
These examples illustrate the practical aspects of income, but there are other forces that drive us to work (e.g., internal narratives, social comparisons, attachment to rewards, noterity, or prestige, and materialism) (de Botton, 2013). In the history of my working years, I have been asked to take on enough job duties to fill three separate job descriptions for a wage not even equal to just one of them, which makes any opportunity for over-time attractive, turning my 8-hour days into 12. Arnett & Jensen (2016) describe a set path regarding the working years of human development that is confining, in my opinion, and exclusive of many real-life circumstances that affect all generations today, including the high prices of fuel, groceries, and health insurance.
Young people are saddled with stress. Couples both work full-time jobs and split second-shift responsibilities (e.g., cooking, cleaning, laundry, budget, bills) on a rotational chore calendar (Arnett & Jensen, 2019; Shabner, 2006). Long hours and exhaustion can reduce the quality and duration of the time that couples spend together, adding to relational strain.
Concerning student debt in America: not every kid can depend on parental resources to sustain him or her while attending college for 6-8 years so they can move up to a higher socio-economic classification and fulfill the parents’ vision of the American Dream, or lives at a poverty level that makes them eligible for financial aid (Aces, 2011; Grinstein-Weiss et al., 2016). Even with financial aid, tuition prices for a college education are insane. I just paid $3600.00 for my previous 12-week term. Our country needs to make every effort to allow equal access to higher education, extra-curricular enrichment, top-notch schools, and social, as well as, work opportunities, to every individual, not just the well-connected elite (Grinstein-Weiss et al., 2016). The bottom line is, now lean into me here, wealth is not a bad thing, but if it is used to ascribe value (or lack of value) to human beings based on their earning ability and capacity, that is an injustice.
We need a movement to make wages more commensurate with the overall costs of living, or vice-versa. We also should do away with the “global phenomenon of snobbery” and stop asking each other which golf course is closest to our residence (true story, here in California) (de Botton, 2013). We should teach our children how to exhibit true empathy instead of how to perform good one-up’s when their social status’ are threatened. If we are in a terrific financial position, we should model charity for our children. We should take half of NFL players salaries and disperse the money amongst our teachers (just half, they’ll be ok!). If we invested as much in the characters and educations of our people as we do our entertainment, possessions, portfolios, and prestige, the ripple effect would be incredible.
In contrast, the people of Greece work less, rest more, stress less, and live longer (Pervantes, n.d.). The cost of living and wages are lower, earning a woman with my job a monthly income of about $1900.00, but groceries are cheap, the coffee is amazing, and your employer is required to care about your stress-level and how it affects your spouse and children when you get home. Greece has laws that prevent work from interfering with private life. That’s right, Greece has laws to protect people from being overworked and unavailable to their families. “Double-shifts” don’t exist in Greece, because workers must have 11 hours of rest between shifts.
Greeks continue the ancient tradition of “Mesimeri” or quiet time, which occurs daily from 3 to 5 pm (Pervantes, n.d.). Towns become silent as cars, music, and businesses stop to recharge. If employees are at work, their lunch break starts at 2 pm, goes through mesimeri, with work resuming 5pm until 8 pm (Pervantes, n.d.). Which is why Greeks eat dinner between 930-10 pm. Implementing quiet time would never fly in America, it cuts into night life and healthy diets far too much. But changing business hours so that employees have four 10-hour work days and 3-day weekends might go over quite nicely!
If you need help coping with the effects of stress and burn-out, schedule a counseling session with me here https://live.vcita.com/site/MiaVivone/online-scheduling
Arnett, J. J., & Jensen, L. A. (2019). Human development: A cultural approach (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Acs, G. (2011). Downward mobility from the middle class: Waking up from the American dream. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable Trusts. Retrieved from http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/wwwpewtrustsorg/reports/economic_mobility/pewpollprojectfinalsppdf.pdf
Cummins, D. (2016). If you grew up poor, your college degree may be worth less. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/if-you-grew-up-poor-your-college-degree-may-be-worth-less/#
De Botton, A. (2009). A kinder, gentler philosophy of success [Video]. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/alain_de_botton_a_kinder_gentler_philosophy_of_success?utm_source=tedcomshare&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=tedspread
Eurofound. (2019). Living and working in Greece. Retrieved from https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/country/greece#background
Grinstein-Weiss, M., Perantie, D. C., Taylor, S. H., Guo, S., & Raghavan, R. (2016). Racial disparities in education debt burden among low- and moderate-income households. Children & Youth Services Review, 65, 166–174. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2016.04.010.
Pervantes, E. (n.d.). Live longer with the Greek lifestyle: Take naps. Olive Tomato. Retrieved from: https://www.olivetomato.com/live-longer-with-the-greek-lifestyle-take-naps/
Schabner, D. (2016). Americans: Overworked, overstressed. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/US/story?id=93604&page=1
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