As a nationally recognized relaxation advocate, I rarely engage in stressful activities such as thinking or reading. But recently I spotted these disturbing words on the back cover of a book: Relaxation makes us stupid.
My initial response was: Why book thing make words me not like?!?
I flipped the book over and looked at the title: Rush: Why We Thrive in the Rat Race. Against my better judgment, I decided to find out why this author thinks we are better off working hard.
Early in the book, Todd Buchholz, economist and former White House director of economic policy under President George H.W. Bush, writes: The truth is, most people have a deep need to work and create. While this need can be quashed by bad habits and bad government policies, most people wake up in the morning and step onto a train, into a car or even into their home office wearing fluffy bedroom slippers in order to earn something. At the end of the day, on the surface they may have earned dollars, euros or wampum. But what they are really trying to earn is self-respect and the respect of others.
Through a combination of neuroscience, anthropology and economics, Buchholz asserts that we are wired to work hard and be competitive, and that our true nature is to stay challenged.
Another passage: Work makes us happier, more eager to wake up the next morning. Those frontal cortexes of ours like us to move forward. Our hominid ancestors who survived thousands of years of struggle against predators, competitors and the brutal environment had to be thinkers and tinkerers. Most people prefer the surge of dopamine that comes with new challenges and the brain bath of oxytocin that comes when we banter with co-workers around the photocopier.
But it seems like dreading work and complaining about it is an occupation of its own.
I asked Buchholz why. He said our culture has shifted. We once had a willingness to work hard and be content in the religiously driven belief that a paradise awaited us in the afterlife.
As those traditional views have fractured and frayed in the last 100 or 200 years, we have less confidence that scores will be settled in the end, Buchholz said. We started believing more that our everyday life should be like a vacation.
Hes not advocating that we go back to contentedly waiting for heaven. Not at all. What hes saying is that we may have swung a bit far in the other direction, convincing ourselves that relaxation and some vague concept of inner peace are the things that will bring us joy.
Buchholz dares us to, in the simplest of terms, suck it up and quit whining about our jobs and stressful lives. This doesnt mean settling. It means charging forward without fear of competition or too much stress or too big a workload. It means putting our workday woes into a different framework and saying, This might feel like a drag, but what would I be doing if I had nothing to do?
People need time off, chances to disconnect from work and rest minds and bodies. But Buchholz makes a reasonable argument that we need work far more than were willing to admit. And that embracing our drive to compete might just be part of what we truly are human.
REX HUPPKE: Chicago Tribune workplace columnist. email@example.com, Twitter: @RexWorksHere