Maybe I’m writing this article because I’ve hit the point in the semester where the honeymoon phase of romanticizing how great my classes are and how easy they will be is over. Maybe I’m writing this essay because I'm at the age where one begins to question if their education will ever pay off. But most likely I’m writing this essay as a lazy college student who doesn’t look forward to working five days a week in a structured setting to only have two days off to fit our “life” into.
We owe it to ourselves to restructure the way we live to have four-day work weeks. We often hear about trying to get the perfect “work-life balance,” which is a phrase that makes me cringe. Can’t we live in a country that doesn’t make the words “life” and “work” as antonyms of one another?
I was inspired by a Tweet I saw that had a shockingly high number of engagements. Seeing a tweet with 100,000 retweets and 610,000 likes, I knew for sure that it had hit the sweet spot in our digital psyche. In my opinion, this “sweet spot” is a Tweet that hits one or two of these six main categories; reassuring humanity, major world events, universal human truths, political feelings, cute animals and calling attention to a quirk of human behavior or history.
Therefore a cute dog wearing an “I Hate Democrats” T-Shirt is a double whammy of political feelings and cute animals and always ends up in front of eyes that will unthinkingly gobble it up.
The last one, calling attention to a quirk of human behavior was the category appealed to in the Tweet that inspired this article. It goes as follows: “We need a 3 day weekend: 1 for errands, 1 for social activities, 1 for staying in bed like we’ve got some Victorian wasting disease.”
Once again, 610,000 likes. My first thought was, “haha, that’s kinda funny!” My second thought, however, was having this many people like this Tweet and finding it relatable may be a sign of increasing discontent with the system we find ourselves toiling in.
The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that the latter explanation was more valid. I realized how many conversations I’ve had with peers when the dreaded question of what you want to do with your degree after graduating comes up. Very few people excitedly say, “Pediatrician! Supply Chain Analyst! Nurse!” All of which are very fine and engaging careers and I have no place to question people's motives.
However, what I do hear a lot more is: “I have no idea, but something interesting and not in a cubicle 9-5,” which is pretty much what I say. Is our generation that privileged to complain about the jobs our grandparents or great-grandparents would take in a heartbeat? I would argue no, it’s just that we have come to expect more from life. We have come a long way in America, in a good way, and it’s more than okay to want more than two days off.
Theoretically, Sunday is meant to be our day of relaxation, yet it has shifted in America to some sort of day of rectifying our shortcomings. We try to eat healthily, work out, recover from our hangovers, ponder our decisions, go to family dinners, church and do the work we put off for Monday. I guess this day of rectification makes sense in a religious context, but I would argue we can do better now.
Especially in America, we are incredibly lucky to have such a strong, well-developed service economy, where many people in cities don’t know anyone who does manual labor. Obviously, there are populations left out of this development that still depend on industry, and they are often overlooked, but I will address that later on.
For, potentially, the most robust economy the world has ever seen, we have the highest per-capita incarceration rate, highest level of obesity, highest amount of student debt and second highest self-reported levels of depression, according to World Health Organization estimates. I think it’s because we feel trapped into rigid ways of life that aren't anything like what we as humans have evolved to do.
We as Americans have very little attachment to the land we live on and to the people we call family. Say what you will about our country’s roots in rugged individualism and capitalism but it objectively doesn’t prioritize our land or having time to enjoy it with our loved ones. We clearly didn’t evolve the way we did to spend all day in an office, staring at screens, and eating such processed foods, but I don’t think that this will change anytime soon, so we need to adapt.
On Saturday and Sunday, we can do all the things we can’t fit in the work week, and on Monday, we should have no societal expectations placed on us.
Thoreau argues that man is meant to be in solitude sometimes. Our current working conditions don’t allow us to do that; this is the hole that Monday can fill. When was the last Saturday you walked outside and could do anything you wanted that day? Even though Saturdays are one of our fun days, we have dinner parties and weddings that feel more like chores. The days without these are fleeting, but the few and far in between times are so strange we almost don’t know what to do with ourselves.
As Thoreau says in “Walden,” “I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life.”
I found this fascinating because the one time Thoreau questioned spending so much time outside the structures of society was early on before establishing a routine. This reminds me a lot of my summers. The first few days without a schedule I always found myself anxious and lost, but rapidly would be in a much better mood than I was with a schedule. I believe that people, like the old me, who feel they need a rigid routine may just not be willing to sit through the rough transition period.
Thoreau argues that meditation and solitude have led to some of the most profound changes in him as a man. 2020 added strong proof to this idea in my eyes. Due to the pandemic, everyone was at home with lots of time to reflect on our seemingly distant past of busy weeks.
I think this time of thinking led to a feeling that anything could change after the pandemic. Probably because Americans saw so many things we never would’ve thought possible happen so quickly; our entire school system transitioned to virtual learning overnight — we would have called that impossible before.
More so, people of all colors stood together to protest police brutality after the murder of George Floyd. No wonder there was a feeling of systemic change in the air. It just didn’t translate to our “work-life balance.”
But now, guess what? People don’t want to go back to some of our old ways. For example, many Americans don’t want to go back to the physical office, for a myriad of reasons. They have more time to read, paint, go for a walk, garden and just generally do things that make them happy. Also, no commute means even more time and less pollution.
All these things seemed locked in place in America, where our willingness to stand up to corporations and the status quo is much less than others. Why not a four-day workday?
Some would argue that productivity will decrease and that will hurt our economy in the long run, setting us back. Many have studied this, including the Icelandic government, and they seem to dispute this claim. According to the study, “Productivity remained the same or improved in the majority of [workplaces],” researchers said. “The trials led unions to renegotiate working patterns, and now 86% of Iceland's workforce have either moved to shorter hours for the same pay, or will gain the right to.”
If the United States really had a stronger culture of standing up to corporations, like Nordic countries, we could do the same, and we should do the same.
Some opponents will question the urgency of the problems of workers with the privilege to work in an office for a salary when we have people who are literally wage-slaves in our own country. I believe this is a fairer critique than the productivity one.
What I propose is for hourly jobs, there should be a max amount of hours possible. Along with this, there needs to be an increased hourly wage, so that those who currently work upwards of fifty hours a week don’t take a hit from having to work less hours.
According to a BBC article, the nation of France currently has a system like this but it isn’t followed, as many jobs don’t keep count. French full-time workers do, however, work about 15% less per year than American workers. It is evident that we must keep count and hold corporations accountable, preventing workers from being manipulated into overworking.
Life is more than work. As one of the most famous quotes of Walden goes, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
We need this time, as it is much too fleeting to be confined by work. We need to reconnect with solitude, nature and the things that make us human. So hopefully, on Monday, we can do these things, or nothing at all, just to be
Martin Brown is a sophomore studying Political Science. Do you think we need more emphasis on relaxation? Send all comments to Opinion@dailycardina.com.