Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed

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Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months of traveling.

Because I had been living quite a different lifestyle while I was away, this sudden transition to 9-to-5 existence has exposed something about it that I overlooked before.

Since the moment I was offered the job, I’ve been markedly more careless with my money. Not stupid, just a little quick to pull out my wallet. As a small example, I’m buying expensive coffees again, even though they aren’t nearly as good as New Zealand’s exceptional flat whites, and I don’t get to savor the experience of drinking them on a sunny café patio. When I was away these purchases were less off-handed, and I enjoyed them more.

I’m not talking about big, extravagant purchases. I’m talking about small-scale, casual, promiscuous spending on stuff that doesn’t really add a whole lot to my life. And I won’t actually get paid for another two weeks.

In hindsight I think I’ve always done this when I’ve been well-employed — spending happily during the “flush times.” Having spent nine months living a no-income backpacking lifestyle, I can’t help but be a little more aware of this phenomenon as it happens.

I suppose I do it because I feel I’ve regained a certain stature, now that I am again an amply-paid professional, which seems to entitle me to a certain level of wastefulness. There is a curious feeling of power you get when you drop a couple of twenties without a trace of critical thinking. It feels good to exercise that power of the dollar when you know it will “grow back” pretty quickly anyway.

What I’m doing isn’t unusual at all. Everyone else seems to do this. In fact, I think I’ve only returned to the normal consumer mentality after having spent some time away from it.

One of the most surprising discoveries I made during my trip was that I spent much less per month traveling foreign counties (including countries more expensive than Canada) than I did as a regular working joe back home. I had much more free time, I was visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, I was meeting new people left and right, I was calm and peaceful and otherwise having an unforgettable time, and somehow it cost me much less than my humble 9-5 lifestyle here in one of Canada’s least expensive cities.

It seems I got much more for my dollar when I was traveling. Why?

A Culture of Unnecessaries

Here in the West, a lifestyle of unnecessary spending has been deliberately cultivated and nurtured in the public by big business. Companies in all kinds of industries have a huge stake in the public’s penchant to be careless with their money. They will seek to encourage the public’s habit of casual or non-essential spending whenever they can.

In the documentary The Corporation, a marketing psychologist discussed one of the methods she used to increase sales. Her staff carried out a study on what effect the nagging of children had on their parents’ likelihood of buying a toy for them. They found out that 20% to 40% of the purchases of their toys would not have occurred if the child didn’t nag its parents. One in four visits to theme parks would not have taken place. They used these studies to market their products directly to children, encouraging them to nag their parents to buy.

This marketing campaign alone represents many millions of dollars that were spent because of demand that was completely manufactured.

“You can manipulate consumers into wanting, and therefore buying, your products. It’s a game.” ~ Lucy Hughes, co-creator of “The Nag Factor”

This is only one small example of something that has been going on for a very long time. Big companies didn’t make their millions by earnestly promoting the virtues of their products, they made it by creating a culture of hundreds of millions of people that buy way more than they need and try to chase away dissatisfaction with money.

We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up, to keep up with the Joneses, to fulfill our childhood vision of what our adulthood would be like, to broadcast our status to the world, and for a lot of other psychological reasons that have very little to do with how useful the product really is. How much stuff is in your basement or garage that you haven’t used in the past year?

The real reason for the forty-hour workweek

The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.

I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing.

The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.

Suddenly I have a lot more money and a lot less time, which means I have a lot more in common with the typical working North American than I did a few months ago. While I was abroad I wouldn’t have thought twice about spending the day wandering through a national park or reading my book on the beach for a few hours. Now that kind of stuff feels like it’s out of the question. Doing either one would take most of one of my precious weekend days!

The last thing I want to do when I get home from work is exercise. It’s also the last thing I want to do after dinner or before bed or as soon as I wake, and that’s really all the time I have on a weekday.

This seems like a problem with a simple answer: work less so I’d have more free time. I’ve already proven to myself that I can live a fulfilling lifestyle with less than I make right now. Unfortunately, this is close to impossible in my industry, and most others. You work 40-plus hours or you work zero. My clients and contractors are all firmly entrenched in the standard-workday culture, so it isn’t practical to ask them not to ask anything of me after 1pm, even if I could convince my employer not to.

The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.

As technologies and methods advanced, workers in all industries became able to produce much more value in a shorter amount of time. You’d think this would lead to shorter workdays.

But the 8-hour workday is too profitable for big business, not because of the amount of work people get done in eight hours (the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours) but because it makes for such a purchase-happy public. Keeping free time scarce means people pay a lot more for convenience, gratification, and any other relief they can buy. It keeps them watching television, and its commercials. It keeps them unambitious outside of work.

We’ve been led into a culture that has been engineered to leave us tired, hungry for indulgence, willing to pay a lot for convenience and entertainment, and most importantly, vaguely dissatisfied with our lives so that we continue wanting things we don’t have. We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.

Western economies, particularly that of the United States, have been built in a very calculated manner on gratification, addiction, and unnecessary spending. We spend to cheer ourselves up, to reward ourselves, to celebrate, to fix problems, to elevate our status, and to alleviate boredom.

Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?

The economy would collapse and never recover.

All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

The culture of the eight-hour workday is big business’ most powerful tool for keeping people in this same dissatisfied state where the answer to every problem is to buy something.

You may have heard of Parkinson’s Law. It is often used in reference to time usage: the more time you’ve been given to do something, the more time it will take you to do it. It’s amazing how much you can get done in twenty minutes if twenty minutes is all you have. But if you have all afternoon, it would probably take way longer.

Most of us treat our money this way. The more we make, the more we spend. It’s not that we suddenly need to buy more just because we make more, only that we can, so we do. In fact, it’s quite difficult for us to avoid increasing our standard of living (or at least our rate of spending) every time we get a raise.

I don’t think it’s necessary to shun the whole ugly system and go live in the woods, pretending to be a deaf-mute, as Holden Caulfield often fantasized. But we could certainly do well to understand what big commerce really wants us to be. They’ve been working for decades to create millions of ideal consumers, and they have succeeded. Unless you’re a real anomaly, your lifestyle has already been designed.

The perfect customer is dissatisfied but hopeful, uninterested in serious personal development, highly habituated to the television, working full-time, earning a fair amount, indulging during their free time, and somehow just getting by.

Is this you?

Two weeks ago I would have said hell no, that’s not me, but if all my weeks were like this one has been, that might be wishful thinking.


Photo by joelogon



Nico July 29, 2010 at 2:45 am

There is a Séneca’s quote which fits perfectly here, but I dont know enough to translate it (in an elegant way :P), and I couldnt find it in English (maybe anyone else could do it):

“Compra solamente lo necesario, no lo conveniente. Lo innecesario, aunque cueste un solo céntimo, es caro”.

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Lisis July 29, 2010 at 6:51 am

“Buy only what is necessary, not what is convenient. What is unnecessary, even if it only costs one cent, is expensive.” :)

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Suzanne August 1, 2010 at 11:30 am


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shekhar February 15, 2013 at 1:57 am

The actual problem is we thinks too much about what others will think. And this is the only reason why we tend to buy unnecessary things. Just for a show off

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Rajdeep February 28, 2013 at 11:42 pm

True….Absolutely true.

JJ April 14, 2013 at 7:29 pm

No, it’s far from the only reason.

JJ April 14, 2013 at 7:33 pm

We also buy out of boredom and ennui. To cheer ourselves up, to try to fill that existential void, to make up for other things in our lives that are wrong or missing. It’s called “retail therapy.”

Atrebla April 23, 2013 at 9:58 am

If that were the only reason, shit wouldn’t work…it’s so much more complicated!

Patrick April 24, 2013 at 10:53 pm

I would suggest that we think too little of ourselves, and this fuels our need to have others think well. Far better to be good than look good.

jose August 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm

It`s not so bad thinking about what others will think, that is the beginning of civilization. We simply fail to imagine what would we like them to think

Adrian February 17, 2013 at 10:42 am

This reminds of something I often tell myself, “Every convenience comes with a sacrifice.”

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John fullert August 17, 2013 at 2:10 am

A very insightful phrase. Thanks for sharing.

Juan de la O October 29, 2013 at 9:56 am

Y’all, please read Edward Bernay’s 1928 book entitled ”Propaganda”. He is considered ‘the father of modern public relations’ and the book helps clarify the conditioning process. I would also recommend Guy Debord’s 1967 ”Society of the Spectacle” as it [partially] covers alienation and how we attempt to overcome it via consumption, including that of our self produced social spectacle.

Yes, I’ve been down David’s paths and the 40 hr work week, very much, requires reduction.

Sarah @ SimplyScrumptiousBySarah April 6, 2013 at 9:19 am

I totally understand what you are saying…. but I do not think we are all doomed to this fate… we have a choice on what we spend our money on. True, it is human nature to act this way in the 40hr work week situation, but we can consciously choose not to waste our money. We also can discipline ourselves to make better choices, like exercising in the evenings… it is harder… but not impossible!

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Rodrigo, Brazil April 8, 2013 at 12:57 am

We may even have the choice, have the power in our hands… But all the little things that happen in our days tire us so much, that is way too much easy to waste our money…

It’s not just about discipline…

We don’t have time: in the weekend we want to have fun!

We don’t have patience: our days run so fast…

We don’t have even the head in it’s place: the boss, the clients, they don’t want our happiness, they want the job done! the bank wants the bills paid! the “mirror”: it want our fitness, want that SUPER NEW DIET that will makes us “beautifull”!!).

It’s almost impossible to make the right decisions.

Anandamoy (Andy) August 29, 2013 at 6:09 am

‘DISCIPLINE’ is the key…. It is a little hard to practice in the beginning. But once you get a hang of it, “want” and “waste” will visibly diminish.


Mike October 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

You’re entirely correct; we could do that. But, how many of us do?

He’s right. I spend much of my money on things that I hope will provide much more satisfaction than they actually do.

But, I’d like to know more about the careful design of our lifestyle. I need more references to be convinced it’s some kind of corporate plot.

Pandora November 3, 2013 at 6:47 am

But you are merely suggesting we can push ourselves to adapt to something that we are not “doomed” to accept, rather than push for change that will entail far reaching beneficial results. That’s buying into the trap instead of truly freeing yourself from it. We can together work to create more significant change by not accepting and adapting ourselves to what is not in our best interests.

chris July 24, 2013 at 3:21 pm

or, as the character Tyler Durden said in fight club – “the things you own, end up owning you!”

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Shoaib October 11, 2013 at 7:35 am

Do not show your beautiful body to world dear :)

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Suzanne August 1, 2010 at 11:30 am

Thanks Nico. I like that quote, especially the first line. That part really spoke to me.

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Nico August 1, 2010 at 6:12 pm

Hello girls, thanks for the translation (I wasnt too hard now Im seing it, je..), and the comments.

Gracias muy mucho! :)

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aravindan March 7, 2013 at 11:54 am

The transalated meaning I got is as follows:
Buy only what you need, not what is convenient. The unnecessary, even if it costs a penny, it’s expensive.

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Charlotte Crockford April 7, 2013 at 9:37 am

Here’s the English translation, “Buy only what is necessary, not desirable. The unnecessary, even if it costs a penny, it’s expensive. “

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Tim April 9, 2013 at 11:36 am

Buy only that which is necessary, not that which is convenient. The unnecessary, even if it costs only a cent, is expensive.

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Brian Gaffney April 26, 2013 at 11:53 am

Here’s a shameful misconception that “THE MAN” has about our affluent economy; to quote from the article:

“Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?

The economy would collapse and never recover. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy.”

No, this is not true at all. Our society would be MORE efficient and innovative if most of the public were in fact healthy and mentally satisfied. The environment would be better off without so much waste and pollution, People could concentrate more fully and generally have much more stamina without all their diabetic cancer-inducing junk foods and booze and lack of sleep and pharmecuticals.

On the surface, to some fat cats sitting at the top of their crystal skyscraper offices, it SEEMS like the economy flourishes in chaos, but it’s just spinning out of control and it looks bright and fiery. It’s only a matter of time before the supernova finishes exploding and an ugly black hole is left sucking everything down.

Fix it now, while you can, in any way you can.

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Magda October 24, 2013 at 12:17 am

In 1935 Bertrand Russel argued that a 4 hour work day, giving people enough free time to use those hours in innovative and creative ways, would actually stimulate the economy:

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Andrei August 6, 2013 at 6:42 am

this is not Seneca, but Cato’s words. Seneca was quoting him in his letters.

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Just another ignorant August 19, 2013 at 2:44 pm

in this context, Does it really matter who said what ? don’t be such a smart ass

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Max August 22, 2013 at 2:50 am

he isn’t being a smart ass, he is just pointing something out. I definitely benefited.

Nick October 7, 2013 at 7:46 pm

Of course it matters, unless you’re a moron who just mindlessly spouts qoutes to make him or herself seem smart.

Worth It October 22, 2013 at 4:25 pm

It does matter. I’m glad for knowing the actual source. The real question is why a not-at-all-inflammatory clarification such as this would make you so upset.

wolskerj December 16, 2013 at 8:17 am

The funny thing is, I doubt either Seneca or Cato spoke Spanish. Does anyone have a reference to the original text?

Progressive Pete August 31, 2013 at 8:31 pm

Yeah, lighten up.

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Nick October 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm

Yeah i thought as much, it pretty much encapsulates the ascetic mindset, not one i would like to live by. Everything in moderation suits me fine.

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cyberfysh December 29, 2013 at 7:21 pm

“It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” Seneca (Epistles)

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Kylie July 29, 2010 at 4:21 am

Oh my, this strikes a chord (and I recently re-read Catcher in the Rye in some of those precious weekend/evening moments). I consider myself a reasonably conscious person, but it’s so easy to get sucked into the grind of work and then buying things to soothe and reward. Scary.

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Lisis July 29, 2010 at 6:58 am

TOTALLY know what you mean, David. Jeff and I have been through this cycle a number of times. We give up the high-paying corporate gig for more free (quality) time and, despite the lack of income, we make it just fine… we’re often happier, in fact.

Then we go back to a higher paying situation and instantly revert to more nights out on the town, more restaurant meals, more movies and casual spending. Now we’re back to a lower-paying situation (by choice) and kicking ourselves for “wasting” all that money!

It’s kind of a feast or famine thing. When we don’t have the money, we get resourceful and find ways to get by. When we get the money, we feel entitled to a little splurging after going without for a while. It’s a weird cycle. “Human, all too human.”


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Shawn February 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

Well said!

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Dave April 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm

Agreed. I believe so much in investing instead of wasting. Do it right, and one day you can have enough investments to live comfortably off of….take vacations when you want, as long as you want, and even pass the investments to your offspring……Much more than retirement can do.

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laura July 4, 2013 at 12:46 am

Unless you die before then.

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laura July 4, 2013 at 12:46 am

Unless you die before then.

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Typical Respondent December 1, 2013 at 2:37 am

Well, that just means you are not a very good person and need ot be stronger and have more willpower.

Thank you for your contribution.

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Surin Tamna February 3, 2014 at 9:29 am

“Feast or famine” sounds like code for “Ants and the grasshopper” — if you can’t learn to have discipline and save money when it’s pouring in, you’ll be a slave to corporate America (or Canada, or some other corporate oligarchy) forever.

This attitude that it’s those in power holding us down is robbing us of the very real power not to waste our money and buy into the consumer lifestyle. Pretending it’s not our fault (our lives are DESIGNED this way) is just rationalizing laziness.

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Sam July 29, 2010 at 8:32 am

This rings true, but it’s so depressing. I’m just a student, not even completely sure what work I want to go into, but knowing that pretty much every option I have means having so little free time makes me despair a little. My favourite activities take time, not money…

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:20 pm

There are options, such as personal consulting of some kind, that would allow you to avoid the 40-hour workweek. But most of us end up in a 40-hour-based industry and it’s hard to start again somewhere else. I’m bent on freeing up my time, but it won’t happen overnight. I wish I’d known this while I was still a student.

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elle August 12, 2011 at 3:14 am

Thank you so much for this article, David! And for saying that there is hope. I am a student, too, and was wondering the same thing as Sam.

Also, you posted this on my birthday. :) I don’t believe in coincidences.

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Eric | Eden Journal July 29, 2010 at 8:35 am

I had a similar experience after being out of work for three months. I didn’t do all the traveling that you did, but I did spend three wonderful months with my family doing a variety of local activities and enjoying the freedom from work.

While I was out of work we definitely spent less on frivolous things. Now that I’m working again, we spend more eating out, seeing movies, and on little things here and there. Since I have so little time for enjoyable activities, I tend to cram more into my weekends, and it’s usually a time/money trade off. Meaning that since I have less time, I’m willing to spend more money for entertainment.

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meg July 29, 2010 at 8:36 am

So! What do you think you will do?

Stash away those $20′s and invest them, then perhaps take a very early retirement?

Disappear inside the job?

Curious to see how this will pan out…. :)

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:23 pm

I’ll build a stash, honing my smart spending chops in the mean time, then when the time is right, flee to another city and build an empire of my own.

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thomas April 9, 2013 at 10:38 am

What kind of engineer are you? I am an electrical engineer by trade, but I recently got my masters in social work. I am wondering, for both of us, if there is someway to be an engineer for justice and avoid the 9-5 grind.

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SocialTech April 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

Thomas, there is a great need for engineers to engage in “social” (not FB social), using tech to strengthen the natural web of trust and reverse the shameful privacy invading and manipulation, centralization of power and capital and isolation-building engineers are responsible for at the behest of corporate profits.

Trish Scott July 29, 2010 at 10:16 am

Yes. Been pointing this out for years to those who look down their nose at me for my less than usual pursuits – always family – never friends. We have all been trained to do that – think less of those who work as little as possible and daydream/meditate/walk/smell the roses. “After all”, they can actually be seen thinking, “if everyone did that the world would spin out of control!” I have found that working for others even part time is a soul killer. And, as you point out here, I never seem to have anything to show for the effort – except of course a lack of creative output for the duration. My formula for true happiness is simplify, simplify, simplify (so as not to need The Man) and work only from your own passion.

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:27 pm

That’s another awful side-effect — you become an “eccentric” just by taking another approach to working. I have already had a lot more detractors than supporters speak up whenever I talk about my self-employment goal. I can’t blame them; we all get conditioned the same way.

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Duff July 29, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Self-employment, while useful for the individual who succeeds, is not a good collective solution. I think we should dream bigger, imagining ways to solve the problem for everyone.

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Syd April 10, 2013 at 2:02 pm

I disagree. It’s actually not your business to solve other people’s problems. That is akin to a bailout and nobody will learn from it. 95% of the time, when someone comes with a “solution” that he/she thinks will help everyone, it involves an appeal to the government and then, when government gets involved, it just screws it up. It also gives people a false sense of compassion, that they are helping others, when they’re really just enabling others and typically, this false notion also falls back on the “helper” in that he/she won’t even bother to clean up his/her own backyard while dreaming of how everyone’s backyards can be cleaned up. Personal responsibility needs to come BEFORE social responsibility or you will end up with only an illusion of both and a reality of neither.

David July 29, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I agree, but I don’t think there is a single solution for everyone. People can only make personal changes. A shift in culture can trigger many personal changes, and I think that’s the best we can hope for. With a lot of people taking alternate approaches to work and income, the success stories will encourage others, and it will compound in successive generations.

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Dan @ Casual Kitchen July 30, 2010 at 1:18 pm

Actually there are many, MANY more of us out there than you think who aren’t so conditioned. Look for the right people, preferably outside of your office and work environment. You’ll find them.

Of course, the fact that most professional jobs take up long hours encourages us to look for friends in our professional circles. Hmmmm.


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Napolean February 17, 2013 at 7:57 pm

It goes the same for the creative types.

Those of us who would rather spend our time building/inventing things in our basements than vegging out in front of a television, or spending the evening at a bar.

Even preference to reading books is presented as strange.

You hit the nail on the head with “work only from your own passion”, our culture teaches us to strive for the puritan work ethic, that work should not be fun, work is supposed to be hard.

The truth is, as technology gets more advanced, industries will become more automated and this will all but eradicate the lower and middle class jobs.

The irony is that those of us who work only from our own passions turn out to be the ones with job security, and those doing what culture has taught them was the right way to earn a living, are the ones risking their financial security pursuing a lifestyle they’re likely not even happy with.

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Ewen April 21, 2013 at 10:32 am

Well…the fact that people call work “work” – as opposed to calling work “play” – is actually the inherent fundamental problem.

I’ve been fortunate enough to be one of the < 1% that actually ENJOY my work. (And almost always have). But there are a LOT more people that would rather just sit on a pile of cash than to get that feeling of actually accomplishing something (even if it's for a private corporation) which still – at some level – is for the betterment of society-at-large. (Build better cars).

And I've only BEEN at my job for like…a month and already my supervisor is already talking about plans for advancement and leadership with me and how in my long career with this company that I am likely to move up and on to better things. And there's three pay grades separating me and my supervisor, which if I take a role at his level, I jump three pay grades just like that. (Median pay is about $100k/year). And I've only GRADUATED college 3 years ago.

(Not a bragging thing – but it's a "do what you love, and the money will follow" thing). Too many people do stuff only for the money. And it has been my experience that those that chase after money never really truly "get" it. I specifically focused on a very highly specialized area of engineering (computational simulations), which I figured would carve out a niche market for myself. It took about 10 years to get the whole thing set up, but the results speak for themselves basically. Even *I'm* in shock, awe, and amazement that things actually worked out this way.

And what I've also noticed is that a LOT of people are yelling at the world, into the wind, because it's FARRR easier to do that than it is to learn all of the different maths and discretization techniques and algorithms and all of the physics and the Navier-Stokes equations.

(North) Americans don't seem to value hard work and education as much as they proclaim they do or their importance. And you see that a lot when people would rather lounge in front of a TV and be a couch-potato rather than read a 578-page Federal Register (legal document that's about as big as a decent-sized book) that describes how EPA and NHTSA are going to implement the new and upcoming CAFE standards for cars for model years 2017-2025.

And THEREIN, also lies a FUNDAMENTAL difference. *I'd* MUCH rather read the Federal Register and fill my mind with GOOD information than to watch whatever junk/crap they're pushing on the TV nowadays and passing that crap as "entertainment".

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Erin April 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm


I can tell you, as a social worker who is “doing what I love,” there will never be any money that “follows” from my pursuit of happiness. What I can say, however, is that when you actually are doing what you love, the money (assuming you have enough to survive) that is promised to follow suddenly loses much of its value.

I personally believe that there needs to be a paradigm shift wherein our society begins to value personal emotional/social/spiritual health as much as it does biological health. Once that happens, and people begin to take a lunch break away from the 8 hour work day for yoga in a park, or join each other on the porch for wine instead of going to happy hours, etc., I imagine we would begin to see the lifestyle to which JJ aspires gradually become accepted as “the norm”. This shift in our constructed consciousness will help re-define “wealth” to correlate more directly with wellness and contentedness.

I am beginning to notice this change in our generation (I am close to your age), and my opinion is that it is a direct result of the recent (i.e., over the last 25 years) focus on diet and exercise, as well as what I would call an “en masse” collective diagnosis of depression/anxiety (a reflection of our society’s trend toward managed care). The premium society put on the positivist medical model for mental health (an entirely separate, but equally important necessary paradigm shift, in my opinion) then prompted the surge in research/development of SSRIs, benzos, and other psychotropic drugs. What followed after the dietary insight increase and the collective affect decrease was, I believe, that our generation witnessed the preceding generation begin to realize the health risks of consuming a diet consisting almost entirely of processed foods and beverages while simultaneously beginning to feel the effects of long-term psychotropic medication use (which, by the way, I’m not implying is not indicated for many folks… but which I am asserting is a symptom of a larger issue stemming from our apparent epidemic of discontent and depression).

We watch this process, and I believe, many of us internalize the desire to not repeat this cycle- hence the recent upsurge in physical/emotional wellness practices such as Pilates/yoga/meditation/etc., consumption of organic foods, “up-cycling” items to avoid waste, etc. (trends which are also encouraged by recent economic issues). Therefore, you have both the cause and the process, that (hopefully) will help JJ to become a member of a growing majority of like-minded individuals.

More importantly, though, I believe there needs to be another paradigm shift, one which helps increase your own awareness of the process you engaged in when you privileged your own definition of “GOOD information” over others’ definitions….thereby reinforcing the dominant social discourse that dictates to the masses what our tastes should be, what we should want, and, indeed, what is worthwhile knowledge to consume. Why do you think that there needs to be some sort of “knowledge hierarchy” which oppresses any people who may have a varying definition of worthwhile information from your own? Why is reading a legal document on CAFE standards any “better” than filling one’s mind with, say, knowledge about dominant systemic and organizational processes and the nature of human behavior regarding the change process, which would presumably help you become a more effective tool in the pursuit of standards which ally with one’s personal values regarding the environment and which may be in opposition to the values espoused in large lobbying firms that represent the oil/auto industries, etc.? What have you done in your life, personally, that leads you to accept that your own definition of certain concepts is somehow more accurate, meaningful, or valuable than others’ definitions? What narrative do you use to justify giving yourself the right to dictate for your fellow humans what does and does not constitute “GOOD information”? This role you have assumed, a role in which have allowed yourself to freely judge others, subjugates anyone whose definition of “good knowledge” may be influenced by factors other than your own. For example, someone watching a program on TV may be doing so because they have an auditory learning style (which is better served by TV or radio) instead of a visual learning style (better served by reading). Or perhaps the person “lounging” in front of the television watching what you describe as the “junk/crap they’re…passing…as ‘entertainment’” may put a personal premium on social support, and they may attain a great deal of satisfaction from the maintenance of social relationships… which happen to be fostered by increasing awareness of shared cultural trends…which happen to be reflected in popular television programs.


One of the many “(north)Americans who don’t seem to value hard work and education as much as they proclaim they do” (and who, incidentally, generally views the propagation of over-arching negative stereotypes as an indication of the speaker’s limited comprehension of social cues/common courtesy).

Lelapaletute May 1, 2013 at 6:31 am

For someone not trying to brag, you are doing a seriously excellent job – just imagine how annoying you could be if you DID try! I would no doubt be in shock, awe AND amazement.

if you do what you love, money will not necesarily follow. If, say, you love sharing knowledge with young minds, you will probably become a teacher and that is never going to make you rich (either financially or in terms of leisure). You happen to love something lucrative – good on you! But you shouldn’t assume that people not doing so well simply ‘can’t be bothered’. They are making different choices to you.

Barbara October 23, 2013 at 2:56 pm

The biggest obstacle for “doing what you love and letting the money follow” is taking that phrase too literally. Both the cheerleaders and the naysayers engage in this reality distortion.

A passion for teaching does not mean one has to be a public schoolteacher and therefore not make much money.

Following a passion for poetry does not mean one has to find a miraculous way to monetize the un-monetizable.

What neither side wants to take on is the fairly recent idea that anybody who pays you a paycheck is entitled to your passionate devotion. They are not. Example: a former employer was shocked when I told them I didn’t care how much the bonus was. I don’t have time to put in weekend and evening work time because I had other things to do. That’s how I follow my passion.

Danielle July 29, 2010 at 12:07 pm

“Civilization is the limitless multiplication of unnecessary necessities.” ~ Mark Twain

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Izzen July 29, 2010 at 12:39 pm

To me, it’s always seemed that it’s the option to spend that makes or breaks unnecessary consumption more than time itself. I mean, Parkinson’s law works with both free time and time on the clock, and if you were working the same hours but for a much lower rate of pay, as many people do, you’d no doubt find better (cheaper) ways to spend your limited free time.

Diversion is also a psychological necessity, and you’re all right in exclaiming that convenience is the real draw with unnecessary spending… But either way you don’t have to take the bait.

Good job driving the point home about big business and the 40 hour work week. You must know Tim Ferriss, right?

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Jesse September 15, 2011 at 3:46 pm

i think the point he was trying to make was that you waste money thru diversion and unnecessary spending regardless of your actual cheque size. a person of less means simply buys the $6.99 for a 6 pack beer instead of the $45 bottle of spirits or the $100+ bottle of luxury drinks…

the lesser means person buys “useless crap” on sale or at dollar stores while maybe david buys his crap at bed bath and beyond….

but at the end of the day if both people had less time at work they could cook a home cooked meal, talk to their family at the dinner table and share a piece of their life with each other, instead of rushing home after work with some McDonalds and sitting in front of the tv ignoring each other desperately trying to relax just a little before waking up to do it again. people spend over $100 on cable tv, thats 1 to 2 days pay for many people, with all the adverts on tv IT SHOULD BE FREE!

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Brad July 29, 2010 at 12:58 pm

It’s not me because I haven’t had a full time job in nearly two years. How did you find a good job so quickly?

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:30 pm

I had a contact with this company, and they happened to need someone who did exactly what I do.

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Brad July 30, 2010 at 10:38 pm

Yeah, I figured. Networking is key. That, and the Canadian economy. :)

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Jack Bennett July 29, 2010 at 2:08 pm


This is a great point and one that is hard to notice unless you cross a boundary of some kind (in your case, from “full-time traveling” to “full-time working”). Carefully observing the process of reaching equilibrium in your “new life” is a great way to gain first hand insight into the assumptions that drive work, business, and society. I appreciate you recording your observations and sharing them here.

Back when I was working full time, I’d think nothing of exchanging money (sometimes too much of it!) for evening or weekend leisure activities – after all, I only have a limited time “off” and I deserve to make the most of it.

Your point about activities like walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and writing taking lots of time but little or no money is also valuable. It reminds me to follow what is financially cheap, but personally priceless.

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:33 pm

Hi Jack. Yes, I did need that transition to notice what was happening. I’ve been a part of the 9-5 working world my whole adult life, so the downsides just seemed to be the downsides oflife rather than just the lifestyle I’m living.

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Brenda (betaphi) July 29, 2010 at 2:12 pm

(from Wikipedia)
“The Federation Credit is the basic monetary unit of the United Federation of Planets in the fictional Star Trek series. The economy of the Federation is quite unlike the economics of the 20th and 21st centuries. It is a post scarcity society. There is no poverty and no hunger, and the pursuit of money is not a driving force in society. A “New World Economy” began to take hold on Earth and throughout the Federation in the late 22nd century and eventually made money obsolete. Replicators and other advanced technologies provide for virtually all basic material wants and needs equally and sufficiently to all. Every citizen of the Federation has plenty of food of virtually any type they want, clothes, shelter, recreational and luxury items. All their basic material needs are easily met. A society based around self-improvement and collectively improving the human race instead of cutthroat competition, combined with heavy automation, means labor is essentially free, menial tasks are automated, and money is obsolete.”

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:38 pm


I really wonder, though, if having the capacity to meet everyone’s needs would actually create a scarcity-free society. Desires are like Kleenex boxes: take one away and another pops up in its place. I think people would still feel like something’s missing, but maybe that’s where the self-improvement comes in.

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Jan March 2, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Resource Based Economy! In my view, that concept designed by Jacque Fresco may be one of the most feasible up to this day as how to conduct human affairs. And as to desires, imagine a world where you don’t have to worry about earning a living, technologically advanced, and there is no industry nagging you to buy this or that. In that world we will remember to take care of our inner child: the epitome of curiosity. We will venture, we will question, discover; further science, express art, and of course know what life is all about: creating, sharing, learning. So the question then becomes: What kind of desires are we going reinforce? And there comes self-improvement as you said, David.

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Jan March 2, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Resource Based Economy! In my view, that concept designed by Jacque Fresco may be one of the most feasible up to this day as how to conduct human affairs.

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Rebecca July 29, 2010 at 2:23 pm

Wow how strange, I quit my job two weeks ago and while I was unemployed I didn’t spend a dime on anything unnecessary and was completely fine. Then I got a job about three days ago and as soon as I knew I was going to be working again, I starting thinking ok now I need a new “this” or I need to get “that”. Then I caught myself doing it and I was trying to figure out why all of the sudden I needed all this stuff when a few days ago I was completely fine without it. As weird as it sounds it almost made going back to work a little depressing. It’s just funny that I read this now, as it was my first day back to work. Great article, I definetely think I needed to read this today.

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:39 pm

Sounds like my experience. I like my new job, but it is more than a bit depressing to have to push my life back into the evenings and weekends again.

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Fabian | The Friendly Anarchist July 29, 2010 at 3:14 pm

Absolutely brilliant post! I’m glad to answer: “Hell no, that’s not me”, but you are right that it is so very, very easy to slip into it.

One question on this: “the average office worker gets less than three hours of actual work done in 8 hours” – I once read something similar and wasn’t able to find the source anymore later, when I needed it for a post. Any chance you have one? Would be greatly appreciated! :)

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I don’t have a source for you. It’s anecdotal but I’ve seen it in a lot of places. I have also been that office worker. ;)

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Troy February 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

I was at a company once, that demanded that everyone work 45-50 hours a week (and once you did that they’d demand 55-60 and so on) even if all you did was sit in your chair for the extra hour or two a day. Literally the appearance of working was more important to them than the actual amount of work, as was their ability to “control” people.

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Joel | Blog of Impossible Things July 29, 2010 at 4:34 pm

Wow. Great post! I’ve noticed this in my own life.

Took me a while to actually read this post because so many people were tweeting it, it seems like the site went down for a bit =)

I love how you make the point that consumerism is driven out of the being “unhappy” and dissatisfied. I think the problem much of the time isn’t that we just like stuff, there’s a much deeper issue.

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:48 pm

Yeah the site was down for a bit. Another post actually went crazy on stumbleupon and too many users were on at once. I’ll have to sort this out with my host; it’s happened before.

Human beings are chronically dissatisfied, it’s the human condition, and business exacerbates that on purpose.

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Duff July 29, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?

The economy would collapse and never recover.

I think this is true, but also necessary. What would happen if an alcoholic stopped drinking? His life as an alcoholic would collapse and never recover. Our economy is already hitting rock bottom—it is time to face the truth and deal with the addiction.

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David July 29, 2010 at 4:52 pm

I think in the long run it is necessary too. But I suspect people would not necessarily react to that collapse by sitting down and examining the root of their dissatisfaction. This conditioning can only be undone by individuals who really want to understand the source of their problem, and take responsibility for it. I don’t think that will ever happen on a large scale. Most people react to the collapsing economy by blaming their president.

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Suzanne August 1, 2010 at 11:59 am

When I read that portion of your post, I stopped and thought about it. It would truly be a shake-up and worth seeing but, as you said in the post and your comment, the reaction would not be as “enlightening” as we’d like it to be.

I have a prideful feeling when I read about how much money is involved in our U.S. economy and knowing, as one of its consumers, how much stuff I can and do buy. I haven’t considered doing as you suggest and trying to reduce its scale. Worth some thought, though, so I’ll see how reading your thoughts impact mine. :-)

What I can say is that in my efforts to return to a cash-only lifestyle, I’ve become mindful about spending and my life in general. I have begun spending less because I’m only spending the money I have and, as I’ve separated the big pool of money into smaller, themed puddles, there isn’t as much to spend.

I work because I want money to utilize for enhancing my life. I work because I enjoy the process of preparing for somewhere to be, being part of a group of people united in a purpose and for feeling satisfaction about what I’ve accomplished. I also completely agree that my “conditioning” (to agree to work & exchange so many hours of my life for money), as well as entitlement issues I have from growing up not having (and wanting to have) as much as others, leads me to stay in the worker pool. Though I have thankfully become mindful as I’m getting older and have created my own family, and now spend my “free” time in ways that enrich the human and not solely the economy.

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Daniel February 17, 2013 at 10:29 pm

Actually mate, an alcoholic who stops drinking can easily die as a direct consequence. ER rooms stock vodka for this reason.

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Denis March 29, 2013 at 3:54 pm

No, that is not necessary. If a person with a minor alcohol problem stops drinking, then their life as an alcoholic stops and they can get back to a ‘normal’ life. But in severe cases of alcoholism going cold turkey can be lethal. This gets significantly worse though as the events of the last couple of years have shown how the state of the economy in one nation is greatly tied to that of the rest of the world.

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Neo July 29, 2010 at 4:44 pm

These ideas could be not only considered revolutionary but subversive by remind us of the reality of the “Matrix” in which we all live today, we are nothing more than little sources of energy that maintain the energy hungry monster that our economy represents.

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Yu July 29, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Great post! I couldn’t agree more, I’ve experienced something similar when I took a weeklong trip to Mount Fuji. When we live in such a busy world I feel like I live for the world and not for myself.

I think what you said about the truly valuable things, reading, walking, meditating is very true. But how do you think we should balance society and our own time, so to speak, when we are confined in such a programmed lifestyle?

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JoyChristin July 29, 2010 at 9:44 pm

I hear you and your readers…
My lifestyle may have already been designed..but I chose to break the mold :) And now life is truly incredible…I don’t have much material, but what I have in all other ways is genuine and dream like..My children now have the same choice..perhaps they shall pursue conventional, but at least they know they have a choice..
As I tend to my “little garden” and share generously from the abundance there, perhaps others might feel a bit more comfortable making changes within their own lifestyles..
There are those who criticize because they do not understand, but there are many who applaud my choices even if they would not live the same..accepting either is about my I release and live from my heart..where there is overflowing peace and all in my life stems from that…

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Kotoula01 July 29, 2010 at 10:11 pm

Thank you for this! I’ve been feeling this way forever, as I’ve been working very part time as a house painter. I do one job every couple of months and the $ lasts me for a long time. I spend my ‘spare’ time, gardening, reading, cooking, and caring for my child. I am a better (single) parent because I’m not killing myself in a 40hr work week that would completely drain me. I’m 44 years old, and really want to get out of the house painting biz as it’s not a healthy trade…and I’m asthmatic. But what to do…an IT career? What other job will let me work so sporadically…I’d love to live in the country and be self sufficient…but can’t afford it. I live in Calgary. A million thanks for putting my feelings into such eloquent words!!

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Brigid July 29, 2010 at 10:23 pm

“Can you imagine what would happen if all of America stopped buying so much unnecessary fluff that doesn’t add a lot of lasting value to our lives?

The economy would collapse and never recover.”

Not a macroeconomist, but it would definitely be disastrous for national unemployment and living standard if we stopped spending.

So I’ve wondered: what if instead of buying stuff, we give away our money to nonprofits instead? Cash is still flowing through the economy, and our individual consciousness is still healthy, too.

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Brigid July 30, 2010 at 11:23 am

You inspired me to write a post on this Brace New Giving World :)

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

I will check it out, thanks Brigid.

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Anna July 30, 2010 at 12:25 pm

What about the people that make the stuff that we wouldn’t be buying?

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:22 am

They would lose their jobs.

This is why this system is so dangerous. This economy now depends very highly on frivolous spending. So if people stopped buying so much convenience food, magazines, cash-register impulse items and K-Tel wonder products, many businesses would become unprofitable and the people who work for them would lose their income. Couple this with the cultural tradition of buying the biggest house you can possibly get with your income, and a lot of people would be in dire straits.

Most of the money that enters the US economy is spent on items that don’t offer a lot of real value to people’s lives. Because this habitual overspending is so widespread, many people have been able to make a living off of selling this kind of low-value stuff. So if suddenly people became more discerning with their dollars, most businesses couldn’t keep going.

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Anna July 31, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Exactly. Our dependence is genuinely frightening to me. To think from where we started, thousands and thousands of years ago, as you addressed, to where we are now is mind boggling. What more is to come? How will our society change? Will we increase our dependence on unnecessary items to the point of eventual self destruction? Just sitting down and thinking about the world, from opposite spectrums- universe, to subparticles, and in between – can be one of the most incredible thought processes.

“…what if instead of buying stuff, we give away our money to nonprofits instead? Cash is still flowing through the economy..” I was more or less questioning how that would work and how cash would still be flowing through our economy.

Magda October 24, 2013 at 12:37 am

I’ve posted this quote already, but it seems appropriate here:

“This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight(…). But in the actual world (…) the men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work. There is, in the end, just as much leisure as on the other plan, but half the men are totally idle while half are still overworked. In this way, it is insured that the unavoidable leisure shall cause misery all round instead of being a universal source of happiness. Can anything more insane be imagined?”

Bertrand Russel goes on to argue that a 4 hr working day would not only provide more employment by spreading available work more equitably, but that since people would have ample spare time to cultivate interests and passions and become more innovative and ambitious, they would, perhaps, create new businesses that provide further opportunities for employment.

This was written in 1935, and yet nothing has been done to improve our failing economic model, which is STILL based on the model of the slave state.

Magda October 24, 2013 at 1:46 am

I don’t think it’s a big secret that the 8 hr day-and the consumerism the overworked indulge in to fill the void-is designed as nothing more than a form of mind-control (just as our education system is designed to raise parrots, not thinkers): it is far safer for any government to have half the population overworked and too exhausted to do anything meaningful, and the other half unemployed and too busy struggling to survive to do anything meaningful, than to have the whole population comfortably employed part-time, with enough leisure to indulge in…critical thinking. Now we wouldn’t want that would we, it would result in revolution! Anyone who believes our modern “democracies” are any less totalitarian than the marxist and fascist ideologies of the past are only fooling themselves.

While I loved your article, I don’t believe that a healthy economy is based on an unhealthy population. It is one particular type of economy-specifically the economy that relies upon brainwashing and disguising totalitarianism as democracy to keep the people in power comfortable, that requires an unhealthy population in order to survive.

David July 31, 2010 at 9:00 am

I don’t think there is any real danger of everybody snapping out of it, and quitting the buying habit en masse. The public is too highly conditioned. But we as individuals can decide what working situation is best for us.

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Trish Scott July 31, 2010 at 9:35 am

I had hopes for us snapping out of it en masse during this latest economic downturn but alas… but it did have a good effect on a lot of people. How many times do we need to get clobbered to GET that sustainable is good?

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David August 1, 2010 at 1:56 pm

I remember having those hopes too. I thought the recession would create a terrific chance for people to learn to appreciate what they still have. But it doesn’t seem to have had that effect. Instead, the public latched onto the idea that a new president would fix everything, and when he didn’t, they blamed him for it.

So there was no across-the-board change in philosophy about consumerism, but I’m sure some people got some lessons they’ll never forget

Stina July 30, 2010 at 12:19 am

My husband and I are planning on moving out of the country in a year and a half, so all purchases are evaluated on the basis of: When we move, do we want to either A. pay to pack and ship it overseas, B. try to sell it, C. give it away, or D. throw it away? If the answer to all of these questions is no, then we know it’s not really important and we don’t buy it. It’s a good way to evaluate how much you really want or need something. We end up forgoing almost every potential purchase, and we couldn’t be happier.

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Tony July 30, 2010 at 3:55 am

Nicely put together article which I think succinctly describes the modern day predicament – basically it sucks. You certainly described my life prior to 2004 very accurately, before I woke up. I found several solutions to the problem, with varying levels of success. For example I tried working just 6 months of the year as a contractor, saved money, and then did what I really wanted the other 6 months. Of course, you have to get yourself into a situation where you can do that which takes time. It was OK, it was just too stop/start/disorientating. I also tried part-time working etc. My latest solution is to move towards quitting the job world completely, to free up the maximum amount of time, final pieces are slotting nicely into place, nearly there now!

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Laura July 30, 2010 at 7:49 am

Wonderfully insightful article.

I left my 80hr/week NYC job last summer. After about 15 years of that schedule, I was burnt out and needed to stop. I saved enough $ to let me live frugally for about 3-5 years unemployed.

The first major thing I noticed was how much I had been spending on dry cleaning!! Holy cow! (and Banana Republic, and buying expensive things for my husband and other family members to apologize for never being around, and maybe to prove to myself that all the working was worth something). Now I spend about 10% of the amount per week compared to what I spent when I was working.

The last year I’ve been on a wandering course of re-discovery… I lost myself somewhere once the job took over my identity.

I love having my schedule wide open now and I can’t imagine going back to a 9-5 (or 9-9, or 24/7) gig, working nights, weekends, chained to my blackberry, on conference calls with Hong Kong at 0300. I’m in much better health, made new friends, feel more relaxed/less angry, and all of my relationships are on a better level.

Now I’m trying to find ways to just make “enough” and not have to go back to working in that “full-time” capacity.

I’m hooked on your site!

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:04 am

80 hours a week, I can’t imagine that. Glad you found a better way, Laura.

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roxy April 28, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Hi there! Same thing happened to me! Well, perhaps not to your degree but I was stuck at a 40+ hr job that made me miserable. I made fairly decent money considering that people around me are having such a difficult time getting high paying jobs. I finally had enough one day, simply snapped. Being over worked, under appreciated, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was used to having an active lifestyle prior to this job. I had gained 30lbs after being there for just a yr. In an attempt to regain my life I tried to regain myself without letting go of the job… It was near to impossible. I quit. I didn’t care how much money I had in the bank. I just wanted to BREATHE again. A great weight came off my shoulders, no more angry clients, sales quotas, late office night’s, coming in on the weekend, going hrs without eating, sleepin only 3 hrs a night, nightmares about being fired. Gone. Although I am still without a job, I spend less. I’m more active now, I’ve lost all the weight. I even caught up with some books I’ve been looking to read for quite some time. My fiance and I are making love again… Yeah, that had suffered too. I just want to be happy and at peace.

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Ken July 30, 2010 at 8:50 am

When one is working a 40-hour work week, TV certainly doesn’t contribute to worthwhile spending of free time. I got rid of my TV last year, and not only am I not wasting my free time, I’m much more disinclined to throw away my money on accumulating stuff as a quick-fix to fill a void in my life.

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:07 am

I canceled my TV service a few years ago and never looked back. My apartment was really different without the TV jabbering all the time — it was so peaceful, and I found better things to do pretty quickly.

But right now I’m house-sitting for a relative and I find myself watching TV again. Old habits die hard.

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Rahul August 6, 2013 at 4:00 pm

I used to live in a studio in minneapolis. Had a projector. Projectors somehow are much less addictive than a TV. You don’t feel the need to turn em on.

I am back to having a TV though since the projector died. And the bad habit is back.

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=Tamar November 2, 2013 at 5:20 pm

Back in the 1970s I think it was, TV was found to be literally hypnotic – the refresh rate on the screen matched some brainwave patterns that kept people entrained. I turned it off in 1993 but I still notice the effect in restaurants.

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T-S-A July 30, 2010 at 9:56 am

So will you quit the job and get your life back? If not, why not? I’ve been on the verge of doing it for a long time, feeling all the time spent on my education and work are largely wasted (and that’s many years of waste :(). But something stops me – I think fear, mostly.

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morgan February 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

We are all so entrenched in this lifestyle, and we really don’t know anything else, we fear the unknown, so to step away is a hard step to take. Currently working very few hours since christmas I don’t really plan on working full time again. But I still have no idea what I will do with my life, because in times where I am short of work I simply look for work. and waste time watching the idiot box. (a habit that is pretty much dead – just the sheer amount of advertising makes me sick and angry) I think the education system (uk) crushed my creativity and know I must get it back, and I doubt that a full time work regime is ever going to allow that.

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Erin S. July 30, 2010 at 10:34 am

Oh David, it is so true. I liked what you said about, “We spend to cheer ourselves up.” And you are exactly right in that we spend for convenience when we don’t have as much available time. I know I do.

It is easier to not think too much about tomorrow when you are young enough to go out and get a job on any given day. I think we don’t plan enough for our old age when we spend with abandon in our youth.

Lee Iacocca who a successful CEO and business guru talks about different phases of earning in our lives. From 20-30 we should be learning, as much as we can by formal education, trying out different jobs, exploring the world, starting families. From 30-55 we work and gain experience. We become experts in our fields, we put the experience to work and build our value of service. We raise families through these years, we have a lot of energy at this point, some education to back it up. Then from 50- – 65 we are at our peak earning years. Save and invest those peak earnings to thoroughly enjoy retirement. Save early and retire young (at 65 instead of 75).

I don’t know that he is right, It is a philosophy. When we are 30, it is hard to imagine being too old to work.

Excellent stuff to think about in your post today.

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:09 am

I’m about to cross over into that second bracket. Wish me luck :)

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Edith May 19, 2013 at 9:21 pm

I don’t agree. The job market is changing. People beyond 50 are finding it difficult to find jobs. If you are frugal and don’t have children, or if you have children but don’t make them your gods who should get everyting they want (and if you don’t pay expensive education for them, which really is pedigree) then you can and should save for old age as soon as you have an income. Waiting until you are 50 is insane. Depending on the trade you’re in, you could be out of work by then… specially in competitive trades, or very physical ones.

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Leslie August 21, 2013 at 11:04 am

I can’t agree with you more. I am a 53 year old registered nurse. I have done well enough take my summers off now. This year I took off from March 1st until I go back on Sept 15th. I realize that I am extremely lucky to be able to do this. This is my 3rd year to take months off at a time. Before that I worked 12 hour shifts from 7pm to 7am. Work ruled my life, my sleeping habits, my relationships.
Now, as I prepare to go back to work, I am dreading it. My back is fried, my wrists, my knees, my brain…Nursing is difficult and stressful. I wish I had not let myself get so caught up in the ‘stuff’ trap. I have spent so much money that I will have to work, at least part time, forever. I made great money as a traveling nurse, but spent it as it came in. Looking back, I think I was trying to prove to my parents that I was successful. I had a beautiful condo, high end stuff. Then when my parents died, the first thing I did was to sell it all. lol. For about….nothing. Being free from payments gave me a new outlook. I decided that I would never get into debt again. I had enough money to buy a house in Florida for cash after the crash. So that is why I don’t have to work full time.
I have traveled the world and did notice in Italy that in the non-tourist areas that everything stops at about 2pm. Everything closes down and the streets empty out. Then in the evenings, families are out socializing in the town squares together. They would be all dressed up and just seemed to enjoy being together. (yes, teenagers and all) They all seemed so happy.
In Egypt, families all gathered together in the evenings in town squares or parks. They were packed every night. They would put on talent shows with the children. They seemed to value their families more than work.
My advice would be to get yourselves debt free. The real way these big companies get us is by encouraging us to become indebted to them. Then they own us. Back in the old days, people didn’t buy things with credit. The costs of things were more balanced with their incomes. Maybe we should just buy what we need. The 4000 used car instead of the 40000 BMW.

Srinivas Rao July 30, 2010 at 12:45 pm


I read this yesterday and I want to say it’s the most thought provoking thing I’ve read all week. You really have accurately described the Matrix, a system designed to keep people doing what they’re doing. The thing with the Matrix is that only the people at the top benefit it.

You made a great point about the collapse of economies. If people all of a sudden become satisfied internally then the shi#$3 would hit the fan. If people suddenly stopped buying things we’d have some problems. I think one of the biggest places that corporations do this in relationships, dating and sex. Link up a bunch of shi#$3 that has nothing to do with it and keep people buying stuff in pursuit of the holy grail. I think that what you have at least is awareness of all of this which is what most people don’t. That’s why most people will fight to protect the matrix even though it doesn’t really benefit them.

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David July 31, 2010 at 9:25 am

Hi Srini,

You said it. Dissatisfaction is what keeps the economy going, which means big business has a pointed interest in keeping people from finding happiness in their lives.

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Stella Aikin July 30, 2010 at 2:41 pm

What fabulous insight….I felt like you were talking directly to me. I’ve often wondered how to get off the ‘merry-go-round’.

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Elana July 30, 2010 at 3:15 pm

Brilliant post David. Thank you.
‘We buy so much because it always seems like something is still missing.’ ~ this really stuck with me ~ and your post brings up MANY questions, most of which have already been brought up by the other very intelligent and contemplative commenters/readers of your blog.

How can we find the time to create satisfaction without spending money on unnecessary things?

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Financial Samurai July 31, 2010 at 1:40 am

Welcome back to the working world!

Thanks for your observations.

I think people are particularly lucky if they only get to work 40 hours a week!

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Yu July 31, 2010 at 8:14 pm

That puts me with a 25 hour week in great luck! :DD

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Trish Scott July 31, 2010 at 9:44 am

It’s always been the same with the economy – wage slaves serving the power hitters. Here is my Very very very brief history of civilization

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Drew Tkac July 31, 2010 at 9:24 pm

In the book “The Farther Reaches of Human Nature,” Maslow says for anyone to be truly self actualized they must remove the work-play dichotomy. Work is play and play is work, with no distinction.

I have made this a goal, and used it as a barometer, throughout my life. The question is, Can I make a living doing something I would do for fun? I think happy people answer yes to this question.

But even doing something very enjoyable and getting paid for it is not enough. I love playing tennis. I could play for hours each day. Even if I would get paid for doing that, it’s not enough.

I believe that life is all about balance or attempting balance. That is, time spent experiencing the mind, body and spirit. So in a typical day we spend 8 hours sleeping leaving 16 hours to be divided up for mind, body and spirit. That comes out to 5.3 hours for each M, B,and S activity.

For me I end up with 2 hours body (tennis, bicycling), 8 hours mind (work) At best I spend 1 hour with the spirit (meditation, yoga, music, spiritual reading). The rest of my time is spent doing undefined activities that does not seem to fit nicely in any category. (Watching tennis on TV, cooking (though this could be spiritual if done right) and worrying or planning.

Despite continued effort I am far from the 5.3 hours for M, B and S. If could just make better use of my time. Lets say 8 hours for mind (because of work), 4 for body and 4 for spirit. That’s a bit better balance. But to achieve the best balance some of the body and spirit needs to crossover in the the work/play time.

I think when we spend time doing the undefined things it’s like looking for our contact lens in the kitchen because the light is better, even though, we know we lost it in the living room. The activities we choose are the easy ones, even though we know, we need to do the ones that take a little more effort.

Well I’m not there yet, and in fact I have a ways to go, but it is a goal and I will keep trying. I hope to use this as a road map when seeking new activities and eliminating old ones.

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David August 1, 2010 at 1:50 pm

I ought to read some Maslow.

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Andy April 23, 2013 at 8:33 pm

This is all well and good,but to paraphrase Michael Bolton from Office Space, nobody considers cleaning shitty bathroom stalls “fun” and yet someone has to do it. Don’t forget to check privilege, folks crowing about how they love their six figure jobs that they earned with no luck, privilege, or help at all. Society behaves strangely in aggregate and it’s high time we start doing something about institutionalized hopelessness. See Thatcher and suicide in England.

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Shredwell August 1, 2010 at 12:05 am

I find your well substantiated opinions and viewpoints fantastic. Thanks.

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Kris August 2, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Hey, I am impressed with you enough just to see you recognize this happening so quickly. It’s always tough to return to a way of life you’ve forgotten, but it always happens on a pretty subconscious level.

I find that when it happens to most, the good parts of their day will slip away and be replaced with dissatisfaction, and it will all happen completely under the radar.

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Amanda August 2, 2010 at 7:23 pm

I’ve always liked to think I’m a bit less of a consumer than your average North American. That said, on my way home from East Africa I stopped for 10 day in England to see the sites and visit some friends and I was absolutely horrified at how quickly and powerfully the consumer impulse overtook me. It cut in pretty much the second I’d caught up on my sleep.

I don’t think it’s possible to escape it completey, but I do my very best to keep the consumer in me in check. I’ve become an even bigger fan of putting a week or two between an initial desire to buy something and actually pulling out my wallet. It tends to keep me from buying things I don’t really, really want.

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Anna August 3, 2010 at 6:15 pm

this is so true! thank you.
I was recently on a trip to mexico, sans laptop and iPhone… staying in a little shack without electricity and just the luxury of waking up to the sunrise, doing yoga, reading and napping and meditating on the beach… better than any kind of luxury vacation I could imagine!
I’m a fan of Maslow and also of Joseph Campbell, who believed in following our bliss, so I trust that it’s possible to create a life where my work is my bliss. I’m trying to do that now as an artist and therapist … sometimes it’s hard to imagine how to balance my most blissful life with making enough money, but I do trust that it’s possible. I see people in other cultures, with less consumer pressure, being happy, so I know I don’t need as much money as society tells me I do.

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Drew Tkac August 3, 2010 at 10:21 pm

I too am a fan of both Maslow and Joseph Campbell. I read about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs years ago, in college, and would monitor my own place by what Maslow called meta-grumbles. That is, you can tell where a person is on the hierarchy by what he or she complains about.

I came to Joseph Campbell a bit later in life and applaud his view that if you have real passion for something, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs does not apply. That is true bliss. To sacrifice all the structural support to chase your dream, your passion, and your heart. That is the hero journey.

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David August 5, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I came to Joseph Campbell a bit later in life and applaud his view that if you have real passion for something, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs does not apply. That is true bliss.

This comment really intrigues me. I’ll read some Joseph Campbell.

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Drew Tkac August 5, 2010 at 9:25 pm

George Lucas though it was a good idea too to read Joseph Campbell.

Twan August 4, 2010 at 7:11 am

A little late to the party but I re-read this article today. It made me think how the student loan fiasco plays into all this. Add onto your predetermined thesis that most people are psychologically compelled to attend university’s and come out with loads of debt. They are starting out this predetermined consumption, instant gratification type of life most of the time $50,000+ in debt and working jobs they are overqualified for and underwhelmed by. Yikes.

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David August 5, 2010 at 7:10 pm

It is unbelievable to me that it is normal to exit college with mid-five-figures of student debt. But what better way to push graduates immediately into the constant working/consuming cycle, without much of a chance to do anything else. It’s a well-oiled machine with a lot of parts.

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Gorgon August 8, 2013 at 4:05 pm

I graduated from a public R1 in 2001 with a humanities BA and $24,000 in student loan debt, despite a few scholarships and working 20+ hours per week throughout. I am average among my peer group. We cannot afford to buy houses, have children, or achieve any other LifeScript markers. Fine by me – I’m fortunate, in a way, because I don’t want any of those things. But the debt is real, and keeps me chained to a desk job I would’ve otherwise left years ago. Well, that and the need for access to affordable health insurance.

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A May 1, 2011 at 1:05 pm

I identify with this very much. While I was young, I have everyone in my life telling me I would amount to nothing unless I went to college. I had very absent parents, and no one combatted the idea that debt was a good thing, as long as I was going to school. I made a very bad decision and not only took out loans, but took them out to go to a borderline fake university which was later found guilty of misrepresentation. What do I get for that? Nothing except a very expensive piece of paper, and a life where I have to work full-time and sacrifice doing certain things that I enjoy just to keep from going into default and having my wages garnished.

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Julie Dworman August 11, 2010 at 2:05 pm

David, I really loved this post. Thanks so much for writing this.

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Robbert August 22, 2010 at 6:08 pm

Thanks David for this article. I thought it was brilliant!

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:3 September 6, 2010 at 9:53 pm

You realise you’re on the threshold of many anarchist ideals right?

Keeping on this path of thought is a slippery slope…

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David September 6, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Anarchy? No I don’t agree at all.

We don’t need to live in a lawless state in order to evolve beyond disempowering cultural phenomena like the 40-hour-workweek.

The two really have nothing to do with each other. By likening this to anarchy you’re jumping about 17 steps too far.

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anon February 17, 2013 at 10:05 am

What’s wrong with that?

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Helen October 8, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Great post, I’ve posted on my facebook and twitter. I’ve been wondering why we collectively agree to such enslavement and your article hit the nail on the head so typed this into my search engine and found your post. Thanks for your excellent writing! It has been very much appreciated!
Much gratitude!! ;-)

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Helen October 8, 2010 at 2:10 pm

Great post, I’ve posted on my facebook and twitter. I’ve been wondering why we collectively agree to such enslavement and your article hit the nail on the head, I typed this into my search engine and found your post, lucky me. Thanks for your excellent writing! It has been very much appreciated!
Much gratitude!! ;-)

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G November 22, 2010 at 12:26 pm

Reminds me of the novel Momo by Michael Ende.

He devoted a lot of his time to trying to persuade European governments to abandon the demand for continual economic ‘growth’. Momo is largely about how this growth parasitises human time.

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Frank H. December 1, 2010 at 6:29 pm

David, I really can follow your thoughts. I’ve worked a long time 10-14 hours a day in the IT business. This spring I decided to quit and to make a 6-to-12-month-brake. Now 6 month are over. The last weeks I did a silent retreat without any TV, Internet, magazines, conversation, and so on. This was really a great time, just to have your time for yourself without distraction or having a lot on the todo list. And there was no need to consume to compensate. My own experiences observations and thoughts when I worked hard as well as when I worked nothing are congruent with yours. Thanks for the article to reinforce. :-) Cheers from Switzerland, Frank

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Neil December 21, 2010 at 1:57 pm

That’s kind of depressing, but it’s totally in line with Timothy Ferriss’ book, The 4-Hour Workweek. I’ve not yet made it through the book, but I’ve read about 40% of it. For this principle, the author says: “1) Limit tasks to the important to shorten worktime (80/20 [rule]). 2) Shorten work time to limit tasks to the important (Parkinson’s Law).”

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hyunsoung kim December 24, 2010 at 3:13 am


As you said, out lifestyle and life has already been designed long time ago, and it is on us to find it as fast as we can so that we can live it more.

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val January 22, 2011 at 1:12 pm

Um, here’s the thing. Buying healthy food is expensive. Healthcare, in the US, is expensive. Heating and cooling even a small apartment also expensive. Transit, gas, or bicycle maintenance costs can add up. Your idea sounds great, but then consider the folks (and despite high minimum wages in Canada, I know there are these folks there too) who have to work long hours just to survive with foodstamps or other government programs. How can someone living on minimum wage have a four day workweek?

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David January 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm

Hmm. I’m not sure what you think I said but I wasn’t arguing that everyone should take a Tim Ferriss approach to life. But everyone can improve their lot if they recognize the forces that are at play in their lives, particularly the very-high-level marketing that has made unhealthiness so much easier and cheaper than healthiness.

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Garrett August 10, 2013 at 9:44 pm

“But everyone can improve their lot if they recognize the forces that are at play in their lives…”

If only it were remotely that easy. Many, many people are struggling just to survive, and recognizing the forces at play or not won’t change that fact.

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David August 11, 2013 at 3:13 pm

Why does it have to be easy? If you want to resign yourself to victimhood you are probably wasting your time reading this site.

Garrett August 15, 2013 at 9:09 pm

“Why does it have to be easy? If you want to resign yourself to victimhood you are probably wasting your time reading this site.”

Why does pointing out the obvious have to be labeled “victimhood?” I’m not resigning myself to anything. But I’m overprivileged (read some Tim Wise). I’m a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, male born into a middle class family in the suburbs of the wealthiest, most powerful nation/empire on Earth. What’s easy is assuming anyone can substantially improve their lot in life (whatever that might mean) simply by identifying forces at play in the design of their lifestyle. That’s the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality, and it’s severely flawed.

val January 22, 2011 at 1:18 pm

oh, and also, when one is a secretary, for example, one’s bosses always find something for one to do.

It is worth considering this other than as a well-paid programmer, who might have the luxury of being unemployed for six months at a time. There are structural inequalities built into the design of this system which make your lifestyle possible, and which are worth considering . . . I’m lucky not to work three jobs, but folks who work three jobs to cover the rent and live in food deserts where all they can get that’s affordable is junk are more likely to be overweight, but they don’t have time or money. So one splits the difference. I strongly recommend you read “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenrich.

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Carlos Marks January 23, 2011 at 12:04 am

You know, this is the first time I’ve seen something like this any place other than an anarchist newspaper, web site or book. I also like the fact that you talk about this kind of thing in plain English. Hell, I like the fact that you, an apparently successful professional, talk about this kind of thing at all! You’d better clam up, or the next thing you know Homeland Security’ll be knocking on your door!

Seriously, you’ve written a great article, you’ve raised some crucial points. Keep up the great work.

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Var January 27, 2011 at 6:10 pm

One potential solution, as I myself have been doing for the last six months, is to go back to self-sustainable community living. In this time I’ve been unemployed and have realised it’s so cheap to grow tonnes of healthy, organic fruit and vegetables. As a community, we cover and provide for all our needs. With a sizeable group land is affordable, and you have all the time in the world to meditate, read, write, walk, and socialise with friends and family.

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morgan February 9, 2013 at 9:02 am

fantastic, I have been talking about this with friends for a year or so, It must be done!

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E August 10, 2013 at 3:16 pm

I’m in Austin, Texas and willing to engage in talks of organizing such an effort.

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Natalie January 31, 2011 at 3:29 pm

I also wondered if you’d read Tim Ferris’ 4hr Work Week. He has some very convincing arguments to help corporate workers negotiate with their employers to achieve more hours of free time, working in the same job, for the same wages. Worth a consideration nonetheless.

I hope you find a good balance between the journey you just took with the insights you gained and your old/new corporate life. Thanks for the article.

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Joe January 31, 2011 at 10:12 pm

If consumers aren’t savvy enough to buy what they need then they have no one to blame but themselves. Exercise, read, talk to friend/family…these things leads to true happiness. Stop blaming corporations for our society’s lack of self-discipline. If you make a purchase for any of the reasons cited in the article:

“We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up, to keep up with the Joneses, to fulfill our childhood vision of what our adulthood would be like, to broadcast our status to the world, and for a lot of other psychological reasons that have very little to do with how useful the product really is.”

you’re a dunce. THINGS do not lead to happiness. Put down the remote and grab a book (or a kid in my house).

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David February 1, 2011 at 6:43 am

This isn’t a “hate on the corporations” message, I’m just saying that we are all subject to some very calculated marketing. It’s not just about advertising, it’s about what’s been deliberately established as normal.

Most of out behavior is conditioned, and not just by high-level marketing but my other cultural and biological influences. If you have ever worked 40 hours a week, you’ve been influenced by this type of manipulation.

Just like people do not choose their parents, people do not control which beliefs and behaviors are prescribed to them by their culture. We’re not aware of all the levels of conditioning (only a small part of which is marketing) that influence our behaviors.

It’s easy to declare yourself a shining exception to conditioning, and that everyone else is simply being an idiot. This is the typical cync’s view of humanity: that people only behave destructively because they are stupid or immoral individuals, and not because human beings are highly subject to conditioning like any other animal (and by implication, that *I* am not stupid, I am incapable of destructive or self-defeating behavior, I’m fully aware of why I do everything I do, and that society’s problems come down to mass individual failings, and have nothing to do with across-the-board biological or psychological inclinations.) I’ve heard that one before and I think it’s pretty near-sighted.

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Andy April 23, 2013 at 8:40 pm

Sorry to drop another comment on an ancient post but for posterity’s sake…most people have a semblance of a conscience,and use that moronic cynic logic you mentioned to soothe themselves and maintain cognitive dissonance. It is really sociopathic which is weird considering how entrenched it is within American “Christian” conservatives.

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm

…”how entrenched it is within American “Christian” conservatives”…
way to haul out the PC stereotype, Andy.
lets face it- its fun safe entertainment to bash on alleged ‘American “Christian” conservatives’.
but i have to ask if you really have not noticed this “cynic’s view” mentality equally entrenched elsewhere??
pardon… but your bias is showing

Joe February 1, 2011 at 8:11 am

I guess my message was a bit confusing and taken in the wrong way. Let me clarify…if you don’t live within your means AND you buy goods to soothe your overworked souk then it’s your fault. Personal responsibility and liberty can be good or bad.

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David February 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm

Well we agree there. But the truth is most people don’t live within their means, and the more common that is, the better it is for people whose goal is to sell the public as much as possible. So naturally they want to make it as normal as possible to have credit card debt, to have oversized homes, to watch a lot of TV, and to eat too many calories, because then these behaviors don’t set off red flags in people when they engage in them.

And because excessive consumption is normal, you don’t have to be a particularly stupid or irresponsible person to end up engaging in these behaviors. Most people do these things because their parents did. We can say it’s their fault, but that’s an oversimplification. A person’s behavior is the result of much more than in-the-moment deliberation. We are born into cultural trends (and household patterns) that tell us what we should do. We each have to build a model of how to behave from scratch, from how the people around us behave, and I think we underestimate how much of it becomes completely unconscious behavior that we can’t just snap out of.

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AlexieDeathstar March 29, 2011 at 3:36 am

I can’t believe how true this is. How its how around us, and the fact that we are drown in it and we don’t even realise it. Because its society and its our reality. But what’s truly sad is that these people know that we aren’t truly happy to live like that, and even if we have money we don’t feel free at all because we don’t have time to be free.
But the industries don’t care about us, they just care about our money…i wonder how the world can be this way.

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A May 1, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I theorized years ago that people who claim to have “no money” are just spending what money they do have on stupid things. I have a young sister who always says she has no cash, but buys $2 coffees and take-out sandwiches daily. Currently, I work in a bank. I cannot tell you how many people “can’t save” because they’re too busy buying big screen TVs. I often “catch” people collecting unemployment/any type of state assistance doing multiple weekly ATM transactions at our local slot casino or the mall (it may be unethical for me to peruse their recent transactions and then judge them, but this is purely observational and far too interesting to ignore). Even my mother, who modestly makes around $29K a year makes weekly trips to Target to buy things like CDs, colorful new kitchen towels or her 5th pair of rubber dish gloves (the other 4 still sitting unopened under the sink). This concept has always baffled me. Thank you for putting it in essay form.

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Luis Daniel Maldonado Fonken May 13, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Thank you, this was a very precise article :) i can share same feelings about the subject… actually i was driven here by a friend in anothe rforum…i posted there a video on emotional self management and asking for 3 hours working shifts :)

wish you enjoy it too

We want 3 hours working shifts!

3 hours/day = 100% paid jobs

Our life is not the time you see passing in your watch nor the money you receive for working.

Modern world spend its life sitting on a chair.

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Tobi May 14, 2011 at 9:18 am

comment number 100!!!!!!

Anyway, this couldn’t have come at a better time! I was just thinking about why our happiness and worth is SO Dependant on weather or not we go to college. I think that’s absurd.

And it’s ALL part of the scheme, isn’t it? Make them think their very lives depend on college to keep them more stressed out and needy. And at the same time gain, GAIN in the lustful greediness that is the economy!

Maybe the problem isn’t that we’re in an economic slump, it’s that people have forgotten or never learned that they can be happy with only a part time job. Think of everyone went with less. Not just less money, but less hours. Then there would be BILLIONS of job openings because everyone would only be part time… oh my gawd I just figured out how to not only fix the economy, but the sick twisted ways it tortures people!!!

Yeah probably not, but it does seem like there is some logic to my idea, lolz. Thanks for writing this, it’s just what I needed.

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Cantankerous Carl November 19, 2011 at 9:25 pm

“The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle.”

Corporations did not develop the 40-hour work week, unions did. The original purpose was to provide workers with more leisure time to spend with their families not for spending money.

I believe It’s been that arrival of the two income family that been a big factor in what and we spend our money on and how much we can actually spend. Corporations have simply capitalized on that extra income and the fact that most people seek the easiest way to amuse or entertain themselves. I mean why go out and hike after a hard day’s work when you can sit back, relax with a beer, and play video games?

I don’t believe corporations have created the condition, I think that like any good business they’ve reacted to it.

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Dave December 9, 2011 at 1:02 pm

Really enjoyed reading your article – just a small point – the 8 hour day was an Australian innovation – we had it long before the English.

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David December 9, 2011 at 5:45 pm

Well since we’re correcting each other, it was actually New Zealand in 1840. Not really the point of the article though.

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joseph December 14, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Hey, david. Thanks for the article. It really echoed things I already felt. Did you ever find a way to get some more free time in, in spite of the 40 hour a week workday? I’m abiomedical engineering student myself, and I dread the thought ofife revolving around my work. I’m only a freshman though. Any suggestions as to what I should be doing or preparing for now? If it means anything, I have a very entrepreneurial drive.

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David December 19, 2011 at 7:30 am

Yes, I did. I’m about to take a leave of absence from work to do some travel and creative work.

I have no advice except to find which professions have a down-season that makes it easier to take time off.

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josephjoseph December 14, 2011 at 12:17 pm

Of life revolving *

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David Alexander December 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Good post, tocayo (spanish for a person who shares one’s first name). It totally makes sense how having less time, being perhaps tired and even a bit cranky from a long day’s work, we would like to avoid activities the rewards of which can only be seen at long term, so we go for the insta-satisfaction of watching a movie, dinning out, watching tv (oh, that most dreadful of all machines), getting wasted on a variety of possible substances, etc. The mere fact that we constantly look for instant ways to find satisfaction by spending money shows us that there is something missing in our lives, that the work that we do does not go beyond satisfying our economical needs, that it doesn’t go deep enough to satisfy our need to feel like we’re doing something great with our lives.

Saludos desde México.

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Mel January 3, 2012 at 1:04 am

Guilty as charged. While New Zealand really DOES have some of the best coffee in the world, I don’t know if I *need* as much of it as I think I do. And reading your article brings to mind so many other things I spend on, “cos I can” while living my working life.

In the last year or two, I’ve been slowly making the choice to “opt out” of some societal norms/pressures. I am really glad I found your site today, your articles are insightful and inspiring and I am going to sit down and work through my life list (love

Thanks David!

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Lifestyle Rewards March 22, 2012 at 6:01 am

A lifestyle has already been designed your own way and enjoy every moment of your life of new lifestyle and change your environment.and everyone is some change your daily routine life.

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Steven St. Croix June 12, 2012 at 9:08 pm

Three years ago, I sold my car, gave my furnishings and art away to friends, and pared down my extensive wardrobe to the essentials.
I then moved to France.
Once there, I was able to see how much of a consumer I was AND how much the world is following suite. In France, I could see consumerism taking hold on the mindset of people who have long been known as rejecting ‘unnecessary’ material goods or services. They worked to live life and fought very hard to keep their work hours no more than 30 hours a week.
I liked living there and taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures that escaped me when I worked in the U.S. I remember running to the mall three times a week just to buy something to make me feel good and not because I needed it.
Once you back away and choose your choices by need and not want, one may find a greater contentment that comes from ‘possessing less’.
I have.

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Seth Pigate October 1, 2012 at 10:02 pm

“One does not accumulate, but eliminate. It is not daily increase, but daily decrease.” The height of cultivation always runs to simplicity.” – Bruce Lee -

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Erik October 8, 2012 at 12:16 am

David, it is extremely refreshing to have finally come across someone who talks about happiness in a different way. You speak practically. Why we think the way we do. And a simple implication for improvement.

Personally, I just want to be happy. How do I get to be happy? For me, there is a bucket lists of needs. There is an ultimate lifestyle. Everyone has their picture of their own ultimate lifestyle. The demands of society make it incredibly difficult for us to make the best decisions and your article uncovers this point perfectly.

Excellent job David!

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GiM January 9, 2013 at 5:13 am

Interesting reading.
I think many of the things that you write comes from the fact, that economy shifted from production-based to consumption-based.
I don’t like it and I don’t feel like a “proper” consumer. I don’t need new phone or laptop every year. I don’t need new clothes every two weeks.
If you find some precious time, try reading something from Bauman, I think you might like it.

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DS January 9, 2013 at 5:47 pm

No shit.

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epithet January 29, 2013 at 1:30 pm

i very much like this analysis. it reminded me of the century of the self, a bbc documentary that also shows the political implications of such a lifestyle. you might like it. :) and also, i wonder how you look at this article two years later (if you’re wondering where the views come from: your article was posted on

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Guy H January 29, 2013 at 6:19 pm

Very good article. I read a while ago that consumption was what people used to ease the pain of slavery. I work 9-5 now out of necessity. For 10 years I didn’t work 9-5, had money and lots of free time. The complete lack of time to wander freely, do artwork, travel is brutalizing. I work on a computer all day. I find it difficult.
Anyway intentioning a new reality at this point.

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Guy H January 29, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Very good article. I read a while ago that consumption was what people used to ease the pain of slavery. I work 9-5 now out of necessity. For 10 years I didn’t work 9-5, had money and lots of free time. The complete lack of time to wander freely, do artwork, travel etc. is brutalizing. I work on a computer all day. I find it difficult.
Anyway intentioning a new reality at this point.

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Amy February 1, 2013 at 6:30 pm

What a great read. I had a similar experience a decade ago when I returned “home” from a long trip. It was so difficult to adjust and just plain uncomfortable to start living the mundane North American lifestyle again, i’m still fighting it.

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Zane February 2, 2013 at 5:58 am

Great post, reminds me of an old quote. “Wealth is not the possession of abundance, rather its the freedom from need.”

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Michael February 5, 2013 at 6:34 am

What the author alludes to but doesn’t get around to saying reminded me of a quote I once heard “Life is what happens while you are planning for your future” I can’t remember were this is from but it has always resonated with me. Having a balance of productive work (preferably the kind that pays) and the time to enjoy life would be the optimal situation.

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Lucy February 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm

This brings to mind all the commuter people wandering around the City – banking zone – in London at 8 in the morning, clutching at their Starbucks/Costa/Nero takeaway coffees, the only warmth left in their lives… apparently it’s no coincidence that the little drinking hole on top resembles a teat, in function. An example of big business tapping into our most primal instincts?

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Julien Masterson February 6, 2013 at 11:53 am

SOOOO bang on dude. Getting out of this lifestyle is a tricky affair, especially that it feels like swimming against the current and social norm…

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Diego February 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm

“many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths” Benjamin Franklin – The way to wealth, ironically América has done exactly the opposite of the old wise American adviser.
This dissatisfaction is directly linked to the junk food and cooked food, search about “RAW FOOD” “LIVE FOOD” “rawdism” etc. and he happy^^

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Michael February 9, 2013 at 8:33 pm

Some fair points raised, but I think you have the causal link round the wrong way: rather than consumerism driving the economy, consumerism is really the outworkings of freedom – freedom to start and promote one’s business, to choose what to spend one’s money on, and the freedom that facilitates a working economy. Sure, it has its negative points as you describe, but you don’t really seem to be thinking about what the alternatives to this freedom are – think of empoverished Africa, of religious states like Iran, of societies like China where if you speak out against the government you go “missing”. In other words, what you’re talking about are first-world problems.

Another thing that came to my mind is that you’re ignoring what people can get out of working at a fulfilling job other than money: satisfaction of getting a job done, pleasure from contributing to something worthwhile, pleasure from having and using a specialist skill, interaction with other people, opportunity for development and career progression. Something that is far worse than widespread consumerism is widespread unemployment, because it brings real rather than imagined hardship.

A healthy dose of perspective: let’s value what we have, which by world standards is a lot.

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Kaushik February 15, 2013 at 12:56 am

Great post! Hit the nail on the head on everything. Its a feature not just in America/Canada but also any place where people have a reasonably comfortable earning. I’m in India and I could relate to nearly everything mentioned.

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Anand February 15, 2013 at 1:25 am

Good stuff! What you’ve acquired through experience, I’ve had to acquire through reading (because extended vacations aren’t an option for me right now). You might want to check out Bertrand Russell’s essay ‘In praise of Idleness’, the paradigms involved are uncannily similar.

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Barman February 15, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Nicely written with excellent choice of vocabulary and sharp language. I full heartedly agree with some of the assertions while I don’t with the others. To highlight the points I agree upon, I have no other alternative to paraphrase his assertions a little bit, but still to put things in perspective can’t help but doing it. It’s true that most of the developed economies have been built on a mindless consumer mentality. Can’t find a more appropriate example than the queue in front of some Apple stores in NYC, the night before i-phone 5 release. In fact, many of those depriving themselves of their sleep owned i-phone 4 (released hardly a year ago) and weren’t even sure of the new features offered by the latest. I don’t know whether I am abnormal or not, but I can’t trade a good night’s sleep (let alone a few hundred dollars) to be among the first few ones, even if it’s offered to me for free. With some similar examples, the author tries to prove that people have a tendency to BUY happiness, peace of mind. Obviously, for those hungry consumers, real utility of the gadget is not the determining factor, because they seek peace and happiness in things they possess.
So far I have stated some facts, not yet passed an opinion on whether they are good or bad. Now, for that part, I will beg to differ from Mr. David. Without going into details of necessity, the entire economy stands upon this consumer behavior, not only in US, but throughout the world. The world economy has been so designed for such a long time that it’s extremely difficult (if not impossible) to imagine a global economy without consumer mentality. There is a tone of allegation when the author alludes to the billions of dollars corporations earn by profit. But it must be observed there are people behind corporations. Evey dollar earned by a corporation goes to the pocket of one of the chairmen, employees, mutual fund investors or stock holders. They have a livelihood because of this consumer mentality.
Secondly, if someone chooses to be a fool, none the worse to be wiser myself. Even if thousands others are fool, that needn’t worry the wiser ones so far as they don’t have a stake on the welfare of those fools. So, when you are simply blinded by the gimmick of latest Apple advertisement, so far as to forget whether you really need the gadget or not, none but you are the worse. Those guys working for Apple (be it as part of its marketing team or product development) are just doing their job, they have to survive in this world. I prefer to treat every adult human being as truly adult. Granting that, unless someone is forcing you at gunpoint, whether you upgrade to the latest version or not is entirely your choice. You say you don’t need it to use it but need it since all or most of your friends got it and you don’t want to lag behind. Fine, pay a few hundred dollars to appear cool. Apple is not forcing you to be cool, you are doing it to yourself by your desire to keep cool friends. If that’s what your logic is, then you derive pleasure not by reading a novel, not by trying the basics of a new language, not by biking to the countryside on a weekend, but by appearing cool to your friends. Now don’t say you want this coolness for free. The bottom line, the only implication of being forced to indulge is being forced by physical handling. Being driven by peer pressure, your urge to elevate/maintain your status or coolness quotient is not actually being forced because you make those choices. A lot of people are living a not so cool life anyway, some by choice, some by compulsion. None prevents you to be among them.
I don’t want to boast and apologize if I sound doing so, but a little bit of my personal life will help seeing my argument. As a graduate school student, whatever I earn as fellowship is pretty much in the low income category of a rich nation like Singapore. Still I try to contribute a little bit to my sister’s education. True that my research itself keeps me too occupied to leave much scope for personal developments as I would like, but I don’t have the moral right to complain because I decided to pursue education on my own choice. Never did I fancy owning an i-pad or galaxy note and I am more than happy with my simple nokia phone which can wake me up and help me keep track of my appointments with a calendar feature. I don’t care about having the latest 400$ designer jeans and a 10$ t-shirt from the street side shop makes me feel more handsome than I am in reality. I am not too much into partying out with my friends. With a few close friends I have, sometimes I go biking or seeing around places or catch a movie. There is a girl whom I like but never do I feel like I have to prove myself to her by showing her what I own or afford in terms of gadgets and attire. Don’t know whether I am wrong here. May be my life doesn’t appear much cool to a lot of people, but I have to say I am perfectly happy with my life. Still, I am never going to advocate everybody has to lead life me because it’s our choices that make us individuals. So, if you don’t like your life, you have the choices. STOP blaming the system.
“You work 40-plus hours or you work zero”-why? Go to a less demanding job. There are plenty others. Definitely you can’t make enough to indulge in those luxuries you talk about, but you said you don’t need them, right? Go backpacking again if you want (traveling, by the way needs money and you gotta either work or rob for that). Stop blaming the system because whatever else it does or doesn’t do, at least it gives you the freedom to choose your way (constrained only by the laws of a civilized country).

P. S. Throughout my write-up, I have used some specific examples of companies, objects and hypothetical but typical situations. I don’t have anything against Apple and neither I am a big fan or their products. The only purpose was to convey my points and thoughts. So please don’t focus on the details and grasp the thoughts. Happy to debate within civil limit.

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Paul Worty February 18, 2013 at 2:48 am

I have never read a more self obsessed comment. Do you actually speak like this? i would be amazed if anyone read what you wrote until the end, most of it was an attempt to impress with what you think are big words and late 18th century word structure.. Get to the point next time and people might read what you think..

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CB July 3, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I think the word structure is the result of not being a native speaker of English. I read what he had to say, and found it of value to the discussion.

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 10:39 pm

ditto… appreciated your remarks & perspective, singapore barman. thank you :)

Jatin Jani February 17, 2013 at 9:15 am

This is an awesome article which has rightly written the truth. A very good overview of the system. It’s really hard to get above the system and observe it, if you are a part of the system itself. Good one! I am starter and just started doing Job, and in just 4 weeks, I was realizing these “weekends” stuff and started to feeling the same you’ve described. Thanks for awaking me through this article. :)

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Parul Dhalla February 17, 2013 at 11:51 am

Nice article, asks the questions we ask/ wonder ourselves daily but as in life here too the author did not offer any solutions but just emphasised the problems in a pretty articulate manner. Who won’t like to have a 3-4 day work week, who can’t? But no1 opts for it for the simple reason that it would just “offend” too many people, disrupt too many routines (of employees, customers, bosses, peers) . The peers would take u as insincere or lazy even!!

First thing u hear is ” badaa vella hai”(“has too much time!” ?! Haha

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Tamas Kalman February 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm

the main problem is, “we” are “they” who are trying to sell our product to each other what we are creating in 8 hours shifts. employment is not about selling your skills, its about selling your time.

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dude February 17, 2013 at 10:50 pm

I agree with a lot of this article, except for the attribution of deliberate intent on behalf of “big corporations” and the like. They don’t deliberately set 8 hour workdays to keep you oppressed. They do it in an attempt to keep their bottom line up, to keep their business going faster than the competition. In terms of marketing, they just do research on what works (without scruples) and push it as much as they can. Humans are just susceptible to certain forms of manipulation. They just offer the bait, and we swallow it. Business isn’t mustache twirlingly evil, it’s just amoral and self interested.

Of course the end result is just as bad though, and as you said people need to wake up and stop spending money on junk they don’t need that just makes them miserable.

As for myself I work 3 days a week and still manage to save a decent amount. I just asked to go part time and they said yes. Just ask, worst thing that can happen is that they say no.

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Andy April 23, 2013 at 8:55 pm

Psst, being self interested and amoral is where most evil lies. The rest is largely tied up in socio/psychopaths who not surprisingly are over represented demographically in high paying leadership roles.

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Stu February 18, 2013 at 5:46 am

After the great depression Kellogs swapped to a 6 hour day, after a few months productivity had recovered to the level they used to have at 8 hours so the original wage was restored.

It was only around the start of the 80s that the last department converted back to 8 hours.

It’s interesting that the people who worked the 6 hour day said things like – their wives would get them to do more stuff around the house if they were home + they didn’t know what to do with their time(!?).

Management, also made working less be associated with being efeminate – women, were a lot more in favour of the 6 hour day, (they do more work in the house + with children).

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Samwyse February 18, 2013 at 6:19 am

“The ultimate tool for corporations to sustain a culture of this sort is to develop the 40-hour workweek as the normal lifestyle. Under these working conditions people have to build a life in the evenings and on weekends. This arrangement makes us naturally more inclined to spend heavily on entertainment and conveniences because our free time is so scarce.”

I’ve switched to awaking at 4am, and would like to get up even earlier but going to bed at 9pm seems to be a “sweet spot”. I have more energy to do wholesome things like walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing. The “downside” is that it’s harder to eat in restaurants and see first-run movies, but lets face it, eating out all the time is expensive and the movies will be available for home viewing in just a few months.

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Karan February 18, 2013 at 7:58 am

Reading this makes me want to watch Fight Club again.

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Squozzer February 18, 2013 at 9:00 am

While it’s easy to present the modern (now roughly 100 years old) consumer-industrial complex as malevolent, it has made some goods much more accessible to the common man. Such as these dark chocolates I’m eating right now.

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microft February 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

A little over a year ago I quit a cushy, well-payed job at one of the country’s biggest companies. The excuse I used was “to get my Master’s degree”.
After having spent a year working on personal projects and my “person” in general I’ve returned to a 9-5 (it’s never 9-5!) job at another big company.

Just two months in and I already feel less productive. The reasons are various, the common stuff at big software companies.

Besides being less productive, I’ve come to the conclusion that at this 9-5 job I work less than I did when I was on my own. But I do feel more stressed and less happy about the work, even if I now have a steady income (whatever that means….)

I’m currently considering dropping this position and going back to freelancing, even at the risk of adding another short-lived job to my CV.

Thanks for the post.
Nice to see there’s more people out there like myself.

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viridiana amado February 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm

It reminds me a song called Society, from Eddie Vedder.
“When you want more than you have
You think you need…
And when you think more than you want
Your thoughts begin to bleed
I think I need to find a bigger place
Because when you have more than you think
You need more space”

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Jean February 18, 2013 at 12:16 pm

One reason many of us are trapped in this system is much more subtle. In one word: CREDIT. First off, all those who have a mortgage to pay back know what this word means: OBLIGATION. Event if you don’t have a mortgage most people have rent to pay. If you fully paid (assured) accommodation it would not mean that know how to save, but at least you would not need 9-5 working hours. More of us could work and be payed based on results, and decide how many hours we want to put in in a given month without worrying whether we will have a roof over our heads. But if you live in a system where 60% of your mortgage payments are interest payments this means that with a 35% taxation rate on your salary + mortgage payments + other taxes such as VAT in the UK, you are effectively working more for big banks and the government, than for yourself or your family. Scary?

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Ocean February 18, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Isn’t it great to get a bit of contrast – helps us reflect and see what’s going on. Working full time is great if it’s a cause you believe in and are passionate about. But if you’re spending a third of your lifespan treading water and working on things that aren’t inspiring then it’s good to take time to reflect on what’s happening! There’s a time and place for everything but one of life’s simple truths is you will become proficient at what you practice, and in an employment sense you will be qualified and employable on the basis of what you have experience in. So if you don’t like what you’re doing, or feel you’re throwing years of life into the trash can just to make ends meet, then start doing what you love and believe in TODAY – even if it’s just an hour or two here and there! Most important is to have a vision – something your building towards. I’ve taken a 5 year approach and am now living a freelance lifestyle and doing part time and casual work with organisations that I support and believe in. I’m also working with colleagues to build a few of our own organisations built around shared values and lifestyle aspirations. Jump off the treadmill and take hold of the reins! If it seems to challenging or daunting find a mentor…OR else keep working 9-5 and enjoy it – it can be quite a social and fun thing to do afterall! … savour your spending power in the limited time you have – enjoy it – spend…spend it all! Just please spend it in an ethical and conscious way – afterall your spending choices will either destroy or nurture the world for future generations, the animals and plants..

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Destination Infinity February 18, 2013 at 10:10 pm

I do agree with much of what is said in this article. But people do have a choice – We can decide whether we want to continue to rot, or we want to take firm control our lifestyles. Well, this is not the age of industrial revolution. It is the age of Internet revolution. Hence, people have only themselves to blame if they have become a perfect prey.

Destination Infinity

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Brian February 19, 2013 at 9:55 am

What a fantastic article. It fits a lot of what I am going through in my life right now and it’s nice to know I’m not alone. Thanks so much! :-)

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Nat February 19, 2013 at 10:42 am

Man, you just write what I was feeling but wasn’t able to really understand.

I’m on vacations right now and tomorrow I’ll get back to work. Also, after one year on my actual job, it’s expected a meeting with my boss to negotiate a raise in my payment.

Everything should be all right, but I was uncomfortable and it wasn’t clear what it is. But after reading your article it became clear to me that I don’t want more money, what I really want it’s more free time to enjoy my life.

Tomorrow I’ll will try to negotiate more time, instead of more money. But probably it will not work because my industry works just like yours. At least, now its more clear to me what I really want and I can start to think on ways to realize it.


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David February 19, 2013 at 8:41 pm

This is awesome. I hope it goes well for you.

Tim Ferriss, whatever you think of him, talked extensively in “The Four Hour Workweek” about how to negotiate with your boss to work fewer hours, while you keep them happy by becoming more productive than you ever have. The idea is to free up time to build income on the side, until you can tell them you won’t be coming in at all any more.

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rio February 19, 2013 at 12:46 pm

it’s so true. im thankful i dont have a desk-bound 9-5 job. alot more uncertainties but it’s exciting, and makes live alot more fufilling!

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Jess February 19, 2013 at 3:18 pm

I came across a cool video a few months back of someone who captures the essence of this article:

He is one who has succeeded in leaving the rat race. Good to know that it can be achieved.

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David February 19, 2013 at 8:38 pm

Loved that video, thank you.

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Justin Reynolds February 20, 2013 at 9:39 am

Thanks for a thoughtful article, which has also generated an interesting comments stream. I’m not sure if you’ve come across How much is enough, by Robert and Edward Skidelsky, which discusses our current predicament, and the shift in culture that would be required to change it. As the Skidelsky’s say, change would require widespread acceptance of a notion ‘the good life’ that privileges wise use of leisure over the pursuit of economic growth. An extension, essentially, of the social democratic values that prevailed in much of western Europe prior to the emergence of neoliberalism in the 1980s.

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Z February 21, 2013 at 9:55 am

I have always felt that we have been living like machines. I yearn to have a quality life, a life that allows me to develop intellectually, at the same time, able to find time to cook and eat home cooked healthy food, take walks for exercise, reading the Quran and do prayers(I’m a Muslim), read for self development, spend quality time with family, basically do things that give us that inner peace that we are all looking for. Instead I’m much too exhausted by the time I come home from work. I feel like a servant of work instead of servant of Allah because my whole life revolves around what concerns work instead of what concerns worshipping Allah which should be the main objective of life. As a school teacher whose school begins from 8am to 3.30pm, I hope we teachers will be successful in getting the school to shorten the hours as we are working on it.This article will certainly be of tremendous help. Thank you :)

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 10:48 pm

z… i wholeheartedly agree with you, and truly hope your teacher’s guild will be successful in getting your hours shortened without having to sacrifice essential income. its always such a juggling act, being able to work enough to support one’s family, without getting forced into working so much one has no time or energy left for one’s family.
Creator’s Blessings to you! :)

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Siddharth February 21, 2013 at 10:30 am

You would have received a pat on your back from Marx! In a way all that you have said, is an exposition, or rather sublimation of capitalist mode of usurping workers’ surplus labour, and thus getting him alienated form his “true” self.

Loved your insights!

PS:- If for some reason you don’t like Marx, I apologize for the comment. :)

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Flora February 21, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Very much like you, I just got ‘upgraded’ to the working class from the free-roaming status one year after graduation.

The most stark difference I have felt is that when I had free time before the ‘upgrade’, I always found it wasteful not doing anything with it. I made myself run, cycle, going to the gym, brushing up French, anything I could lay my interest upon. A few months after being a 9-5 worker, sometimes 6-8, I just want to lay dead on anything soft and watch whatever that is visually stimulating but needs zero brain processing when I have a free moment.

It is so easy to drift away from the fundamentals of life and live like a civilized zombie in the city. I don’t expect the system to change but I am hopeful that with a little more effort, the 9-5ers CAN strive for a quality life. After all, it really only takes a few seconds to rationally process whether another coffee is necessary or not.

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A guy February 25, 2013 at 7:20 am

It’s really easy for everyone to say go, quit your job and do something more meaningful and pleasant with your life. Earn your money by doing something you like. Travel and see the world and its beauties. Think of when you have a 600$ salary per month (which is the average in our country actually) of which you pay 300$ for utilities and bills. And then you have 300$ from which you need to feed yourself, or maybe even someone else too. As a reference, consider that your average apartment, in an average area of the city, with 1 bedroom and a living room, is around 35.000$. Unless you inherit your house or live with your parents, you will never afford to buy one and live on your own (rent is also about 200-250$).
So yes, I’d love to quit my job, but there are things like responsibility and being able to put food in our stomachs before my personal goals and wants.
Maybe the Americans (insert other rich countries here) out there will start thinking more – when they go out and leave 100$ (or who knows how much more) on a meal at a restaurant – about how other people in less developed countries can’t even afford a 2$ coffee.

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 11:06 pm

what you say is sadly true, Guy… even we WorkingPoor in america still need to recognize the fact that whatever small perks we have likely came at the expense of some Laborer in another country working even longer & harder for less compensation. But even so, here in the States there are many many americans who can completely identify with the circumstance you describe. we on the bottom rungs here can no more climb the ladder to financial freedom than you- it is all we can do to scrape together the necessities and keep the plates spinning, just like you described in your post.
i certainly dont grudge the ‘artist/poet/intellect’ or what-have-you, who actually IS able to beat the system… hooray for that person! nevertheless, in a culture as materially “rich” as the one in which i live, there are still very many people for whom the so-called ‘american dream’ has never been more than a nightmare- nor ever will. :(

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Ravi February 26, 2013 at 11:21 pm

Thanks mate. It’s just the right kind of jolt I needed to wake up. I’ve not painted, read a book recently.

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Wilco February 27, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Great post dude !! It’s like somebody else was able to write down several things I’ve been thinking of for the last weeks, yet it’s so hard and polemic to talk about …
Just translated into Spanish, so as to share it with my friends and show them your insightful perspective !!
Thank you !

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aj_raptitude March 4, 2013 at 3:47 am

I have stayed fastidiously away from increasing my life expenses by staying away from these consumerist trap. However, unable to beat one thing. Real estate. A decent home in a decent locality costs so much that the home loan forces to continue to join the workplace battleground. I haven’t found a way out of this. If I move to cities with cheaper real estate price, employment opportunities go down at a greater rate.

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Anna March 6, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Oh, I reaaly liked this text… and it`s similar of Great New World when the guy says that people can work less (they have technology for this), that they already tried it but wasn`t good for the society. Sorry for the bad english!!

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Jo March 19, 2013 at 2:36 am

I encountered this piece through my friend’s sharing on face book and I shared it on my timeline with a little comment of mine attatched. And thought it’s only fare that the actual writer gets to know that I liked it. Thanks you for the writing! :)

“Walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing. The one conspicuous similarity between these activities is that they cost little or no money, but they take time.”

Life is all about allocating one’s scarce resource. I recently chose to work only twice a week, which is kind of rare for a Korean, and the salary will barely cover my monthly expenses. Instead, I get plenty of time for myself. I’ve been generally happy with my choice, but just started wonder what would’ve been like if I went for an amply-paid full-time professional. And Mike Purvis shared this post. I read it, and soon regained my peace of mind recalling why I opted for the current arrangement. I am happy to read this piece at the right time for me. Thanks Mike! ;)

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Shawn March 20, 2013 at 9:05 am

I very much agree with most you say, but there’s a tiny common leftist weird conspiracy theory there. There isn’t a secret organization of big businesses, there’s just an awful lot of companies manufacturing, designing and selling stuff to people and each other.

What I completely agree about is that an average western country Joe really doesn’t need 40 hours of weekly work to earn the living. For some mysterious reason the “minimum” to live with is nowadays something sick. We really think we need iPads, new SUV:s, bigger houses and a 50” TV. We really don’t. When I was studying I earned about 1/3 of what I earn now as an engineer but I still was able to pay my rent, own an old car, travel every now and then and go to a pub to meet my friends every now and then. There really wasn’t much missing (even if I _really_ enjoy my more expensive hobbies and a larger house nowadays), but what I’m missing now is the freedom. I could happily do 25% less work with a salary 25% smaller, but as you said, that’s not possible because the world doesn’t work that way.

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David March 20, 2013 at 4:25 pm

Hi Shawn. I agree with you. This article is almost three years old now and I have misgivings about it. It does sound a bit conspiracy-theorist. I didn’t mention a secret “Big Business” organization, but it sounds like I am claiming they all conspired to create a standard working culture so that they may sell conveniences. It probably evolved for other reasons. But I would argue that a significant reason reforms are unlikely is because it does work so well for consumerist-driven businesses.

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Chris March 23, 2013 at 2:55 pm

I havn’t had a 40hour work week for 4 years, been travelling doing my own thing, the idea of going back to an actual job sounds too challenging when I think that people working the regular job would also find what I do challenging. Your article made realize that I’m not missing anything, thanks.

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Raúl Colón March 24, 2013 at 9:05 am

For the past 5 years I have learned to live with less. Being a small business owner in a place where the Economy (that is beneficial for big corporate interests) is not doing so well but the place is rich in resources and experiences I have learned to have a great time and live with less.

Before I use to have steady set of income coming in while working for a Big 4 Consulting and accounting firm. Now I have to make rational decisions every time I’ll spend money.

This blog post helped me explain why I have been so happy and why other who are receiving more income are never happy with what they have.

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Mary March 26, 2013 at 6:43 am

We lived a very simple lifestyle for years. Small living spaces, very little in the way of material goods and lots of time to explore the wilderness we lived it.

We moved to the city to be with my aging parents and I recently went back to school. I was accepted into a program that I have dreamed of all my life. After eight weeks of struggling to juggle my job and my school work, my husband and I decided I should quit my job.

Part of that decision making process is exactly what you pointed out in your article. We have been buying things just because we can. We are feeling overwhelmed with retail choices and the weekend hunt for material items and long for the days of simplicity.

So we are going back to those days. Having one income will refocus our gratitude for what we already have and remind us to appreciate it and care for it instead of assuming that everything is disposable and replaceable.

I am only one week into being unemployed and, while we may be “poorer”, we are far richer than we were two weeks ago.

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Jeremy March 31, 2013 at 12:01 am

It’s stunning to look at the progress in worker productivity over the past 60 years. In 2000, it took 1-worker only 11 hours to produce the same level of output of a worker in 1950 working 40 hours.

Instead of reducing the amount of hours worked, people buy more stuff. Compared to the 50′s, the average house is 2x the size, families have 2 (or more) cars compared to only 1, eating out 5 nights a week instead of once a month, etc… It’s even more pronounced when you factor in that few families had both adults working in the 50′s

If a person is willing to live a 1950′s lifestyle, in theory they can pay for it with 11 hours of work and save the other 29 hours of pay. At that savings rate, its possible to be financially independent in less than 9 years. Faster if you have savings, slower if you have debt. 2 people saving together accelerates it. A 1950′s lifestyle is living better than royalty did 200 years ago, so it isn’t even close to deprivation

This is roughly what we did, small apartment, no car, riding a bike and walking places, most meals prepared at home… The first step is deciding you want it and getting rid of the TV to minimize the marketing impact.

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Sabrina April 4, 2013 at 12:29 pm

Of course 100 years ago, people worked a lot longer than 40 hrs a week, including children. I blame Mr. Selfridge lol check out the preview…

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Kris Horrocks April 6, 2013 at 9:52 am
Rich April 6, 2013 at 1:34 pm

I came back from a 6 month travelling expedition a few months ago and feel the same way. That feeling was actually the reason why I left in the first place. I was disillusioned, I felt like Neo. Trapped in this world of artifice.

Cycled across the US and then all over Cambodia, and felt like my eyes were open like they hadn’t been since childhood…which was at first odd because we think that aging and hormones and natural causes are the reason one loses that ‘fleeting glimpse’ of innocent perspective we have as children. Now I believe that it’s culture, or a lack of culture, that makes us in developed capitalist societies feel burnt out, unhealthy, jaded, and adult. It’s the responsibilities of living in this Capitalist society, one where the vast majority of the wealth and therefore leisure, funnels it’s way to the top. Our culture is a culture of commodification and status…and fear. Art, music, values, customs, relationships and all the things that make a culture here in the US are pop…Justin Bieber is the Robert Johnson of right now. Mark Zuckerberg is Thomas Edison. Donald Trump is Frank Lloyd Wright. Kim Kardashian is our queen. They are as substantial as cotton candy.

I’m guilty of it too. I was reading GQ the other day and started considering what watch (under 500$!) I wanted, as well as a pair of lime green khakis (so in this summer) as well as wanting to get with Kate Upton, move to a ‘cool’ city, get a ‘hip’ job, and maybe buy a nice CK blazer for those cool nights. I sank back into this train of thought after about one week after my return from Cambodia, a week that I felt…and there is no word that I know to better describe the feeling…enlightened. The Khmer people have a deep, rich, simple culture that has roots that go deep into the Earth and deep into their souls. They have nothing and most want only what they need to survive. But, they are also humans, like those of us in First World countries. If they see a nice pair of jeans or a nice car dangling in front of them they simply will want it. That’s the self-destruct mechanism of humans. We’re the smartest animal out there, but we are ‘civilized.’ Just like any other animal, we want one or two more bananas than we need. We have a desire to become the alpha of the pack, the one in the BMW. We want to procreate with the best looking hippos. But, we also repress greed and promiscuity and some other deep animalistic urges, which does nothing but confuse us and create multiple psyches within us. It leads to strange addictions, rage, unhealthy behavior, anti-social thoughts.

I dug this little article and agree with it. I think life here at the top of the heap, as well as those places that have been infected with Capitalism, is flipping ridiculous. I don’t know if there is a way out. I thought I did, but like I said, I’m reading GQ. I’m thinking of how to make lots of money. I want to be part of society. I want to be at the head of the pack. I also want to get married. I want enough money to retire one day. I want health care. I want health insurance. I want that American security. I want to go back into the Matrix.

But, it really bothers me.

PS-Alain de Botton is a good person to refer to about this type of subject matter, especially in the book ‘Status Anxiety.’

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Adam April 7, 2013 at 9:05 am

This is a tired, baseless tirade filled with vague generalizations, assertions without evidence, and silly conclusions.

Lets take the core thesis: (to paraphrase) “the 8 hour work day was planned by big business to make money”. The observant reader, looking for evidence of this vast conspiracy is informed that …. (to paraphrase), ’40 hour work week enriches people to the extent that they can purchase things that they don’t need.’

Uh huh. I fully understand working allows me to buy lots of stuff. In fact, that’s the main advantage. What’s the problem? The author laments, “but it’s empty consumerism”. Oh please. I’m fine with it. I use money I get from work to enrich my life in other ways.

The author complains “I’ve only been back at work for a few days, but already I’m noticing that the more wholesome activities are quickly dropping out of my life: walking, exercising, reading, meditating, and extra writing”.
So what are you doing with your free time? Why not do those things? Are you doing other “consumer” activities instead? And if so, what does that say about how much you really value those activities if you, when time is scarce, you choose to do other things.

Finally, the author spends money carelessly in flush times – seems to be the overall driver of the article. From this he infers that his hectic workschedule is some how programming him to waste money. yeah, it’s impossible to save money while working…. maybe just try a little harder, buddy. Stick the tired Marxist conspiracy theory back in your pocket.

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Letitia April 8, 2013 at 3:11 pm

I’m glad you wrote an article on this topic, but agree with Adam that your thesis is faulty. You seem to postulate that: 1) Working a job and making money makes people want to spend more carelessly, and 2) the wily corporations have designed it this way to “trap” us into this lifestyle. I would argue that (1) can be true but is avoidable and (2) is a laughable conspiracy theory. Our problem is not that corporations have co-opted our lives Matrix-style –– it’s that most of us have really bad time management skills.

I heard Daniel Kahneman recently talking about the money-happiness plateau (the observation that our happiness does not increase with income after about $70K). He said, “More money can buy you more pleasures, but I suspect you take less pleasure in the little things.”

I’ve been struggling with this a lot too, and so far this is what I’ve been trying: Slow down. Cut out some activities from your life (battle FOMO). Drink that coffee more slowly, sense every aroma of it hitting your nostrils, savour the sensation of it slipping down your throat. Yoga is one of the best ways to enjoy micro-moments of pleasure from every sensation that courses through your body (it educates your awareness of where in your body to focus on). Good luck, and don’t blame everything on the corporations.

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Jen April 7, 2013 at 1:23 pm

Great blog post! I came across this when my friends shared it on Facebook.

One thing I’ve found fascinating and a little horrifying is the precision with which marketing employs propaganda techniques and the degree to which it works. As individuals, we want to think that we’re smart and able to properly evaluate our desires and reasoning behind purchases and political choices. The reality is that well crafted propaganda manipulates us all more than most of us realize. I’m not sure if you’re aware of the work of Edward Bernays. He’s considered to be the father of PR. His book, “Propaganda”, written in 1928, is available online and when reading it, the connections with our daily lives is chilling. Just replace the older communication technologies with “internet” or “television” and it could have been written today. I found a link to the book if you want to check it out: A few years ago, the BBC did an excellent documentary series on this too called “The Century of the Self”. It’s up on youtube: I highly recommend it…the first 2 minutes of it alone are very similar to your post.

In addition to propaganda, there are other sophisticated manipulations at work. One technique I’m aware of, for example, is the manipulation of things like sugar levels in food because when your insulin levels peak, then crash, your body interprets this as being really hungry. You’ll suddenly have a craving for their sweet product again and buy more! It’s not just sugar that’s manipulated either. I tried to find a useful link for you…this one is decent (book review) but has an annoying video that starts playing immediately:

Anyways, if anyone thinks they’re not being manipulated nearly every moment of the day… I have a bridge to sell.

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G. A. April 8, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Toss your TV! You instantly save money on cable. You suddenly have time to do something productive for yourself rather than for a slavelord/boss. You are no longer bombarded with “You *know* you want to buy this crap” every 10 minutes. You might even get off your couch and live longer.

Funny how every time someone suggests breaking out of consumer culture, they are immediately accused of being communists. Conform or STFU. Whose interest does that serve?

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matt April 8, 2013 at 1:57 pm

I love the sentiment of this article! It is fast approaching a year since I left my 9-5 life and I’ll never look back. I’d love to see how this pans out for you in the future. It’s pretty apparent you’re going to have trouble spending all your time behind a desk!

I’ll keep checking back!

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matt April 8, 2013 at 1:59 pm

Ha! I just noticed this is an old article… I’ll have to look around and see if you’ve found a solution…

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Tony H April 11, 2013 at 12:33 pm

This article is right on! One of the most effective ways I have found to curb reckless spending is to put the debit card away, and use cash for 2 weeks. It is a whole different experience to pull out $34 is cash to pay for a dinner for two.

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linda April 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

I stumbled across this through a FB friend. It is SO true! Since losing my job I only buy what is necessary. And when I do treat myself – to coffee, or to a new t shirt, it means SO much more. Thanks for articulating it so well – look forward to more posts! Linda

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Francisco Rodrigues April 11, 2013 at 4:50 pm

it’s very good article, awesome!!!!

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Joules April 11, 2013 at 10:26 pm

Dear David,
Thank you for your blog. Never have I read a blog with which I resonated so much!! I just finished reading your other post in “living by default”. I fear falling into that, and am constantly finding new ways to keep my life creative. I am one of those people who moved to another city (from SD to NY) simply because I love NY. I quit my job, sold my car and all my belongings and came here, with nothing. It was one of the most liberating experiences ever. I traveled around Europe as well for three months before finally arriving to NY. So I experienced some of what you describe, living on hardly nothing for about one year, but yet having some of the most fulfilling experiences ever!

As you well point out in your other article, I have never regretted any minute or money spent (or not had) during that major change! Never would I trade that experience for anything!

The only thing that made it very difficult, and this has to do with the price of being an American college graduate was COLLEGE DEBT! HOLY CRAP!! Talk about having the perfect hook to keeping one enslaved by the 40 hours a week work schedule! My college education has opened a lot of doors for me, but it has come with a huge price tag that will have me paying it off probably for next twenty years. This is something that people outside the US normally don’t have. It’s quite the burden. But even then, I think it is possible to be very disciplined and find a way to break away from the work structure to find more independence. The other challenge, I think, is that once we have that time, we will probably also struggle to find what to do with it! We are so used to being enslaved to work that we seldom know what to do with our free time. But I welcome that challenge ANY DAY!!

Thanks again for such an inspiring post! I look forward to more! And I look forward to hearing about your progress on your path towards emancipation, and hopefully comparing notes, as I will be doing the same!

All the best,

P.S. I shared your post with my whole world! :)

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stefan July 30, 2013 at 12:42 am

Once you have payed off your “College” (university) debt, try buying a house and having a child/children and then see what your response to this article is.
By the way, The U.S.A. is NOT the only country in the world where people have tertiary level education debt!!!

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David Scott April 11, 2013 at 10:56 pm

David, brilliant post. Thanks. It was great to stumble into it (somebody posted it to Facebook) and realize it was you again.

I spent most of my life as a freelancer, working just a few weeks or months of the year and spending the rest of the time doing what I wanted or looking for work. It was high stress, with a family dependent on me, and for years I kept hoping somebody would offer me a job. Then I realized nobody could afford me because I wouldn’t work 40 hours a week for the kind of money they pay people. Right now I’m working 16 hours a week, not counting class prep which I can keep to a minimum. With all my interests and projects, I have no spare time. I don’t know how people who work 40 hours managed to have a life.

One thing I have noticed is the social aspect of going into a store and buying something. That’s a human exchange that can be almost addictive in and of itself. It’s empowering to have money, see something I decide I want, and pay for it. I think this is why I browse shops, especially book stores, just hoping to find something to buy. It doesn’t matter whether I need the thing or not, what I need is the exchange, the interaction. Lately the money stays in my pocket unless I have a genuine need, but I still browse stores.

It’s the same impulse that powers kleptomania by people who could easily afford what they steal, only money allows us to do it in a socially acceptable way.

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Chucks April 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I take real issue with the idea that corporations purposefully push a 40 hour work-week to increase consumption. While a 40 hour work-week may in fact increase consumption, the incentives for a corporation to increase the expected work-week simply aren’t there. Corporations individually make decisions on what increases THEIR bottom line and increasing employee hours is going to have a negligible impact on that corporations sales to its employees at the expense of greater facillity costs and expected full-time benefits packages. Unless you’re alleging some implausible backroom conspiracy where all major employers have agreed to push a 40 hour work-week, this is just silly.

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John May 7, 2013 at 3:38 pm

thumbs up. Notice the lack of logical responses to a logical realistic conclusion.

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Yseult April 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm

This really isn’t all that new nor is it that *brilliant*; consumerism and capitalism have been- and still are- frequently discussed in academia, and to be honest, I wish this person had cited sources.

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Lesha April 13, 2013 at 10:16 am

While I agree with you spiritually about freeing ourselves from unnecessary “desire” in perhaps the Buddhist sense, I wonder about the arts. The comments above and you yourself seem to demonize television, yet shows like “Mad Men” illustration the very evils of the advertising process and are great examples of small screen artistic production. Just because television seems to suck up all of “some” people’s free time, doesn’t mean it has to be the all consuming time time vortex it’s painted as here. I don’t watch TV except for the select shows I like and mute or skip the commercials. I did this while working the 40 hour week and now while in a more non traditional schedule. You paint a picture that seems to not be beholden to personal choice.
Just make the change, maybe slowly. Stream your shows online, stick with the computer you have instead of upgrading, bring a fancy coffee from home in a reusable mug, use your own filter water bottle. Stop blaming corporations and just start with yourself. I say this not because I don’t believe we have developed a “target market” society but because I believe blame, after a certain point, is counter productive. Just stop feeding the monster. If we all made slow changes, the economy could shift organically to accommodate these without radically displacing the people in those job sectors. People learn by example; set a good one perhaps.

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Irresponsible April 13, 2013 at 6:52 pm

I have to agree with you here. We are feeding the monster. Corporations are made up of people, and whether or not they’ve been responsible always comes down to their individual choices. I know I’ve made bad ones at times, and I have no one but myself to blame. That said, I did enjoy this article & it’s look at the modern work day. Much to ponder!

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Terri April 13, 2013 at 7:55 pm

All of this is why I freelance. Since I’ve been freelancing, I don’t spend a lot of money on entertainment or meaningless floof. My big extravagances are a fancy beer and Netflix. It’s not so much that I’m making less money, although there’s that. It’s that I have a lot more time, so reading a book, working out for an hour, and taking a walk don’t feel like they’re taking away from my evening or weekend time. I don’t even really have weekends anymore, in that I don’t have to worry about cramming all of my chores into two particular days. Although I have a couple of rules about my hours, it’s really just so clients know I’m not going to interview sources at 8:00 a.m. or answer emails at 8:00 p.m.

Oh, and about average American office workers only getting about three hours of real work done in the eight hours they’re at work: That’s the main reason I freelance. I got sick of being punished for my efficiency, either with boredom or being given other people’s work when they were paid more than I was. The final straw was being expected to “make up time” for taking an extra half hour at lunch for a doctor’s appointment. Nothing like having to sit at your desk playing Minesweeper just to fill a timesheet.

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Bill Greene April 13, 2013 at 11:12 pm

Explains something about the tenacity of drug culture…

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Brianna April 13, 2013 at 11:16 pm

agreed! I’m always telling people how the 9-5 paradigm is absurd. I never had a full-time job, never will…can’t do it…sucks your life and spark away! and makes you an easy spender, good point. I’ve always been non-conformist…I left midway through my sophomore year in high-school to do independent study (one meeting per week with my teacher!) I do have two good part-time jobs right now however, and it’s the most i’ve ever “worked”…but it’s only temporary until I make enough money with my own art and design business. I would like to say to you however, that anything is possible…think creative, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself to the system no matter what your profession…that’s what the system would have you believe……be open, you never know what’s possible:)

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swetha April 14, 2013 at 5:44 am

True….you actually give up on all your hobbies, and like you say- “just getting by”. I think that’s true for a rising young workforce that has that kind of spending power.

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John Silva April 14, 2013 at 9:13 am

Is it the corporations fault for our want to distinguish ourselves from others, our want to have more, our drive to compete with each other? I believe it is our own intrinsic nature to do so and corporations are built on the fact that there are millions of people who have the same non-egalitarian wants with the money to pay for it. The article poses the situation as if one guy, or a group of guys in corporations thoughtfully designed the situation we live in when I feel it is more a reflection of humanity when it has the resources to do as it pleases.

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Tyler Johns April 14, 2013 at 9:57 am

Recognizing all of this doesn’t do anything.

We can’t do anything about it except to stop buying, and we all know that shit isn’t gonna happen.

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Sahadev April 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

superb! perfect! profound! Exact!

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3rd World Wanderer April 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

This sounds great and all…but for someone like me, who’s from the Philippines (and has inherited some cultural tendencies of the Americans, boo hoo), it’s even harder to escape the 8 hour work shift. Imagine a call center agent who has a nighttime 8 hour work shift and the situation becomes even uglier. Creative types here have less job opportunities than 1st world creative types who supposedly have few job opportunities. Only those who are rich can actually afford a self-employed lifestyle. Fast internet connection is only for the upper middle class here… I wonder what kind of alternative job opportunities the author can offer? I’m not whining or ranting or whatever, just stating the situation as it is. Any advice is welcome :)

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 11:26 pm

“…only those who are rich can actually afford a self-employed lifestyle…”
in american cities it is not so different from your experience in the philippines… a few Creatives “make it off the Grid” – most do not. lucky indeed are those that actually succeed in earning enough by “freelancing” to support themselves AND a family. i have encountered many former idealists who have had to humble themselves to accept whatever base wage position was finally offered, after months & sometimes years of searching for “meaningful” work and ultimately exhausting the last of their savings.
we “Working Poor” on the other hand, often never had the luxury of entertaining realistic hope of rising above our lot in life. its very very hard, in america as well as elsewhere, to build onto a missing foundation.

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L. A. Howard April 14, 2013 at 4:38 pm

I worked full-time in China for a few years. While I did have extra money, it was only because my apartment was paid for by the school. Other than that, it was still what I’d describe as “The Grind”.

In other words, work can suck no matter where you live. Traveling and back-packing is awesome, no doubt! But unless one is a travel writer (which would be an AWESOME job for you!), then one HAS to work in order to afford the luxury of travel. (Yes, backpacking is considered a luxury even if you only stay in youth hostels and eat cheap street food.

It’s a fun hobby, but there’s a reason that it’s primarily young, single people in fantastic health who do it. :)

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Brian April 14, 2013 at 9:56 pm


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Alan April 15, 2013 at 3:45 am

Have you seen the “branded” movie? ( Talks about that unnecessary needs the marketing companies creates for us..if you like this article you should definetely watch this movie..

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matt April 15, 2013 at 8:59 am

Totally a worthwhile article to read. I think a majority of the public would benefit from reading this. Food, water, and Shelter is all a human being needs. If you have those bases covered than live life without all the other useless junk that just makes you dissatisfied in the end. Working your life away just makes you another one of the prisoners of Plato’s analogy of the cave ( I am jobless at the moment (by choice) and i am the happiest man i have been since i can remember. This article just solidifies and backs my view. Only you can change your lifestyle because after all, you all write your own destiny. Don’t waste your time blaming big corporations for your unhappiness, do something about your own life. If something makes you unhappy, don’t do it! Take control and be what you were meant to be, not what everyone wants you to be. Thank you for posting this.

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Adventurous Andrea April 15, 2013 at 9:07 am

This is so on point! Many people don’t realize that the vast majority of their lifestyles are shaped by outside influence.

It was interesting to hear about your experience with your dollar “stretching” – I look forward to seeing if I have a similar experience!

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screamingly bald April 15, 2013 at 9:25 am

nice article. too bad it ends up in a pile on the internet. same with all the comments. we’re all here, right now, commenting from our offices; when, really, the lot of us should have stopped reading after the first paragraph or two, got up, quit our jobs, and gone home to toss most of our shit into the front yard with a “everything $1″ sign. then, wake up the next morning, and lived a good, happy life.

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Meredith April 15, 2013 at 9:40 am

Thank you, I’ve been thinking this for a year, and it’s like you took all the jumbled thoughts in my brain and organized them neatly. I love this blog post, you’re a gifted person.

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Jacob April 17, 2013 at 1:49 am

I thought the exact same thing, Meredith. So good to see my thoughts laid out so nicely.

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Erin Bender (Travel With Bender) April 15, 2013 at 10:31 pm

We came to a similar conclusion –
I’m only sorry you had to return to it all. We have been travelling 11 months now and hope we don’t ever have to return.

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Aaron April 16, 2013 at 8:45 am

The key to escaping what you describe is by finding happiness and peace in all the little things we do throughout the day… in slowing down and taking time – because we can all take a little more time. It’s not easy but we can change our habits so that we get more enjoyment while we are at work and more enjoyment while we are at home and that should mean that we’ll stop seeking happiness by spending money at bars, restaurants, shopping, etc. And I’d like to share a little quote that helps me remember how to find freedom:

“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able to truly care about other people, and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.” – D.F. Wallace

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tzdsc April 16, 2013 at 10:33 am

“Five O’Clock World” by The Vogues
have similar topic

Up every mornin just to keep a job
I gotta fight my way through the hustling mob
Sounds of the city poundin in my brain
While another day goes down the drain

But its a five oclock world when the whistle blows
No one owns a piece of my time
And theres a five oclock me inside my clothes
Thinkin that the world looks fine, yeah

Tradin my time for the pay I get
Livin on money that I aint made yet
Ive been goin tryin to make my way
While I live for the end of the day

Cuz its a five oclock world when the whistle blows
No one owns a piece of my time, and
Theres a long-haired girl who waits, I know
To ease my troubled mind, yeah
oh my lady, yeah
oh my lady, yeah
In the shelter of her arms everythings OK
When she talks then the world goes slippin away
And I know the reason I can still go on
When every other reason is gone,

In my five oclock world she waits for me
Nothing else matters at all
Cuz every time my baby smiles at me
I know thats its all worthwhile,
yeah oh my lady,
yeah oh my lady, yeah, fade……..

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rk April 16, 2013 at 1:20 pm

It’s worth noting that the 40-hour-work week was a very momentous achievement for working people. It’s remembered every year on Labor Day and May Day.

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kristin April 16, 2013 at 4:58 pm

this resonates SO much. i am trying to find a way out. i find much of my unnecessary spending is on “conveniences,” but i would much rather have the time to do more of my own cooking, cleaning, organizing, entertaining, gift-making, etc. i also had an opportunity to save money and live unemployed for a year, during which i traveled and moved across coasts. when i came to sf, i thought this city’s pace was so good for me, until i started working again and realized it wasn’t so much sf that made me happier and more relaxed. it was not working.

i think what stands in my way the most (and i suspect in those who criticize your opinion) is fear. there is (perhaps falsely) a sense of security in a full-time job. there is so much fear and scarcity in our culture, and the recession made it worse i think. i know i will be unsatisfied living a life in fear, but how to overcome it, i am still working through…

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John April 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm

Well done and well said. It’s so hard to find the happy medium. My wife and I limit ourselves to a maximum of 5 hours of TV per week (using a digital antenna), which frees up a lot of time and closes the “marketer’s” opportunity to sell to us. We typically use this “saved” time to read or exercise. Lastly, with no TV, we go to bed much earlier. The extra sleep gives us more energy and just makes us feel better.

We also cut out all processed foods, so now a lot of our free time is spent in the garden or in the kitchen. Not only is this fun and healthy, but it pumps money back into our local economy rather than into big business.

IMHO, it’s all about being outside, connecting with the natural world. You’ll feel better about yourself, get more exercise, and take more notice about where your food comes from.

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f April 16, 2013 at 9:18 pm

You all are lucky to have jobs. :L(

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David April 16, 2013 at 10:31 pm

Yes, and we’re all lucky to be alive too. So are you. Does that mean it’s inappropriate to identify injustices in life, that there’s nothing to discuss, nothing to criticize, nothing to improve? Does it mean everyone should shut up because they are just so damn lucky to be alive?

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm

david- i am surprised at your attitude to this poster! why the sudden burst of hostility?
“f” did not bash on anything you said- he merely made an honest observation. You all (who have jobs-particularly jobs which pay sufficient to allow you the Great Luxury of TIME enough to enjoy your chosen pursuits) are indeed lucky.
why would taking note of this fact be offensive any more than your own honest observations on some of life’s other injustices?
please consider the post that angered you potentially may have been made from a place of deep pain in its author’s own inability to find employment at all.
there are so many of us out there you know.
many who are jobless would be happy to take those menial pennywage service positions which allow gridless globe-trekkers the luxury of such enjoyable experiences.

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bo' August 15, 2013 at 11:49 pm

btw, for what its worth- i must say i do appreciate the main part of your essay, and have enjoyed reading through this entire discussion. many things have been very well said. needless consumerism definitely does place a heavy burden on many of the more affluent who could otherwise lead a freer life of greater simplicity (and hopefully therefore purpose & contribution)

Jenaé (@YogaEatRun) April 17, 2013 at 10:21 am

Wow this is so depressingly true. And yes it makes me want to run to the woods and live there. I’ve always spent a lot of time hating the structure and culture of the world around me. I hate working 9-5 the way I do. Anyways. Everything you said in this article rang true to me too. Thanks for the good read.

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Kim April 18, 2013 at 4:28 am

We live in a capitalist culture and therefore society, business and industry is designed to support this. I have recently returned from an amazing trip in Brazil but was horrified to see that it’s now possible in luxury shops to pay for items in installments. This is part of the process to create a demand for these items and make them more accessible to those who can not typically afford them. Clearly there is an issue with the distribution of wealth in Brazil (and throughout the world). But business and industry are not interested in this. Their sole objective is to make a profit.
However, it is possible to change your individual experiences by making conscious choices. Magazines for eg are major offenders in advising what you should be wearing and buying, eating and drinking, how your home should be furnished. I felt much when I stopped buying them. People who judge on what you are wearing and what you have are not worth knowing. When you realise you can live a happy life without these items it frees a lot of space (and money) to make positive choices. Good luck!

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Paula April 18, 2013 at 11:41 am

Wow, two years in and your article still has a lot of traction.
I really like the way you write!

It’s a vicious cycle. We buy to fill the void left from working so much, but then we need to work that much to continue paying for things..
My personal experience is that I enjoy my work and I like knowing that I am a productive citizen (i even help people!). I am in excellent spirits when I come in, but no matter what I get very antsy around 2pm. After that time i am tired and get sad realizing that most of my day was spent between four walls. what can we do? I agree with the other post that the self-employed, or selling something one is passionate about cannot work if everybody would do it. Does this stem from a sense of entitlement? should we just be grateful? Maybe something in the middle, awareness of the waste while appreciating the place you were born in (western economy)?

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Shishir April 19, 2013 at 2:07 am

This is so true and well written….wonderful to have found your website! :)

Keep up the good work.


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Sam Alakas April 19, 2013 at 6:03 am

Beautifully written, the author has a gift for words. Thank you

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dred April 19, 2013 at 8:20 am

great info, thanks :)

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PeterNZ April 20, 2013 at 2:19 pm

Don’t let them into your house. That’s a start. We are without television since two years now. It is great. But for some this idea is like to a drug addict to become drug free.


Peter, Kaitaia, Far North, New Zealand

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Michael Corayer April 21, 2013 at 9:54 am

I’ve experienced a similar feeling after not working for the past 9 months and now considering going back to a “normal” job. I’ve already been thinking of what I could do with the future extra money that I don’t really need. I’m surprised to find myself thinking this way, since I recognize the importance of “time affluence” rather than material affluence when it comes to happiness and well-being.

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Ewen April 21, 2013 at 10:02 am

Uhh….it depends. I think that this might perhaps oversimplfy a tad. Here’s an example:

I’m an engineer as well, doing the whole 9-to-5 thing (living in Canada and working in the States). My commute is only half an hour, which is shorter than most of my colleagues that LIVE in the States. And being decently paid, I can definitely afford more “luxuries” (like sushi once a week) than if I wasn’t.

But here’s the oversimplification part – I go out to eat a lot because I have actually done the math analysis and found that on average, I break even at about $8/meal. That means that even if I were to go grocery shopping, between the time it takes to do that, the cost of getting very small amounts (for one person) and the time of prepping and cooking the meal, eating it, and then cleaning up after myself – works out to be about $8/meal no including my time (in $ terms). The BIGGER problem is actually waste. With fruits you can severly limit what you buy, but with fresh veggies, it is MUCH MUCH harder. Try buying only TWO celery stalks JUST enough for you to make your soup. As a result, I have noticed that about two-thirds of what I buy, I end up throwing out because I simply CANNOT finish it fast enough and it goes bad in the fridge. There are SOME stuff now that you can buy frozen, but that’s still rather limited (no leafy veggies except for creamed spinich).

Whlie I was at college, my parents used to ask me why it costs them so much. Food probably accounted for about 43% of my total/overall budget and they just never understood why that is. Now that me and the rest of the “kids” are all grown up and out, and they’re just cooking for themselves – NOW they’re seeing why food costs so much for when I was going to college. (You start to level out if you’re feeding a family of four. Anything beyond that, eating in is DEFINITELY cheaper.)

I think that it also depends a LOT on what you do and your personality. EVERYTHING I buy has an average research period of 3-4 months (prior to the purchase) – hence why there was so much cost analysis done even for something as simple as food. And eating.

And in that 3-4 month period, the research must be able to answer whether this is the best solution that will be cost efficient, cost effective (NOT the same things BTW), alternatives methods (at near zero cost), alternatives (can do you the same thing slightly slower, but costing significantly less?) etc. I get mocked for the level of analysis that goes into EVERY SINGLE DECISION I MAKE. But – THAT – perhaps is what separates you from myself.

My parents were quite frugal people and the one thing that they taught us very early on about money is that it matters. And my mom is not one to spend money on trivial things. She’d rather walk 5 miles than spend money to take the bus.

But now there’s a change in how she see things too. We’re planning a trip coming up at the end of May and because of my schedule, I’m due to depart from Toronto at around 4 AM in order to arrive by 9 AM. Normally, I won’t get home until 11 PM the night before, so out of concerns for safety, one proposal that I put out there on the table was that I stay over Stateside. The benefit is that it will eliminate a 1.5 hour commute (back to my home) and would be able sleep more before the long drive (which from there – we’re driving another 8 hours to Quebec City). So, the $43.95+tax that it’s going to cost me to stay is going to cost less than the risk of safety and the possibility of having a really bad car crash.

From what you wrote though – stuff like that don’t get counted. And sometimes it’s a one-off like it is here. Other times, (like buying a safer car, which costs more than the cheapest tin box you can find), is worth the extra expenditures for which the cost-benefit has no dollar value that can be assigned to NOT getting into a car crash (or being better protected in the event that you DO end up in one).

I’m also being more frugal and careful now because I have a plan in place right now to raise about $72k in 5 years to be able to pay for surrogacy. And being an advanced vehicle engineer, I think that the last round of calcs shows that my discretionary budget is only $300/month now. So, I’m still working on squeezing another $300/month out from somewhere. (And all of this is post 401(k), savings, savings again, benefits deductions, etc…)

So I don’t think that this necessarily captures the WHOLE picture. Then again, most people aren’t me. (Thank GOD!)

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:14 am

ewen, so very well said!
no, my family is not you- but then i suppose we are not ‘most other people’ either. i guess i’ll go ahead & share our own situation:
we have succeeded in “getting by” in the states on a poverty-line income for the past 15 years, becoz we chose to invest in actively parenting our children rather than have mom remain employed. our income was automatically cut in half, and has remained at approximately the same level all these years, becoz unlike the more fortunate Highly Educated Creatives out there, my husband and i did not have the luxury of the sort of high-powered education that stacks up student loans but also empowers a person to better employment options later in life. my husband is a laborer, before that he was unluckily a trades person in a dying trade. i am “skilled” to do basic clerical and service work. none of these lead to exemplary or even truly sufficient -or for that matter, relatively stable- paychecks.
nevertheless, we took a similar stance to yourself and the OP, David. we also chose to cut out the extra expenses of fluffy stuff and spendy experiences in order to give our sons another Great Luxury in america- that of having their Mom full-time involved & focussed at home during their growing up years. we will never afford a home of our own, or the proverbial brand new car, high-speed internet or big-screen tv. no new clothes, pricey toys, trips to the mall or the movies or any of the other stereotypical urban activities.
No problem- never were interested in most of that anyway (except maybe having our own spec of land, shame thats out of reach)
Also no overnite vacations away, dinners out, spa visits or any of the other sociable but pricey treats people enjoy from time to time to enrich their quality of life experience.
But no regrets either- this investment was made in the lives of our kids, so that they will reap the blessings of having never had to bounce around thru a latch-key life. They will be much more stable, well-balanced, and family-oriented young men than would be likely otherwise. and we are humbly thankful to have been granted the opportunity to do so- many parents would give anything to do likewise, but in the real world simply cannot.

however… our success in this effort has not come without a great deal of challenge in managing to squeeze the last penny from every dollar. as you noted, there are MANY ‘hidden expenses’ in this kind of life. sure, if we were living out of backpacks, i suppose there would be days at a time when the wallets would never need to come out.
but raising an urban family (we also cannot afford to move to the country & ‘live off the land’) involves a number of necessary expenses exactly such as you describe.
school is a big annual cost for us, since our neighborhood schools are not a wise investment for our sons’ good education. so we are thankful charter parents and very pleased with the quality of education our kids have received- yet in our state, charter does cost. is it a fluffy expense? No! but its not cheap either. car insurance is another big one: with a licensed teen in the house, our car insurance (allready the ‘cheapest’ we could find) is just about to DOUBLE. yes thats right, and why? becoz that is just how insurance companies do it now- have a teen over 16 at home, pay thru the nose. (he will not even have his own car- then our insurance would triple.) giving up our own car and riding the bus everywhere is doable but hardly desirable- the family car is not a luxury, it is an extremely practical tool that prevents us from huge everyday inconveniences. what value is time if it must be used sitting at bus stops and making simple commutes avg 3-4x longer, every single day of our lives? where is the practical savings in hauling heavy groceries etc on & off busses, and through our frequent soaking (often freezing) rains? obviously savings on personal fuel, upkeep & insurance will be offset every time someone has to rent a car to go out of town- or to drive anywhere local public transportation does not go. in the long run, our car IS an expense: but a highly practical one. The alternative is still an expense: one of time and practicality as well as money. We chose to keep the car.
i expect i could go on… ;) but i see ive written a book & didnt mean to!
its just- folks! its REALLY important to consider all these sorts of hidden expenses. Take the time to properly analyze pros & cons of whatever you are spending money on, in whatever financial realm you may move thru in life. You will likely find a number of fluffy pricey wasteful areas you can cut out and never miss– and also quite a few other big expenses you simply cannot practically avoid without causing big problems for yourself &/or your family somewhere else.

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bhavnit Singh Bajwa April 22, 2013 at 2:21 am

Thanks for sharing Your experience. i’ve also had the opportunity to live through something similar which is helping me see the bigger picture.

i now feel that in essence, exploitation isn’t a discrete “entity” in itself. Rather, ‘exploitation’ is parasitic in nature (i.e. cannot survive on it’s own). The existence of ‘exploitation’ is only possible because of some (or many) attributes of the host. Some may also call it “weakness” on the host’s part (i am avoiding this word because it leaves a negative feeling on the reader’s mind). If the attributes does not exist, the ‘exploitation’ cannot exist. So, ‘exploitation’ is not what really is “at fault”, it is the host, which holds the tendency to be “exploited” and hence if the Host evolves out of those attributes, the exploitation ceases it exist.

If i get a mental urge to spend vaguely on things because of Lobh ( and not because i really need them, naturally, for that i would require more money. For obtaining more money, legally, i’ll have to work.

Now nobody “forced” me to buy an iPhone (or an automobile, or a house) on loan, i choose it because i thought they all would make me “happy”. Now since i bought it on loan, i’ll now have to work “extra” to pay back. The more i buy out of my desires, the more i get into this vicious cycle. i am burning my candle from both the sides.

This attribute of mine (of attaching myself to things and collecting them: Lobh) is at fault. If God-Blessed, i am able to get over this attribute, the “capitalist-induced-exploitation” automatically stops. Looking at the problem this way, we don’t really need to run off into the woods, for even if we do run off into the woods, the problem will also run off into the woods with us, because it’s a problem (like a parasite) within us.

On the other hand, i second Your opinion, that whole schooling-work culture-system has been designed in such a manner that the “host” never gets a chance and time to think-ponder-learn-unlearn-and improve. This holds some relevance, in principle, here in India as well.

Thank You for the great article again! :)

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Vanessa April 22, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Personally, I think the 40 hour work week is killing us slowly. People say “if you want to be heard, stop spending money on things.” It’s true, if thousands or millions of people stopped spending money on certain things, it would send a huge message. But I think it’s similar for workers. If thousands or millions of us quit our jobs, we would send a huge message as well. Yes, we wouldn’t have jobs that pay us anymore. But the bosses of the world wouldn’t have manpower either, and they’d have to listen.

Take it or leave it. My two cents.

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R April 22, 2013 at 11:35 pm

You’re argument was good up until the point where you said that businesses chose to make you work just so you will be way more causal about your spending. Businesses just want you to work as much as legally possible. If the legal limit is 40hours, then high paying jobs will make you work 40 hours, there is no getting around that.
Because they pay you they will try and get as much as they can get out of you. They don’t really care how tired you get when you come home.

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Andy April 23, 2013 at 8:48 pm

The other nice thing about effectively forcing most Americans to live this way (healthcare, anyone?) is that the tired, burned out masses don’t spend a lot of time figuring out how to dig themselves out. Paycheck to paycheck, president to president. Our educational system was modeled on obedience and menial basic functionality. If you want more, better get a scholarship, loan, grant, or a job that will drain your brain and time while you struggle to stay afloat.

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Lemuel Koh April 23, 2013 at 9:45 pm

Congrats, you are just another consumer who is buying into the set of meanings created by the products of the transnational capitalist class. This culture ideology shows itself in the mall and tv shows , you are just someone who unknowingly , became socialized into a Throw-away society. Mcdonaldization now, maybe Googlization next?

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Ilia April 24, 2013 at 8:55 am

Very well written. Another thing is that having so little free time, besides spending a lot more on junk you also make a lot less thoughtful investments. So most people never get to accumulate any capital or savings and have to depend on pensions.

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VJV April 24, 2013 at 11:17 am

I am sorry. But this is a very pessimistic point of view in life, in my sincerely honest opinion.

You know what your problem is? I think its because you don’t like your career path. Engineering, by nature, requires a lot of time for a person to master and apply. Well, you know what, same goes with every other career; whether it be corporate, artistic, or sports. Even non-9-5 jobs require time, some much longer than usual. At the end of it all, the question to ask is: Are you happy with what you did for the day?

You complain that you don’t have time to do your other hobbies. But see, there is ALWAYS a trade-off in seeking a bigger career path. Engineering IS a big career path, if you compare this to a simple waiter (no offense meant, but you guys should know what i mean). The whiter your collar is, the longer time it will consume.

And that’s why before you actually enter that world, think about it first. Do you really want to do that? Or are you there for the money? And if you are there for the money, what are you gonna use the money for? For your family? Or all for yourself?

You believe that you don’t need to spend much if you have more time. You know what my solution for you is? Get a smaller job, Give time for your hobbies. Make your hobbies work for you. Look for a different career path that will actually make you happy giving your time to. That is, if you don’t have a family to take care of (which, in a more optimistic point of view, should be seen as the inspiration to work hard)

Giving time for something is always a choice. People just seem to complain so much about how everyone is on the same boat. Well you know what?

How about diving into the ocean?

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:22 am

heh. actually, i think you just pretty much summed up what David’s essay was trying to convey. Very succinctly at that :)

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Eric April 26, 2013 at 10:07 am

“There are two ways to make someone wealthy, add income or subtract wants” – can’t find the origin of this word worm.

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Sasi April 26, 2013 at 11:37 am

I dont know what VJV is trying to say , but whatever he is smoking is what i need now.

Dude, he`s stating a point here. From the first few lines ive read out of yours (i dint finish reading by the way) it shows you don’t stop to listen, you`re all fixed for life and frankly you`re offended that others can actually live a life not based on social stature alone. and honestly, i can damn well tell you never really thanked a waiter in your life – which brings to my last point ; you aren’t a westerner :D

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VJV April 27, 2013 at 2:36 am

I know he’s stating a point. But really, do you state a point randomly without any origin or trace on why you state it? There’s always a personal reason why someone states something.

From the looks of how he doubted himself in his last line, the author feels like his life is currently designed. And because of that, he feels that his past hobbies are now quite hard to do because of less time, because of this “design”.

So what? So what if your life is designed? At the end of the day, does it really matter? If everyone thought like this, people would feel stagnant, robots would be swarming world, and the word “adventure” would not exist in the dictionary anymore.

I’m not saying his point is wrong. I’m just saying it has a pessimistic view, that our life would go nowhere we want because its already designed to follow a trend that we unconsciously have been following.

And instead of thinking like this, people should be thinking whether they are happy right now or not. If you are the greatest engineer of all time but is the saddest person on earth, you really wanna stay like that forever? Its not in the social stature (which I clearly never stated) of the person, but its where they feel they are content, no matter what he is doing. I believe this is where it really matters.

And yes, I am not a westerner. I didn’t meant to say that waiting is an inferior work, I only gave that comparison to show which is academically harder (and therefore more time consuming because you need a college degree and all that crap).But I give appreciation to good service, no matter where I am. You should know its not just westerners who know how to say thanks :D

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Steiny April 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm

Just stumbled upon this post via Facebook, and I thought I’d add a little insight as these are questions I ask myself all the time… I came up with a little formula years ago that can be used to evaluate the validity of an employment situation for one’s life. Keep in mind that I try not to value money or material things for their own sake, but rather for the life experiences they can provide…
Your job should offer at least 2 of these 3 things, in no particular order: flexibility/sense of autonomy, enjoyment/sense of worth, and money. If you only have one it’s probably not the best job for you! All three are hard to come by..
So for example, you may be happy working at something you don’t like, as long as it affords you the money and time to do the things you do enjoy. Or maybe you don’t make much money, but you love what you do, say, as a teacher in a field you value, or simply being paid for what you love. But feeling stuck in a full time job that is unsatisfying, with little room for creative expression, even if it does pay well, is not a road to happiness…

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:24 am

steiny, thats brilliant! i love that! very wise outlook

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Holly April 30, 2013 at 9:36 am

Thanks for your introspective thoughts, David. I appreciate your point of view and the knowledge you’ve gained from your experience. I assume I am older than you, (49) and probably due to my upbringing and my husband’s frugality, I have a slightly different perspective. Although most of us wrestle with balancing work with pleasure, I find that I have a deep desire to be sure that my retirement years (which may extend into 30 years even if we retire at 65) is not ever a burden to my children or to society. So, we work, hard and long and in the meantime try to make sure that the raises as well as at least 15% of our income is put into investments and that the monetary decisions are balanced with pleasure and giving back. It is true, we fall short sometimes and yes, it is so important to think first about how you spend your time and money, however, I worry a bit that my children’s generation is not thinking carefully about how much it will take to survive their older years, with the possibility of high health care costs, and taxes. If we spend our younger years searching only for happiness and fulfillment, I think we lose a sense of responsibility for self that is critical for this human animal to live in concert with each other and not burden others. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if we could create more job sharing opportunities in our culture that allow folks to make choices.

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adam April 30, 2013 at 1:02 pm

the last two summers now (and in preparation for this coming one) i’ve quit my job at the beginning and coasted for a few months on my savings. the first time i went and did that in europe and had the time of my life, last year i stayed home but still had a wonderful time. i’ve got a lot of friends and family i know i can fall back on, and i know i can get a job when i need to, so it’s not so reckless as many of friends seem to think it is. there’s a (in my opinion) crazy notion that we’ve got to be working all the time, even if we’ve got nothing we’re working towards. even if our work is a meaningless hospitality job.
and to corroborate with the theme of this article, from the frugality such a lifestyle enforces i end up saving more money than i would working a full time job. not quite making money but not losing it either. and far happier and fulfilled to go along with.

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Lelapaletute May 1, 2013 at 6:47 am

It depends what kind of work you’re doing whether this is a viable option. I had a friend when I worked bar who did this – spent 9 months working like a slave and saving every penny, then 3 months living like a king in Thailand. Our employer would hold the post open for him, as he was great at his job. But if you were in a ‘professional’ career where rising up the chain depended on longevity, demonstrable commitment, building up a portfolio of increasing responsibilities etc, that kind of thing is less easy. May I ask what line of work you’re in?

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:40 am

“…i’ve got a lot of friends and family i know i can fall back on, and i know i can get a job when i need to, so it’s not so reckless as many of friends seem to think it is. there’s a (in my opinion) crazy notion that we’ve got to be working all the time…”

*sigh* adam… i hate to say so but the Mom in me must: your friends are right, this really is an irresponsible perspective.
Your friends and family do not need or deserve to have you assume you can ‘fall back on them’ to help you get by if you genuinely believe that ‘working all the time’ is a crazy notion.

A mature individual is responsible to do whatever (s)he must to provide for his/her own life needs and family. If one should find upon doing one’s very best that best efforts are simply not able to provide enough, then one should firmly hold an attitude of humble gratitude for ALL extra assistance that may be offered by Kind-Hearted Others. and jobs with sufficient paychecks are not always so easy to come by as you seem to feel.

i hope you didnt really intend to come across like a lazy, Couch-Surfing Sponge.

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Lelapaletute May 1, 2013 at 6:43 am

This is really interesting. I recently started saving for a mortgage – calculated to put away nearly a third of my income each month. I have barely noticed it going, which leads me to wonder what the hell I was DOING with all that money before I started saving. I do say ‘no’ to myself and others more often now – ‘no, I don’t need that muffin/dress/magazine’ / ‘no, I don’t want to go out drinking all three nights of the weekend’ / ‘no, that film sounds rubbish anyway, I’d rather have my friends over to dinner and talk to them rather than go out and sit in the dark with them for 3 hours’ – but I don’t feel deprived or lacking at all. And all the while, that money is piling up. It’s amazing how easy it is to fritter hundreds away if it’s there and you have no motivation not to. Always worth sitting down with a spreadsheet, working out what you have to spend, calculating what you’d reasonably like to spend in addition to that, and then finding something of value to tie up any residual money – saving for a holiday, or a home, or an evening class. Otherwise it’s amazing the junk you’ll find to spend it on.

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Melissa May 1, 2013 at 3:01 pm


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aebhel May 4, 2013 at 8:44 am

I feel like a lot of this is upper-middle-class problems, to be honest. If I was unemployed for any significant amount of time, I would be homeless, not happily zen. It’s a lot easier to fuss about pleasure spending when your basic needs are already met, but even in a lot of first-world countries that isn’t a guarantee for a lot of working people.

Mindless consumerism is a problem, but it’s a problem mostly for people who have enough money to spend it mindlessly in the first place. In my experience, poor people are not living out a life of peaceful contentment; it’s just that their problems are more immediate than a vague discontentment with their lives. Epicurean dissatisfaction requires a certain degree of material comfort as its baseline.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:53 am

aebhel, likewise. for my family, remaining adequately (not luxuriously) housed uses the top 2/3 of our income each month and our remaining needs are met via strict budgeting and a lot of creativity. any treats are gifts of the kindness of others.
i really like how you said that “mindless consumerism is a problem… mostly for people who have enough money to spend it mindlessly in the first place”… but ive got to insert a caveat: i do see plenty of wasteful spending all around. bad budgeting and empty spending isnt really limited to the more affluent set. lots of poor folk make themselves even poorer with the same habits. the frivolities just aren’t as blingy.

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Dave Franz May 4, 2013 at 10:07 am

David, great article! I’m going the opposite direction, from a great paying job to unemployment. I’ll pay attention and see how my life changes and if it’s similar to your experience. Now I’ll actually have time to work on photography and a website.

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kropotkin May 5, 2013 at 5:27 pm

we have all this information but we still can’t blame capitalism? the voracious appetite for profit necessitated by the maxim of constant growth under capitalism is spiritually destroying humanity, but our only answer is a “friendlier” capitalism with a happy face? how about instead of trying to make businesses care less about gaining profit by any means (something intrinsic to capitalism), we just manage industry ourselves as society and produce things that we need instead of producing things that will profit a few of us at the expense of everyone else?

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Garrett May 5, 2013 at 11:45 pm

Friendly or not, it will end. Sustainable or neverending economic growth (as conventionally defined) on a finite planet is an impossibility. The US economy is based on a finite resource that is at its peak.

Anyway, I appreciate your comment. Kropotkin was a smart dude.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 1:59 am

thank you garrett!! i believe this also- in fact, i really suspect the US economy has passed its peak. its only the massive lines of credit being utilized by so many that screen the reality of our economic decay from clear view

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Randall Dean Scott May 6, 2013 at 8:32 am

Finally, someone else who sees this too. Terrific article.

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Derrick May 6, 2013 at 9:57 am

discontentment is the lamentation of an empty soul – one that longs for the true meaning and value of life. For a while we may find significance in accomplishments, security in possessions and pleasure in indulgences… but these will fade because we were made for something better – something eternal – that money cannot buy.

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John May 7, 2013 at 1:57 pm

Well written blog.

I bet this was created on the job on your work-computer. lol

You describe a society of entitled schmucks; highly suggestive, lazy, and mentally weak.

Now wonder so many people are out of work.

If you think that an 8 hour workday hinders your ability to exercise, go to the park, and live the lifestyle you dreamed of as a vagrant layabout then you are dead on. Can’t be a vagrant layabout and a professional at the same time. You gotta pick one.

I propose that this lack of satisfaction stems from a lack of motivation,passion, and drive.

How about we throw a family, kids, work, school, playdates, little league, etc… into the equation.

Life is not hard lol. The corporations are not evil, and there is enough time. If you are organized.

Seems like Anti-America rhetoric.

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Brad Hussey May 7, 2013 at 2:59 pm

This is amazing. Great article! I will be sharing this with every single one of my contacts, and on my blog as well.


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TG May 7, 2013 at 3:45 pm
NeverGoFullRetard May 7, 2013 at 8:15 pm

So we should do away with the school system as well. Its funny how those that are home schooled are mocked because they are the exception. The liberal media and academia (yes that includes college) all put a liberal spin where the “people” are the victims and everything boils down to some general circumstances created by those that have the means to create a social disparity be it social, economic, racial, or religious. We live in a society where being exceptional is no longer celebrated but demonized. We encourage children to participate in sports, but everyone wins. Education is not a road map to success but a tool that allows individuals to fit into society a certain way, because most individuals are not exceptional.

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Ken Risling May 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm

Great article! While I agree with one commenter that over-consumerism afflicts the “haves” more, I see that it not only hounds the poor, it has also been a tool in creating the poverty class that helps sustain the whole “growth” economy system. Before the arrival of white settlers in California during the gold rush, the rich of my Karuk tribe lived in a buildings made of logs and bark with a dirt floor. Their economic status could be measured by ceremonial paraphernalia they owned. They went mostly naked a lot of the time. Now, even by tribal standards, they would be considered impoverished. Worldwide, it has been shown that the transformation of a local economy from self-sustaining to dependent usually accompanies the induction of demand for manufactured products. (This process is accelerated by the introduction of mass media devices.)

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 2:05 am

yes ken, you are exactly right- and blessed also to be of a people who can still remember when their own families lived a simpler life- close to the Earth, and slower-paced.
Creator’s Blessings to you.

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Getulio Jucá May 13, 2013 at 9:03 am

Excelente! Li e gostei tanto que fiz minha inscrição para ficar recebendo emails com artigos. Estarei compartilhando com meus contatos do Gmail e do G+.

Que refletindo sobre este artigo, possamos reaprender a viver enquanto é tempo!
Altamente recomendado a sua leitura.

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Ari May 18, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Good piece.

People need to reclaim their autonomy about what they choose to buy – let your own needs and wants be the driver of your purchasing decision. Advertising only works if people are receptive to it. Advertising has a pretty low success rate with me because I’m quite confident I know what I want, and am not easily persuaded otherwise.

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Edith May 19, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I noticed this right the day I started working full time. Where is my time to be a citizen? My time to fight for social causes? My time to write and read? Where is my time to be myself?

I have a very nice open minded boss who lets me do anything constructive during my 8 hours of slavery… I actually take french lessons, write my graduate thesis and graduate essays at the office. I read articles and books when there’s no action at work. I also save. I won’t say I keep living the same way I did when I earned half, but I haven’t upgraded that much.

This article is a reminder. I should keep my consumption low if I really want to keep being free after this job is over… it will someday, and by then, I’d better be good enough to be able to stablish my own schedule.

God help me, in this crazy lunatic world.

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capitalism is fine May 20, 2013 at 1:05 am

Your thesis is that what we buy with our money is determined by corporations. We buy unhealthy foods because they’re advertised as things that can make us happy. We spend on “unecessary” gadgets because they’re advertised as something that can make us happy. We buy x because x is advertised as something that can make us happy.

The argument fails because if everything we’ve been wanting and buying is merely the result of a calculated attack on our psyches and wills and wallets, and we somehow had the power to magic away those influences, then what would we be left with? If we could somehow make decisions (gasp) while guaranteeing that they are our own and not the result of some corporate marketing scheme, then what would those decisions look like? Would we, as you suggest, take up activities like reading a book, or hiking, or traveling? What if you don’t like to read? What if you’d rather play video games because you think they’re (cue second gasp) fun?

In other words, if you could somehow remove outside influences from our decision making processes, by what criteria are you going to judge the “healthiness” of our decisions? Different things make different people happy, and imposing your world-view (which you acquired through travelling to a foreign country, something most people will never have the opportunity to do) on others is self-serving and really damn pretentious. If someone wants to sit at home all day in their free time and kill terrorists in a video game, who are you to say they aren’t enriching their lives? People take pleasure from different things. You can’t compare the wholesome-ness of one activity to another by saying that one is driven by corporatism and the other is not. You may prefer long walks on the beach, I may prefer watching movies all day. Don’t tell me what makes me happy and what to do with my money just because you’ve traveled. It doesn’t make you better than me, nor does it give you the right to tell others what they should or shouldn’t do in their free times.

And honestly, corporations are out to get us with their 40-hour work week? Corporations have to pay their workers more for every hour worked. If we had 3 hour work days, people will make less money, and hence corporations don’t have to pay their employees as much. Sure, they’ll make less money because less products are sold, but the fact that their payrolls will be smaller too makes the entire issue moot. The only difference is that society gets less done with a 3 hour work day. Even if, according to the study you never cite, employees get less than 3 hours of work done in an 8 hour work day, that doesn’t mean having 3 hour work days will completely saturate the potential work people would get done. Perhaps with a 3 hour work day, people would get less than 1 hours of work done. I’m sure there’s a happy medium somewhere, and history seems to think that medium is with 8 hour work days.

Additionally, marketing is not some evil thing that forces us to open our wallets and buy things. No one in Hasbro’s marketing department puts a gun against your head and tells you to buy something or else. Believe it or not, marketing employees are actual people. They have jobs, like you and me. Their job is to get people to buy things they otherwise wouldn’t buy. If people were already going to buy things, if everyone knew exactly what they wanted, there’d be absolutely no need for marketing at all. In fact, let’s line up every single product people could buy in a store. No company is allowed to make any claims about any of their products. No one can say a single word. For people to make a decision, they have to go through each and every product and figure out for themselves what they want or don’t want to buy. Heck, with all the free time people should be getting, this is the perfect way to spend it. Obviously this sounds ridiculous. Marketing is a way for the company to speak to their consumers in a way that appeals them. It’s like dry-humping. There’s no actual contact involved, just a chaotic, but synchronized, dance between company and consumer, seller and buyer.

TLDR: People like different things. You did not discover the only activities that people could possibly want if there was no marketing at all. Not everyone likes to hike, read, meditate or participate in “wholesome” activities. I, for example, love video games. They have an understated artistic appeal, and they’re feedback driven experiences. You may not like what I like, but I won’t ever tell you your likes are manufactured or designed. Take your first-world, well-traveled, zen-philosophy and keep it where it belongs: in your own damn head.

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Skeptic June 6, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Interesting that we all feel we we have too liitle free time with the 40 hour work week. I recently spent several months in Thailand and the normal workweek is 10 or more hours per day and a 6 day work week for very low wages — barely enough to get by. Yet they seem happier than the typical Canadian or American.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 2:16 am

i think ive been on here too long…. but didnt i read a post a while back from a Thai who stated the grind was really wearing him and others there down? what on earth would make a 60+ hour work week any less exhausting in Thailand than in Canada or America?
i expect it would be difficult to get a true feel for the trials and such of typical daily life as experienced within another culture, while visiting for a few months. Unless of course one spent their visit working the same 60+ hour shift for very low wages…

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SalarymaninSeoul June 30, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Well, listen, if you think a 40 hour work week is long, try a 55 hour work week on for size. And try that with 2 kids. I would say you’re a bit spoiled. Come work at a Korean conglomerate and we can talk.

As far as the gist of your article, I would wonder if you’re confusing causalities here. The cause-and-effect needed to hold up your thesis would imply a very high level of conspiracy. I’m not buying it.

Lastly, but maybe firstly, it all starts with you. Not only is your causality ass-backwards, but seems like your locus of control is heavily skewed to the external. That 55 hour work week I mentioned? That’s me. 8-7, 5 days a week. Yet, I am also still able to find reading time, and exercise time as well as time for the family. At the very least an hour a day of exercise (7 measly hours a week) should not be hard to MAKE, though you do seem to recognize the problem is with your lack of motivation. I’ve been able to find 15 to 20 hours, though some amount of sacrifice will be required. Interestingly 40+15 puts you at 55, which means you can quite easily do what I did. But its up to you. I’m sure a “well paid professional” would be able to figure that out.

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Ali July 6, 2013 at 2:35 am

Good day,

This long text that follows is not solely a reply to your reply, but rather a continuation of the conversation that was started by the author.

Presuming that I understand your line of thought correctly, you’re asserting that:

1. Only a great conspiracy can achieve what the author suggests is achieved by big business through immersive manipulation.

2. Comparing numbers, and making the point that you can fit more activities into a 24 hour cycle than is suggested by the author.

I challenge your first claim, and think that your second claim just goes to prove how right the author is about the immersive manipulation of “big business”.

The people (a noun which is devoid of all subjective characteristics of actual people) are according to you able to make up their own minds based on their own sound judgements. On the surface this sounds like a plausible claim, and claiming a view contrary to this should be laden with the onus of explaining.

I believe that most of us don’t make up our own minds, such that would be possible if we existed in a cultural vacuum. Most of us tend to inherit the societal normative culture of our community, prone to whatever peculiarities that seem to be the fashion of the time, be that in habits or weekly working hours.

Admittedly the above statements don’t apply to all of us, you might be an exception. The whole point is that it applies to most of us. Thus as a company, politician etc., you can build a theory upon it, and this gives you a sound scientific foundation for manipulating the “free wills” of “people”.

It’s also quite telling albeit in no way unique to this particular story that to be able to analyze your own environment, you need to step outside it. Armchair philosophizing is truly difficult when in an environment where your senses and wits have become dulled by the reassurance they receive from like-minded “people” that we all are in charge of our decisions. It’s really a numbers game, get the majority to where you want by manipulation and nudges, and they do the rest of the job for you, and most certainly in a willingly manner.

My line of thinking is that no conspiracy is needed. You only need to create “necessary” surfaces of existence for our thoughts, i.e. by manipulation make a majority of people to believe that it makes sense to work 40 hours (or >55 in your case), that it’s necessary for the economy to work, that we do it by our own choice. If this is achieved, no internal conflict will arise and “people” feel that they are in charge of their own choices.

Manipulation and the creation of what others have called “necessary illusions” is not a trivial task, but not a very hard one either. Given time and resources you can through empirical studies achieve a great deal of knowledge about “people”, bear in mind what Facebook and others can achieve through data-mining. Using that information to shape others views on things, almost as if you owned a mental chisel, is not particularly difficult if you’re in the pulpit, be it as a successful businessman or elected politician, backed up by big money and professional knowledge in the art of persuasion.

Your second point is that you’re incredulous about the non-ability of the author to fit a certain set of desired activities in whatever time is left between leaving work and getting back to work. The whole point of the author, if I understand him correctly, is that to function inside a certain system it is positively required that you don’t question its fundamental premises. The author, and I with him, mean that the 40 hour workweek imperative is not real, not necessary, and positively undermines our ability to fill our lives with other desired activities, other than those pertaining to upholding the very economical and psychological infrastructure of the reigning system.

You’re proving his point by claiming that you can do a lot more than him in the 168 – 55 = 113 hours a week that are left between entering your workplace and leaving it. It’s become a race to fit in as much as possible in whatever is left when the system has processed us, using us as both raw-material and processing units, a system we choose to uphold and maintain by our own very free wills. You seem to be able to do more with less, and I’m sure you’re happy with your choices.

It’s just that not succumbing to the prevailing system isn’t easy when the majority accept is as a given fact of the universe, as often is the case when a paradigm is stripped of its historical context. I for one don’t, but am forced to exist in and help to maintain it. Not doing that would render me useless to society, for who wants to employ a 50 % skeptic when you can hire a 100 % devotee, where the percentages are meant to represent both working hours and state of mind.

We live our cognitive lives on whichever mental landscapes available to us, rarely even aware of the contours, let alone of it’s finer details. And only by thorough and lucid study (theoretical or in practice, e.g. traveling) of our own societies and personal habits, we may be able to step outside of them, in rare events even discovering uncharted territories. Thus I believe it not only possible but even highly probable that most of us would be far better off with far less working hours and more time to indulge in whatever activities economists find unnecessary.

If you have taken the time to read my reply, I’m grateful for your time. I’ll make sure to offer you the same generosity.

Best regards,


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SalarymaninSeoul July 7, 2013 at 6:56 pm

I am no great believer in free will, though I do not discard the idea that we have a free will within a very limited scope of things. I don’t however think it is asking all that much to abstain from some of the things the author rails against. Whether the 40 hour work week is a result of a conspiracy/planning, or simply something that emerged as sort of social consensus over time, is probably irrelevant. The important thing is that it is what it is and the individual has little power to change it unless he is ready to pay the price to opt out, or has options available to let him do that. Whether it is necessary or not is besides the point when every job you apply for will demand it of you. Your time would be better spent finding a job that does not than about complaining, which is akin to complaining about the rain.

The same cannot really be said about the consumerist aspects mentioned here. As much as the idea of a totally unbound will is a mirage, it does not really take all that much will to opt out of consumerism. It really does not. This is what I find so funny about this article – it seems to be written by someone who has lost all control over his life and who seems to be caught up in the wind and jostled about like a reed – a victim of the marketers who make him work 40 hours a week, buy things he has no use for. Grow up and take SOME responsibility for your life.

No one ever said that life would be all roses. Life is about sacrifices. The author seems to be unprepared to make any, and hence this article.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 2:31 am

ehrm… not trying to offend, but might you be a little bitter at the 55 hour workweek you are subjected to, and not just David’s comments about managing time & finances well at 40 or so?
after all, it must get very wearing to be forced into daily micromanagement of every minute as you are. cheers for being so committed to staying physically fit & remaining involved at home with your family, especially given the small amount of personal time allowed by your work schedule- this takes a lot of dedicated self discipline!
all the same, i hope you may be able one day to step away from the stress of such long hours away from the people & activities you are clearly passionate about. chronic stress has a terrible way of destroying the health of even very strong people such as yourself :(

juguetes eroticos July 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm

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Sacramento Reverse Mortgage July 10, 2013 at 10:23 am

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tiffany and co July 11, 2013 at 3:44 am

Now I am going to do my breakfast, later than having my breakfast coming again to read additional news.

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Erin July 12, 2013 at 10:24 am

This came to me at an impeccable time. I just returned from a month in Bali and this came up as a topic of conversation almost on a daily basis. Something has always felt “off” here in this live-to-work culture. It’s nearly impossible to be given the time off take any sort of sabbatical that actually re-fuels you. I’ve always had to fight for the time I take and it always brings hostility from at least a few of my co workers. Our culture is designed in a way that steals your time and fills the void with a plastic, falsely satisfying filler that leaves you feeling sad and longing and just breeds more grasping for real fulfillment. Then that desire perpetuates the cycle of superficial satisfaction.

How have you made changes in your life after recognizing these things? I am drawn to travel more and perhaps reside outside of this bubble for a while… I’m curious to hear about your current lifestyle.

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David July 14, 2013 at 3:29 pm

Hi Erin,

I’ve slowly been building a business outside my job, and I’m close to being able to give up my employment income and do it full time. The key for me was learning to be rational and frugal with my money, and reducing my living expenses to about half of what I make at my job. This lets my savings pile up and my dependence on my employer shrink. If you save 50% of your take-home income, it means that for every year you work you are paying for a year off, which you can use to build a business or do creative work, or travel.

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Giovanni December 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

David have you checked out fellow Canadian engineer Mr. Money Mustache’s blog?

He has a very good perspective on how to avoid spending every dime you make and I think he would benefit from your spot on description of how the 40hr workweek consumer society has been designed.

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Fedde July 24, 2013 at 1:14 pm

As if companies are deliberately using the 40h work week to make people spend their money. It is not a deliberate regime. It’s merely a form of tradition to work 40h a week. And this tradition will slowly change into more humane forms of work.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 2:38 am

no no, youve misunderstood… the thing is, most of the companies we work for are making their money selling one thing or another service right back to us. that was what he was trying to explain, and the 40h work week is nothing but a metaphor. most full-time employees, likely anywhere in the world by now, are at their positions substantially longer than 40 hours- whether the additional hours get paid (wages) or not (salaried)

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Waldo July 30, 2013 at 4:15 pm

Another issue is when the ’8 hours per day’ contract is just a label and the actual ‘workload’ takes 10-11 hours per day. That is like a syndrome of control for the employer, which can indirectly lead to a culture of unnecessaries.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 3:08 am

yes- exactly! becoz there is NO TIME LEFT anymore to get anything done, one must pay someone else to do it.
one example, obviously doesnt apply to everyone: but if someone ENJOYS and is FULFILLED by creating elaborate gourmet meals which take hours to prepare & serve (not to mention clean up after)…. how can (s)he possibly do this if laboring for an employer for ever more extended hours? ok, then never mind the gourmet part, shave it down, make it work, just cook a quick simple meal for dinner at night and do grab&go for the rest. its a doable compromise but not particularly satisfying on the human level for the person who truly loves to cook. (s)he keeps waiting, hoping at some point to get back to that activity (s)he is so passionate about, its what (s)he loves after all. ah, but work demands- and bills keep stacking up. remain chained to the employer or go into default…. no, got to do what one must, boss wants longer hours again- OR ELSE. cant ever seem to catch up, now working so many hours there is NO time left for home, NO time left for personal enrichment of any kind- unless one counts the daily fancy coffee and visits to the gourmet grocer which is now the closest (s)he can get to what she once loved. also now additional expenses: when one is working 10-11 hours a day, 5 days + sometimes work home for the weekend (boss cant seem to ‘afford’ to hire any addl help)… how does one get laundry done? out. how does one do food? out, or delivered. how does one keep accounts? hire an acct. how does one manage ones living space? pay for housekeeping (and yard work) etc etc etc oh and dont forget the requirement to maintain a certain level of ‘personal appearance’… expensive new clothes, hair, nails continually maintained. AND NO DOWN TIME, dont stop even to breathe JUST KEEP THE PLATES SPINNING….
Voila– Consumer Slavery. And, since this was a True Story about someone i once knew, eventual nervous exhaustion and mental breakdown, with prescription pain & mood control to boot.

i dunno, i kind of think it IS a deliberate regime. on some level anyway… “keep the carrot dangling and the donkey will follow”. not that the poor blinkered horse has a chance of escaping its bridle and cart in the least. Corporations exist solely for the purpose of garnering ever greater profit… for the corporation. The head dudes get paid nicely sure, and every other employee gets some sort of paycheck. but most of the income is invested directly back into the profit-expansion machine.
Anyone who is able to escape is the better for it. i know my former neighbor sure would be… and i really hope she found some way to get out of her trap. i hope she is somewhere happily cooking up a storm again.

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Tomek July 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm

I recall very good documentary about that – “Terrorized into being consumers”

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Chris Spink August 2, 2013 at 1:55 am

Hi great post I have also seen the documentary the corporation it is a great movie thanks for reminding me about.

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Kaptain August 6, 2013 at 8:33 am

Excellent article! You hit the nail on the head. I’m an engineer, and I work a completely pointless job working on an endless project that has no milestones, or quantifiable amount of work. I was offered a new job for a different company, and I don’t have a start date yet, but should be soon. (Its a cool job with tons of international travel, which is what I love….never pay for my own airline tickets or hotels!!!) I’d say that I’m a total outdoor nut and love hiking, biking, kayaking in my free time, but I’m actually quite depressed and miserable from monday morning till friday afternoon. I’ve been thinking about quitting because I would find making no money and not having to come into this awful place might be better than earning 83K (USD) a year. The reason I don’t do it now is that I want to retire before 50, only because I hate work so much. If I quit now, the end-goal just gets delayed more. I’m not a spend-a-holic. I’m actually very cheap. Great thing about hiking, the biggest expence is gas; I bank 1/2 of my paychecks.

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Mare August 6, 2013 at 10:47 am

Yes, “full-time” employment, for those who have the “privilege” of getting it, is wage-slavery, actually. WAGE SLAVERY, folks. Undisturbed indigenous peoples traditionally only worked on chores/community tasks 4-5 hours a day – and had another 4-5 hours a day for leisure, art, and outdoor play. Civilization (urban centers, infinite growth/consumption) is based upon human disconnection from natural rhythms – and it is driving our culture mad, and sick.

Even non-profits are pervaded by, and structured with, the management ideology that 40 hours a week (plus travel time and lunch breaks) is somehow harmonious or sensible. Guess what all my co-workers at my low-level non-profit job talk about? TV Shows! And restaurants! And their prescription sleeping aids & anti-depressants!!! I have to try hard to find common conversation ground, as I don’t know their shows, I could care less about fetishisized foodie expeditions, and I am not on any prescriptions, lol.

Though I find my 2-3 night classes in martial arts very helpful for exercise and mental development, and my office workspace is abundant with plants, being chained to a screen is what it’s about. Being that I highly value my health & creativity, and I do not have a mortgage, I find that the only way to make sense of a full-time office gig is to utilize my desk for my own writing projects, emails, and online commentaries, whenever possible.

Most “fulltime” workloads for mature, skilled folks, could easily be accomplished in 20-25 self-directed and/or telecommuting hours a week, but there is no convincing management or our culture of that – so…. one must claim one’s desk for one’s own sanity, and manage one’s own blogs & websites, lol. Even if you do that, the American FT worker has none of the generous flexibilities and paid leaves of all Nordic countries…

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ralph m August 14, 2013 at 4:26 pm

From what I’ve read of the anthropologists’ accounts of the hunter/gatherer bands that may all be gone today, your description that most did not have to spend long hours working away to gather food and necessities is very true. The concept of “a man works from sun to sun” doesn’t really begin until the age of agriculture. The problem today is that there are so many people, and so little wild, unspoiled habitats in the world, that there is almost no way to go back and regain what we have lost as we went down the road to farming and industrialization.

The one thing that pops up again and again in the honest depictions of the “primitive,” is the lack of violence within communities, lack of organized hierarchies, patriarchal family structures etc. Most people today believe that competitive hierarchies and patriarchies are hardwired into human nature. But, most of the world hasn’t been living naturally for a very long time.

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y August 15, 2013 at 11:20 am

you must be joking. are you living in a fantasy world? it is impossible to me to imagine how could enyone help you. my cooment is worthless in front of your absolutely totally garbage thinking. i don’t want to offend, but your thinking is the most naive thing i read in the past 10 years. if you are from america, i can understand you. i read there are verry por schols, and the result shows up in comments like yours.

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 3:19 am

i have heard that of countries like Sweden and Finland. though too freezing there much of the year for a heat seeker like me, my older son has been reading up on life in these countries for some time- and im encouraging him in his ‘scandinavian dream’.
sure beats the american one ;)

(sure hope they hang on tight to their principles!)

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Gorges Smythe August 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm

How very true. It amazes me that more people don’t understand that, at least to SOME degree.

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Dale August 7, 2013 at 11:20 am

Working on simply living, your words have helped!

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Jalaja August 8, 2013 at 1:59 am

I constantly have these thoughts but you’ve worded it so well! The worst thing is ‘developing’ countries that would have survived otherwise are led to believe that money is everything. We don’t hold on to what really makes us happy. We easily let go of things that really matter and are moving closer to the American dream.

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MrHare August 8, 2013 at 9:12 am

There’s one very simple action you can take to break free of most of this.

Get rid of the TV.

You have no idea how strong the influence of the TV is until you’re free from it a while – a year or two minimum.

Instead of spending 3 hours a week watching people audition to sing on a reality show, go take some singing lessons. Instead of staring at the tube, go sit in the park and watch the birds. If it’s winter, put on a coat. Or talk to someone, read a book, learn to carve wood or knit. Learn to paint, to free run, build yourself a boat in your yard. Ditching the TV gives you back hours and hours per week of free time, and slowly, over time, those advertising driven values will melt away.

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richardigp August 14, 2013 at 2:31 pm

I have hardly ever seen a more constructive list of comments on a blog. This is awesome. I am a foreigner working in India and am often frustrated by the lack of focus (western thinking). But I had a reality check recently.

Things that really matter! My very hard worker/employee/team member Govind, taught his “illiterate” Mother to write her name. After 46 years that gave her a new dignity that is unfathomable for a person who hasn’t had to give their thumb-print for who they are, for all those years. She now signs her names on bank and government documents and is no longer a servile thumb smudge.

That made him crazy happy. Me too. Something in me jumped and danced and celebrated a human success story that business just can’t deliver.

Hopefully this is another world perspective on what is valuable and what can be done with “spare time”.

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ralph m August 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm

I forget how I got linked to this article…first time here, so I’ll jump right in.
I agree with alot of the subheading: A Culture of Unnecessaries, and from some of what I’ve read and heard behind the world of advertising and marketing, I suspect that you are only scratching the surface about how dysfunctional consumer-capitalism is. I would say that our entire economic system is corrupt and self-destructive, but I’ll leave that for another time perhaps.

But your explanation of the history and motivations behind creating the 40 hour work week are totally out-to-lunch! From the photo, I suspect Dave is too young to have much of any awareness of the history of the Labor Movement in America, which has been almost completely removed from the history books and media commentaries of the past. You seem to believe that the employers of the early decades of the 20th century were all motivated by Fordism to give their employees better wages and the time space to use the products of the new industrial era.

That may have been true of Henry Ford and a few others, but the main reason for the 40 hour work week and improved wages, was the growing disgust of working people of the increasing amount of wealth being skimmed off the top by the owners of industry, and the growing demands that workers get greater shares of those profits — both in monetary terms and shorter work days! Without the growth of the Union Movement in America, few of the nouveau riche would have joined Henry Ford in his paternalistic concern that every worker be able to afford an automobile.

So, now that the Union Movement is effectively dead in America, and the U.S. is returning to an even worse stratification of wealth than during the Guilded Age; what now? For most people, the work week has been getting longer and longer, just as fewer can afford to retire early and leave space for young people to get started in their careers.

It’s worth noting that back in the middle of the Great Depression, John Maynard Keynes made his famously wrong prediction of a 15 hour work week 50 years into the future. Keynes did not foresee the rise of consumerism and the brainwashing effect that television and newer personal technologies would have on shaping and molding the way people think into neurotic, impulsive, selfish and isolated consumers today. I would have liked to have been an optimist a couple of years ago, when the Occupy Movement was beginning; but in America at least, this sort of populism, that led to the rise of wildcat strikes, the creation of unions and mass protest rallies during my father’s time, doesn’t attract more than a small fringe of young people, no matter how bad things get!

This crazy way of life we have now, which we call “progress,” is about to hit the wall in some spectacular manner in the coming years, as all of the necessary ingredients to fuel modern capitalism (cheap energy sources, renewable and non-renewable resources) are all getting more expensive and in shorter supply. So, how do we keep fueling the demand for increased production and consumption? Simple, we can’t; because we are hitting a point where natural limits are being applied to reign in human demands on the environment. What happens next….I’m not sure. I’d like to be an optimist, but no civilization does well when it is going through a period of decline and collapse; and this time the collapse will be global…thanks to the brainiac idea of globalization of…just about everything.

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y August 15, 2013 at 3:13 am

another leftist perspective. wee all should live like hippies. but wait? than everithing would colapse, you would have no internet, no bike, no perspective to see other countries, no small hipster hat.

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gene August 15, 2013 at 6:37 am

i came back to the office work lifestyle after a long period of adventuring around. but i don’t really find most of these problems to be problems. i mean yes, i am spending more on fancy coffees every day, and i eat takeout farrr to often. but that is it.

instead of driving, i walk a total of five miles every day to get to work.
part of my commute involves forty minutes on a bus, a perfect time to slow down and read.
i don’t own a television, and only see advertisements in bars.
i don’t even remember the last time i bought ANYTHING, besides food, or spending money on experiences with people during the weekends. OH, right, these speakers and lcd screen i bought 3 months ago.

i am not enlightened whatsoever, i promise you that. but . . . and i really hate to sound like one of those people, but have you considered destroying your television? that is the only difference i can think of here. why anyone would even allow a television into their home is completely beyond me, when you can watch virtually anything you want to watch streaming through the internet.

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y August 15, 2013 at 9:54 am

man, you are totally wrong. look at what is happening in egypt, syria, and complain after that. our life in western countries is the highest level of humane experience, and all this is due to capitalism, working people, great rational ideas and powerfull corporations. anything else is a great nonsense. all these are the result of an entire history, and right now, some bored, high earning computer specialist find that this is wrong. your problem is that you don’t find a perspective for your life. blaiming the entire capitalist world for that subjective problem of yours is kind of leftist. and wrong. i don’t have a TV, i use online streaming from 2006 and i feel bad for that because i don’t pay for that. if everybody would do this, the content providers would colapse.

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Adam Dyer August 15, 2013 at 2:35 pm

I haven’t had a chance to read all 400+ comments yet, but I wanted to just lift up how the roots of this issue do not just go back to the industrial revolution. We could not have had an industrial revolution (“devolution” if you ask me) if it were not for the systems established during the flourishing of European colonialism. People were conquered, killed and enslaved for the sole purpose of providing greater wealth to a “ruling class.” Certainly the issue of cultural dominance is human, but linking cultural dominance to the systematic acquisition of wealth is at the core colonial power structures.

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TEd A. Moreno August 15, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Awesome post that I will share. It’s called the hypnosis of the culture. Judging by all the contrary comments, I would say you cut deep into a few folk’s precious belief systems. The hypnotized don’t know that they are. And that’s all capitalism is, a belief system.
Keep putting it out there, Raptidude!

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bo' August 16, 2013 at 3:37 am

david, thank you for starting this discussion. there are so many thoughtful comments here by thinking people… we obviously dont all agree on every point, and there are those who have disagreed entirely, but that only adds to the richness of the discussion. your youthful idealism is refreshing, i have remembered once feeling quite the same way… the unpleasant real limitations of life tend to cause a certain amount of jaded sardonicism by midlife, for most of us. i hope that as you also gain the wisdom that can only come thru experience and age, you will still retain your positive charm- it is genuinely inspiring
i mean look at this: one post 3 years ago- some 450(?) comments… and still counting! i just spent-yikes!!- 5 HOURS reading every comment in the discussion (adding a few of my own along the way)- and tho i am absolutely pooped, up way beyond my bedtime… i must say i count it time well spent.
keep it up, you are a savvy writer with xlnt observational skills & a great way with words.

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Conscious August 17, 2013 at 8:26 am

Great piece.

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Adrian August 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

Good book . The art of living on 24 hours a day .. By Arnold Bennet .

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Sara Batista August 19, 2013 at 10:09 am

I can’t understand how there are still so many people practicing this unhappy, futile and exhausting lifestyle in the 21st century. As you said, this 40-hour-work made sense centuries ago when people where the motion of all work to be done. In the current days, it’s clearly still socially accepted because it means unsatisfied slaves with thirst for buy more and more rubbish in order to fulfill their empty and meaningless ‘lives’.

Speaking for myself, I DO NOT have a 40-hour-week work, neither work 8 hour per day. I work in the weekend, so I can make an average of 27/30h per week, and all the resting days I LIVE. My salary is way satisfatory for my needs, and I don’t feel the need to run and spend my money in stuff I don’t need at all. I do not watch TV as well, because I don’t appreciate the feeling of being brain-washed all the time.
I am a truly happy and healthy human being, with time for love, arts, sports, friends, and all the good things that are actually what we call LIFE.

Life is beautiful!

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chris August 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm

well written! As someone who has moved from the ‘haves’ to ‘haves not’ spectrum of population i must admit that sometimes ‘not having’ the little luxuries is initially frustrating but it offers an opportunity to check my ego and need. The pressures are ubiquitous to ‘get’ insipid little things that we don’t need. If we stop buying those little things we at least stop what I call the ‘erosion’ of our earn’t money… u don’t really notice it, you know it’s happening but it’s so small u ignore it… unless u decide to look back and see just how much damage erosion can cause. Our taxes (direct and indirect) steal massive chunks of our lives … lives we could be spending as humans, loving and being and doing rather than working to spend the remaining portion on things we don’t actually need. If you are lucky enough to have a high income coupled with being smart enough to maintain a humble lifestyle… then you are closer to a balance that may allow you to ‘live’ or have a lifestyle of choice. …. non of this yet address the interwoven need of spirituality to ground yourself in the ability to be confident in all things and grateful for the gifts presented to you.

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Marshal August 19, 2013 at 9:40 pm

“The real reason for the forty-hour workweek”.

It bothers me to read people stating their opinions as facts. This article is about how the world works, without citing references as to how you came to these conclusions. I can connect the dots in my head all day long, between any subjects, but it doesn’t make it true.

Some businesses operate by being available to the public, so there is no ‘getting more done in a shorter period of time’. Some businesses are stretched to the limit with the amount of money they are paying their employees vs the work they produce. A lot of business have their schedules and their pipelines dictated to them by their clients, who are simply looking for cheapest contracts to keep a larger margin between expenses and profits. None of these models care about whether or not they are tricking their employees into splurging on the weekend. It is a self directed business model where the business does not look beyond their own affairs, let alone the massive interconnected nature of commerce.

I agree with a lot of your sentiments, but this idea that “this is the way it is” is a mentality not worth taking, in my opinion.

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Marta August 21, 2013 at 6:21 am

I think all you wrote is a matter of your own attitude to it. Are you forced to spend more on specific products? are you not allowed to cook at home, or do whatever you want in your free time? Switch to effectivity mode and make most of your free time rather than neglect!

When you do individual job you can work when and where do you want. Perhaps you should switch to task mode? And 8 hours day is needed when the teamwork is essential. There have to be rules for big companies, to organise everything. To some extent it’s always like “smaller company-more effective, more flexible”, but corporations also need to try their best and work out some solutions.

I recommend blog
about microadventures. Nice idea, perhaps worth giving a try? cheers

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jason August 22, 2013 at 3:54 am

I’m a delighted that a post such as this clearly resonates profoundly with many many people. It makes me feel optimistic for change.

Further reading on this matter – particularly on the concept of the 40 hrs work week is available in In Praise of Idleness, by philosopher, mathematician Bertrand Russell. It’s ageing slightly, but Russell argue incredibly well, that in a post-industrial (automation) world, the reasons for the 40 hrs week are political rather than for productivity.

He also argues, as the author here points out, that by and large, people would used their extra free time for activities with more meaning and more social value. Whether its maintaining our health, strengthening the family unit, educating our children, helping the poor – his strong contention is that the nett result would be a better society. His argues that its quite illogical NOT to let the new machines take the strain, while we ourselves move onwards to the next phase of human development.

Any how – worth read if you like this.


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Chandu August 22, 2013 at 5:31 am

Hell no
I don’t want this kind of life either
” the more you earn the more you spend” to earn more money, have to work more time, there by neglecting some of the great moments and leaving a beatiful Age behind
After a longtime while sitting in a resting chair, reminding what mistakes we have done, full of regrets.
So my option would be to spend more time on my personal satisfaction rather than going after the money or satisfying the “BOSS”.

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The Little Hater August 22, 2013 at 1:44 pm

How the hell do you afford to travel and not work for 9 months without living like a bum? Only people i know that pull that off have well off parents that support them.

A lot of what you’re saying makes sense… but a lot of your assumptions are circumstantial of it is very circumstantial. You’re assuming that if you don’t work a traditional 9 – 5 you have a the time in the world to do meaningful things in your life. I can say that I work a 9 to 5 and it allows me to visit my family all over the world, it allows me to afford music equipment that i use as a creative outlet, it allows me to afford healthy foods — while my unemployed friends on the other hand seem to always be hustling the hard and time consuming ways to try to make money very little money, eating at McDonald’s, and never having the opportunity to do things that they wish they could.

I’m not promoting the 9 to 5 lifestyle… i’m just saying that it’s not always as evil as it seems… it depends on the circumstance and what you chose to make of it.

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The Little Hater August 22, 2013 at 1:48 pm

How the hell do you afford to travel and not work for 9 months without living like a bum? Only people i know that pull that off have well off parents that support them.

A lot of what you’re saying makes sense… but a lot of your assumptions are circumstantial. You’re assuming that if you don’t work a traditional 9 – 5 you have all the time in the world to do meaningful things in your life. I can say that I work a 9 to 5 and it allows me to visit my family all over the world, it allows me to afford music equipment that i use as a creative outlet, it allows me to afford healthy foods — while my unemployed friends on the other hand seem to always be hustling the hard and time consuming ways to try to make very little money, eating at McDonald’s, and never having the opportunity to do things that they wish they could.

I’m not promoting the 9 to 5 lifestyle… i’m just saying that it’s not always as evil as it seems… it depends on the circumstance and what you chose to make of it.

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Ajinkya August 24, 2013 at 10:18 am

Here’s something very pertinent to what you wrote
the article discusses what drives the brand growth agenda and illustrates how it affects our lives with examples.

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Alla August 27, 2013 at 6:03 am

Hi David Caine)
Your thoughts are relevant in all times!
However, I notice that in my life, and you just described it.
I think it’s not a corporate and marketing – they are only a consequence. The reason for the man himself, in his personality growth. Some since birth teachable and smart, his life striving for self-realization, while others are content with what God has sent them. This is the same as we see, is not bad: as long as humanity itself is not destroyed by his intelligence and rationality. The golden mean is formed by itself.
And all your notes can be transferred not only on the material side zhuzni, but also on the spiritual: What you need to know before you have an opportunity to establish himself something worthwhile: a picture of scientific discovery, or write a novel. According to our rules – nobody knows except the Lord who helps us. Yes, even to find a mate, some people have to spend a lifetime and never find their “soul mate.” This is not the hours and months, we will not spend. And spending so much – how much there is.
I treat the problem you described a little differently:
I believe that the time that the employer is given to me (and all), I need to perform their jobs. And if I make it faster – with the same quality that I do, if I do more – then do the extra work. And then, I’ll choose this 8-hour schedule to learn to work intensively and create a rhythm for my life. Now, I turn to more creative work, and I can not know exactly when and how much time I need. While I was “not at work” my brain still thinks, and the next day I wake up with a ready-made solution.
I have a daughter, and I buy it “does not need toys for 5 minutes,” knowing that she will throw them right there, but it’s her experience, and now the dollar is better spent on awareness of “unnecessary purchases” rather than make a serious mistake “by innocence “at a later age and with more severe losses.

Thank you, I think there are people who are usefully read your records. For example I am!

Alla from Russia.

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Prameela August 28, 2013 at 4:16 am

Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need

~ Fight Club

Could not help but remember the above lines. Loved the piece!

{ Reply } August 29, 2013 at 4:43 am

Draw a rough outline of the yard and house, indicating entrances, driveways,
sheds, etc. They are designed to last indefinitely
and are made of a high percentage recycled products.
If you choose a fountain that is too big for
your garden it will dominate the area and eclipse your entire garden.

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Quentin September 14, 2013 at 12:42 am

Thank you for this.
Depressing and obvious as it is, it always feels somewhat good to read about the absurdities that we’re bound to live by.
Boils down to the comfort of knowing that we all share the same feelings here.

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James September 19, 2013 at 2:19 am

It is often agreed that 38 hour working weeks are far to much. It is so unnecessary. My typical outgoing/week is approximately 250 – 300 dollars, the rest is put into savings for camera gear or travel.

I am fortunate to work a stable job two days a week at a school and have a freelancing gig from home as a professional town planner. This gives me a lot of freedom and I love it.

Check out this blog:

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Kevin Wilderman September 24, 2013 at 8:24 am

Interesting article. I liked how you said, “We buy stuff to cheer ourselves up”, because that’s so true, and it’s definitely a habit that anyone who is trying to save money needs to be accustomed with.

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MANO September 28, 2013 at 7:48 am

I enjoyed this article, but I enjoyed the comments more. Perspective is always nice.

Three years ago I left the slummy public school I was attending and haven’t looked back since. I’ve held a few jobs… from brand consultant/sales representative, graphic design and illustration, production assistance and set decoration on film sets, to standing outside in the cold as a valet for smarmy old-money types in Rancho Palos Verdes. (There’s a reason rich people are rich- they’re stingy as hell on tips.)

I can’t do the 9-5. Aside from film sets, the standard work day doesn’t feel fulfilling. I’ve been permanently jetlagged my entire life so I only get to see a few hours of sunlight in a day, and my most productive hours are spent illustrating or scrutinizing video games in the dead of night (for artistic merit, of course!).
Most of my time these past three years have been spent being frustrated with myself for not being “normal” like everyone else. The majority of my money is spent on coffee, cigarettes, sketch books, and video games. Thankfully with the rise of Indie games I’ve been able to spend less without having to compromise my opinions on social issues within the gaming community. You’d be surprised how much more brevity there is in a game with a 2-person developing team as, say, a team of 200 people writing and coding over each other to create a broken and confused game that serves only to satiate a carnal need to shoot things. Quality over quantity.

Funny, that. The sales representative job was for a shoe company that specialized in comfortable yet fashionable ergonomic polyurethane soles. The product itself was incredibly wonderful, but made me realize some things about the industry and human necessity. The company eventually failed; I found out my manager was embezzling (you should have seen the receipts) and reported it to HQ overseas. Looking back on it, it was a good move on my part, as I was being paid to do everyone’s job and not at all appreciated for the potential I saw and wanted to bring forward in our little company.
Growing up, everyone told me that I was a “creative” type but I’m realizing now that that I’m pretty versatile, though not very entrepreneurial. I’m thinking of taking my menial art school funds and going to business school… though I’ve been waiting for someone to give me an excuse not to go. I have no idea what I’d do with the degree if I sat still long enough to receive it.

AAAAaanyway. It’s late and I’m on a tangent. Any advice for a young, talented kid looking to break the western societal norms would be appreciated. I need to leave my mother’s house sooner or later, and I don’t mean to do so on a gurney.

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Joseph J October 18, 2013 at 6:17 am

It’s the “refrigerator paradox”! The story goes that my mother always had her fridge full of stuffs you can’t even shut the door for it to seal properly. Things go sour and rot inside like a basement full of junks that you’ll never use and forgot about. So to solve this problem, she bought a second fridge to evenly distribute the load. Lo and behold, the old fridge was still over capacitated with the door won’t shut, full of rotting forgottens and the new fridge mimics the first one!
My mother’s fridge and your article, really nailed it for me. I thought that my “use-and-spend-all-I-got” problem was solely by my own weaknesses. It was so weird I couldn’t understand them, I checked my balance sheet and confirmed that every purchase every bills are “justified” but no matter how well I get paid each time, I always find my self in money trouble, zero cash to spare, at every income level I’ve ever had! Your post made me see the background of the related causes much clearly, also that it’s just what a lot of people do and why, such as the revenge of our self-gratification demon for trading MOST of our precious waking time each day as sheep droids in return for currency. I will be much more aware into this issue and be able to reason with my indisciplinary self, against those sly marketing capitalists. Thanks for sharing your brilliant insights, David. Now I could blame someone else, HA!
To quote from a very wise man about two decades ago,
(God rest his soul in peace):
“If you can’t afford it, then you probably don’t need it!”
– My Dad :) –

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James October 21, 2013 at 8:39 pm

I lived in SE Asia for about 1.5 years after a 15 year career. The company was I worked for was sold and moved to a different part of the country. I took the opportunity to run and do what R did. I returned “home” because my travels and work abroad were not sustainable. As I re-engineer a new career, a voice in my head asks if whatever I am doing is something I want to do. I spent a year in school for retraining in a new career. The people around me are passionate about the career and industry that I am entering, but I keep thinking my eventual salary is really a means to and end (of work) … I want a job/career just to get past the next 10-15 years so I can retire and move back to Asia and get my life back. In a way I guess that is sad. But I plan to use that thought to prompt me into spending less in the future and saving/investing more so that I can expedite “retirement” and leave the 9-5 again and return to Asia. CHOICES. We have the power to make them.

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Paul October 21, 2013 at 9:25 pm

I worked a three day week for years but the day I got a mortgage was the day I started a 38 hour week. And now with two (beautiful) kids there is no going back. But there is still time for art – I just have to keep reminding myself of Bukowski’s poem ‘air and light and time and space’. And try to not watch tv.

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lauren October 22, 2013 at 1:47 am


I just recently left a very stressful, taxing, fulltime life for the past 4 years. In that time i figured out how to make what i was making 3 days a week. I am astonished at my quality of life skyrocketing. I also feel more connected, present and SPIRITUAL. And i don’t mean going to church -spiritual, I mean I can stop and talk to a neighbor and not be counting the minutes in my head he/she is taking up in my life, I can cook all day without a care in the world, I can just watch my cat take a nap for a few minutes and feel happy. Tasks that seemed momentous before (like getting my car smogged) dont seem like that big of a deal. I will never, ever go back. i urge everyone to find a way out of 9-6 corporate slavery. Its the best thing Ive ever done for myself, my relationships (all of them) and my health. the 25K you might lose a year to working less is worth EVERY PENNY.

It took one month to completely de-stress (a month!) I felt it slide away one morning and I was suddenly rushed with a deep feeling or being present, colors seemed brighter, people seemed nicer, and I started having deeper, imaginative thoughts and an overall feeling of connected-spirituality with my common man, nature, food etc. again.

I did also realize how much it COSTS to work fulltime. Like the article says, you start working fulltime and you find yourself buying expensive coffees, getting your car washed, buying nice work clothes, getting a manicure, not to mention just the cost of a lunch everyday. In this way, i almost venture to think any paycut you lose by working one day less a week you could gain back by not buying frivolities.

And the reason you are buying all this crap? because you are sad. Yes, a little bit sad and unfulfilled working fulltime. You need that special coffee to make you feel a little bit better. Just figure out anyway not to work fulltime. Work one day less per week. Spend that time with the people you love. It snot worth the money.

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Just Some Guy October 22, 2013 at 12:47 pm

People who don’t have time to think for themselves find it easier to let the talking heads do their thinking for them. Result: the partisan political paralysis seen in the US govt these days. And it isn’t just affecting government, it also is causing partisan social paralysis. Why care what the Jones think? They don’t care about you, they don’t think about you at all. Take the time to enjoy a doobie.

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Missing Point October 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Linking your excellent article on Industry Whore Forum:

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David October 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Great article; The honesty is appreciated.

The author might consider joining the Church of Stop Shopping.

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Dave Hart October 22, 2013 at 7:53 pm

“The eight-hour workday developed during the industrial revolution in Britain in the 19th century, as a respite for factory workers who were being exploited with 14- or 16-hour workdays.”

What?!?! The eight hour day was won by “illegal” strikes, and people who were executed in some cases, by the court system, for their activity in support of the 8-hour day and 40-hour week. It didn’t “develop”. It was fought for. The theft of workers time during the latest 30 years of increased productivity with no real gain in income is a just that: theft. Joel, you knew that, right? You’re just baiting me, right? If not, you better steal some time back from your employer at work and read some labor history.

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J Galloway October 23, 2013 at 6:30 am

Good to acknowledge Gratitude to you for brilliantly compacting such a clear synopsis of the practical and legal challenges the corporate community “machine” has now created.
If there is any solution, it has to be related to education everyone in many different ways “about how we have become complicit as our own worst enemies” This so called Normal westernized culture is heavily narcissistic and remains confused by wrong-minded emotional projections, How do you educate a confused distracted society to be more healthy?
Firstly we need to distinguish between needs and wants,
Secondly we need to become resilient to shame and resulting competition from status based Anxiety “hiding under the guise of fascist pride”
We need to learn how to meet needs without turning to addictions; this means learning about how addiction hijacks the brain and makes us want more,
Finally we need to stop wanting change to come from other people and stop blaming the corporate Elite’s for cleverly sponsoring our own blind selfishness, We are all being too stupid to realize how intelligent we can be, so need to stop being desperate and let go of blue sky thinking expectations, the way out is the way in. as we don’t owe anyone any Gratitude, especially painfully deluded economists legal and financial professionals & advertising men, Do you really want to be one of them?
Loneliness, neglect and misunderstanding of Mercy, are the root causes as these create the desires for rights and entitlements which lead to a paradoxical loss of personal intimacy and obsessive negative critical thinking loops.
PS :From a low status low paid manual worker.

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George Buri October 23, 2013 at 10:08 am

Actually the 40 hour work week didn’t come along until after WWII for most people. And the Labor movement had to fight hard for over 50 years to get it. But this just strengthens the connection between the 40 hour week and consumerism as in the decades that followed European workers fought and won more time off and North American workers instead took their gains in the form of higher wages (which the bargain implied were to be spent on mass consumerism).

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Andrew Eadie October 23, 2013 at 4:53 pm

Wow it’s like people are shocked to hear this…

It’s been like this forever and it always will be.

But if you just ignore all of it and focus on your own life then you will realize that its your own fault for giving a shit about that this kinda stuff earlier.

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Magda October 23, 2013 at 11:37 pm

“This is the morality of the Slave State, applied in circumstances totally unlike those in which it arose. No wonder the result has been disastrous. Let us take an illustration. Suppose that, at a given moment, a certain number of people are engaged in the manufacture of pins. They make as many pins as the world needs, working (say) eight hours a day. Someone makes an invention by which the same number of men can make twice as many pins: pins are already so cheap that hardly any more will be bought at a lower price. In a sensible world, everybody concerned in the manufacturing of pins would take to working four hours instead of eight (…) But in the actual world this would be thought demoralizing. The men still work eight hours, there are too many pins, some employers go bankrupt, and half the men previously concerned in making pins are thrown out of work.”

“The wise use of leisure, it must be conceded, is a product of civilization and education.”
“(….)authority still represents the will of the Ruler of the Universe, Who, however, is now called by a new name, Dialectical Materialism.”

Bertrand Russel, “In Praise of Idleness” 1935

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Ms. Myriad October 25, 2013 at 2:02 am

I have felt this way every time I have come back from a major festival, vacation, or even just a long period of unemployment. Northern Americans are encouraged to spend a ridiculous amount of their money on things they would be happier doing for themselves. It’s enough to make a body want to check out of society entirely and find a small patch of woods to subsist in.

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Joy October 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

There was an ice cream place in Colorado that had a billboard that read “scream till daddy stops”. Later, it was turned into a dispensary …

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farhad October 27, 2013 at 6:20 pm

To end such a life style(Kabuki) and its consequences such as being slave and so on…..the clue to this dilemma is Desirelessness. having no desire, it is simple and applicable. I tried and practiced it, it works for me. be governor of your own life. do not, do not watch tv . Do not follow majority or folks that are under invisible control. question everything in life. then you will be waken up and enjoy everything in real essence.

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Ryan Ashton October 28, 2013 at 4:00 am

Nice article, but there are solutions out there.

A good read is “The 4-Hour Work Week” by Timothy Ferriss.

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Owen October 28, 2013 at 5:06 am

We have been hoodwinked into believing that “Waste is a sign of wealth”. And sadly for many it is.

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John October 29, 2013 at 8:52 am

Unfortunately most of us will suffer from two primary things during our lives: the pain of discipline and the pain of regret.

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Adriene October 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Je suis tout à fait en accord avec vous

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nico November 13, 2013 at 7:18 pm
Darren Tuson November 16, 2013 at 6:48 am

Great article. I stumbled across you the other day, and have to say I find everything you write pure gold. Treated myself to a copy of your book too. Keep doing what your doing David.

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Hillary November 19, 2013 at 9:19 am

I think the future is more flexible work environments and schedules. At the same time, I think you are biased by the fact that you are person who thrives and is happy with lack of structure, and likes to travel and do new things. That is a personality type, not human nature. Some of like to nest. We like routines. It doesn’t mean we are dead inside.

Many people are more happy having 8 hours a day with clear expectations that without. I love to be at work. It is where I do most of my creative work in life, and where I taste food more, read and contemplate, and the hours during which I get my exercise. I have a great job, no doubt. It is home, subject to the constant demands of raising children, where I feel ennui.

There are so many different ways to live a meaningful life, as we define it for ourselves along the way. I buy that expensive coffee sometimes, because savoring it is a deep pleasure for me. I do not worry that corporations control my life anymore than I worry that a God does. I am a leaf in the wind of a cold universe, enjoying the uptwirls when they come, and knowing the ground is coming no matter if I rage against it or not.

I do agree, though, that we could be equally productive in less time. Perhaps we stay at work, however, not because of employers who want to numb our minds, but because it is a place we enjoy being needed and socializing.

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max November 27, 2013 at 10:19 am

>All of America’s well-publicized problems, including obesity, depression, pollution and corruption are what it costs to create and sustain a trillion-dollar economy. For the economy to be “healthy”, America has to remain unhealthy. Healthy, happy people don’t feel like they need much they don’t already have, and that means they don’t buy a lot of junk, don’t need to be entertained as much, and they don’t end up watching a lot of commercials.

Bias alert. Where is the support for these assertions.

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Griselda November 28, 2013 at 5:39 am

Thoughtful and interesting. For years, I used to think I was the only one aware of my ‘role’ in ‘life’ being ‘the one who is supposed to spend money’. It’s SO easy to just buy this or that. Somehow it’s uncomfortable to be thrifty, or not spend. The upper classes have always harnessed the physical and mental powers of the ‘peasants’ to work for them – labouring, fighting etc., and the changes which have taken place in that economy in my lifetime are pretty deep. We have this illusion of free choice, whereas we are are not free at all. Part of the illusion is that ‘activity’ should be called ‘work’, that ‘work’ is ‘good’, and ‘not working’ is ‘bad’. Once you start to unpick the threads of the argument, it all unravels pretty quickly. I enjoyed reading this and the comments afterwards.

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anne gouyon November 29, 2013 at 3:23 am

Hi, great post. All this has been researched abnd exposed in the 50s-60s by a great socio-politico-psycho-philosopher I happen to love, Erich Fromm. Yet we still fall for it because it is all so addictive, playing our dopamine rewards systems. You made me think of it again, thanks ! and now I will stop feeling guilty for not working the standard 40 hours !

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Helena November 29, 2013 at 9:51 am

I agree totally with the article. When I immigrated to Canada from Europe, I got a very well paid job with local government and started spending like crazy (house, furniture etc. etc.). Unfortunately the job did not allow me to be creative and grow so I got frustrated and stagnated which grew into an injury in my right wrist from typing. Because I did not get any support from my boss to get time off to heal, I left my job, rented out the house and moved into a motorhome. Now I live and work in summer in Canada (working two jobs usually so that I do not have time to spend money) and then go for winter to cheap countries abroad. I don’t spend so much money anymore and feel happier because there is no dreadful future of sitting in the office forever. I also need some kind of routine and structure in my life, but I prefer to make it for myself. My family does not like my lifestyle, but that’s normal I guess. It was funny when I told some friends from university back in Europe about my living in the rv one girl (who is working steady for 9 years) asked me if I have enough space to store all my purses and shoes in the rv. I smiled and told her that I do not have that many of those…
The most interesting thing is that my wrist got better couple months after leaving the government job without any surgery…I think leaving the life somebody designed for me makes me healthier….thanks for awesome article!!!

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Broomsticks December 9, 2013 at 1:34 am

Luckily some of us westerners can afford to travel and be unemployed for 3 months and go travelling. So you have had the priveledge of experiencing a different lifestyle. It is your income that has allowed you to. You made a choice to work a 40 hour week at some point in your life. You don’t have to spend money on that coffee. And you especially don’t have to blame the corporations for your lack of willpower. Just nice that your employed at all when people are suffering without jobs.

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Alex December 10, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Great post David! I just got back from 18 month trip around the world and absolutely am with you in the consumption-culture culture-shock! I’m also trying to not spend so much on unecessary things and see the contrast between how little I lived with happily (40L backpack) with how much I “need” to have for comfort now. These trips are great for the soul. I’m lucky, I am self-employed and have a good schedule so I can’t blame it on being overworked!

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BT December 12, 2013 at 12:08 am

This is a really helpful and interesting perspective on how to improve people’s lives. Free time is most people’s real lives, and we’re trained to squander it.

One mistake you made that caught my attention: you said if people stopped buying all this useless stuff “the economy would collapse”. That can’t be further from the truth. It is a huge myth and fallacy that consumption drives the economy. In fact, what is most important in an economy is *production* – not consumption. Of course you have to produce something that helps people (usually something people are willing to pay for), but production, nonetheless, is what is key.

If people didn’t waste their money so much, the economy would actually be *far* better for it. You’d see more people buying higher quality, longer lasting things, and more people investing their money in things that would produce even better things for the world – including investing in themselves (ie starting an independent venture).

By living the dream we don’t collapse the economy, we make it better.

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Rich December 31, 2013 at 7:56 am

Interesting ideas, but those that have been discussed much in the past:

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Larry January 23, 2014 at 8:14 am

isn’t the tie to health insurance another way to keep us in the 40 hr work week and full time employment?

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TM the Stranger January 29, 2014 at 12:33 am

Interesting article that is *meant* to showcase the pursuit of happiness and the deficient, not to mention the pointlessness of a work-load that serves only to satisfy aesthetic norms. The numbers ”4” or ”8” would be variables. Having duty hours of “8” and sitting through ”5” or ”6” is logically a complete waste of time. Having duty hours of ”12” for 6 days or even 7 days a week for minimum or no wage is again pointless. Exerting one’s qualifications or inherent strength to mark a leap above the other rat-racers would again be pointless by my own chain of reasoning. Most of them buy it and feel compelled to borrow it into their own persona out of despair. I don’t. Circumstantial slavery or voluntary servitude, there is always a choice. Either a choice of abandonment, dereliction of duty or any other seemingly unfair scenery. By reason alone, a sense of relief that one is not in a far worse position is still not happiness. The answer resides in ”comparison” and ”choices”, all of those being as varied as there are individuals. What makes me happy might make you depressed and vice versa. Reason dictates that work efficiency is a productive quantifiable numerical value in comparison to time and energy invested. One might be 150% efficient and depressed. One might also be 40% efficient with a better mental disposition. The former results in frustration, the later results in complacency and a bad reputation in the long run. Cutting down work hours from 8 to 4 does provide enough time to pursue a more satisfactory and rewarding line of work but it does not guarantee contentment. Even removing excessive spendings does not guarantee happiness. A beggar can be as depressed as a king. Quantifying the human variable and replacing it with an active insinuating clause, i.e corporations or any aggregation of people is flawed. I do agree with the human tendency for finding consolation in the physical and related in a detrimental reverse to satisfaction. There are a lot of frustrated folks in the world. They seemingly make no sense because they are ggenuinely unable to make sense of your hypothesis. To them, I would stare with disbelief, shrug-off and ignore. To those that came here believing you to be a smaller portion of a greater whole residing somewhere else, them, I would shake my head at. They have no gall to accuse you in real. They are disillusioned themselves and desperately in need of a reason for their voluntary servitude. It brings them consolation to play with your mind because they have no mind. What little they did have, they spent it already. All the things being said, it was interesting to read another INTJ’s ideas about the human condition.

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Bastiaan March 22, 2014 at 12:03 am

Hey David,

I really enjoyed reading this article. This article touches the core of my beliefs. I was living this lifestyle for over 7 years. Working 40+ hours a week from 9 to 5 (often longer), 5 days a week. I had to work this much to sustain my lifestyle.. I had a house, big mortgage and luxury things.

3 years ago i decided to quit, sell my house and travel. Best decision I’ve ever made. Now 3 years later I have my own online business. I can work anywhere in the world and decide when I want to work, not when society tells me to work. Very inspiring eye-opening article.

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