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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.


Related to this article:

How to Make Trillions of Dollars

An Interview with The Man

Photo by joelogon

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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.

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.)

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

todopabloneruda June 30, 2013 at 1:09 am

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It is lovely price enough for me. In my view, if all webmasters and bloggers made good content as you did,
the internet can be much more useful than ever before.

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.

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,


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.

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

Yes! Finally something about sex shop.

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.

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.

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.

Giovanni December 10, 2013 at 8:16 pm

David have you checked out fellow Canadian engineer Mr. Money Mustache’s blog? http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/

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.

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.

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)

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.

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.

Tomek July 30, 2013 at 4:46 pm

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

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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!)

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.

Dale August 7, 2013 at 11:20 am

Working on simply living, your words have helped!

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.

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.

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”.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

Conscious August 17, 2013 at 8:26 am

Great piece.

Adrian August 17, 2013 at 2:59 pm

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

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!

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.

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.

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 http://www.alastairhumphreys.com/
about microadventures. Nice idea, perhaps worth giving a try? cheers

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.


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”.

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.

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.

Ajinkya August 24, 2013 at 10:18 am

Here’s something very pertinent to what you wrote http://futurechallenges.org/local/gesperspectives/the-three-ways-to-grow-brands-and-how-they-affect-you/
the article discusses what drives the brand growth agenda and illustrates how it affects our lives with examples.

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.

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!

thebugstampinmomma.blogspot.com 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.

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.

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:


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.

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.

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 :) —

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.

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.

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.

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.

Missing Point October 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm

Linking your excellent article on Industry Whore Forum:

David October 22, 2013 at 6:13 pm

Great article; The honesty is appreciated.

The author might consider joining the Church of Stop Shopping. http://www.revbilly.com/

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.

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.

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).

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.

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


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.

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 …

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.

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.

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.

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.

Adriene October 29, 2013 at 6:18 pm

Je suis tout à fait en accord avec vous

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 !

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!

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.

Ann June 25, 2014 at 11:26 pm


Can you expand on this? Im very interested in it. But I though higher production has to go hand in hand with consumption of that production.

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Rich December 31, 2013 at 7:56 am

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

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?

Déborah Mesquita January 27, 2014 at 5:46 am

Fascinating, thank you!

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.

Thanks for writing it!

Cheers, Bastiaan

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LeAnne Parrish June 23, 2014 at 7:46 am

This is a lovely opinion but it is totally distanced from American Labour History–in which Americans died to secure the 40 hour work week as defined in the still-existing Fair Labour Standards Act (1938).

It is NOT some benevolent gift from a mighty corporation to increase spending and structure the small-man’s commercial life in a profit-seeking way. It IS something Americans have fought for and earned. Unless you prefer to go back to sweat shops, cheap and child labour and 60-80 hours weeks?

Our spending habits of buying cheap have, perhaps, re-introduced humans to Corporations as human capital, but not our work habits. We have fought hard, long years for the latter.

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Richard June 26, 2014 at 2:31 pm

I just wanted to say that I really agree with your closing.

I stopped being homeless about a year and a half ago. I was without a “real” job for roughly 2 years. [oddly, I had more on my plate while unemployed, but that’s another story]

Coming back to “the normal world” has been a trip. There’s all kinds of odd habits and expectations people hold, social codes and ques that were automatic and unnoticed before, but now I’ve had to (slowly) relearn them.

I still feel out of sync, in many ways. I’m partially reintegrated, but even just those two minor years leave me feeling out of place in a number of ways. It’s really difficult to understand why people care about the things they care about, and it’s strange to see how we differ.

[I also succumbed, immediately, to the “spend a bunch of money” the moment I had money again. I’m getting back on the other side of that — but I miss having time to think, all the same.]

Just thought I’d share that I feel like I know where you’re coming from.

Lucy June 26, 2014 at 5:29 pm

This is a superb read! Also it’s worth adding that your employers keep you tied up for 40 hours to wear you down leaving you little time to learn to fish for yourself i.e. become self-employed and starting your own business, they don’t want to lose their dependent wage-slave, they want you in a trap!

HP June 26, 2014 at 7:33 pm

Read this article… and immediately came across a great antidote from Australia… (I work from home now…)


Morin June 26, 2014 at 10:36 pm

Gret post!Couldn’t describe the situation better! We managed to ‘escape’ this 40 hour workweek cycle a year ago. It’s not easy but I believe its manageable and definitely healthier – less working, more traveling and having a free time to actually live.

Harmaan June 27, 2014 at 5:04 am

Very well written. Very articulate, and to the point.
However, one key takeaway has to be that a lot of this realisation, or this epiphany if you could call it that, happened while you were travelling.
This is important, because space or distance often helps us to achieve clarity.
The “mouse on the wheel” syndrome is a self-fulfilling cycle which affects not just North Americans, but most working class people the world over.
Also, what you pointed out about working either full-time or not at all also holds true for most professionals, and so it ends up being a fait accompli for most.
In light of these, the best we can hope for is to take an annual holiday, and limit our unnecessary expenditures otherwise.

Chris Haslage June 27, 2014 at 7:46 am

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brydanger June 27, 2014 at 1:41 pm

I feel your pain.
We left our jobs to travel 2 years ago. Now the very premise of a 40 hour work week seems completely ridiculous.

We are trying to fight against “the cycle” in every way possible…got rid of the stuff, the car payments, the mortgage. Now trying to make ends meet without hopping back on the hamster wheel.

It’s incredible the shift in logic. The values and passions that we have now. Life is far to too short to live in a cubicle, to live with stress, or to live trying to keep up with “the joneses”…

Jeremy June 28, 2014 at 7:39 pm

My wife hates when I read articles like this (I think for fear we will end up in a van down by the river). But I think there’s a lot of truth to this, and sadly too many of us have bought into it. I just don’t see a lot of solutions being presented, and I don’t think we can say that everything technology or things like the Maker Movement have brought us are not helpful.

Julie June 29, 2014 at 10:03 pm

My husband (also an engineer) and I have returned from 10 months of travelling about 8 months ago, and your article rings true with our experience in every way.

We’re already back in the rut we desperately wanted to break away from in the first place. We both have full time jobs again, and as you’ve said, we’re spending more frivolously because we can, and because we no longer have all the time in the world to enjoy things at a slower pace.

Our friends and family would prefer that we conform to the rules that society has dictated so that we’re around, but it all feels so unfulfilling and meaningless… I already want to take off again.

Rudy July 3, 2014 at 12:09 pm

This reminds of the field of public health, where we know from research that larger systems (economic, racial, political) have big impacts on population health. And those working in it want to assume that the individual has almost no ability to fight against these massive and, in the minds of many, oppressive forces. Everything of course is easier if you have money–health, exercise, access to good schools, jobs, etc–and so if you lack such luxuries you are trapped and worse off. I do not entirely buy that and actually think that individuals have a lot of personal responsibility to shoulder. But the proportion of “individual responsibility” to control one’s destiny is definitely going to be determined by the cards we’re dealt. Sure, I’m brainwashed every day and told told to shop and eat crap food that leaves me prone to chronic diseases. But I also walk and cook my own healthy food, and shop very little too. Nothing is really black and white. Nothing.

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