Karoshi- Work can kill.

Work is one of the most important determinants of our Happiness. http://www.healthylifehappylife.in/work-and-happiness/

“Hard work never killed anybody”. Yes- I have heard it many times. But there is a problem with that statement. The one who uttered it first may have believed it, but it isn’t true. It has- I mean- killed. The Japanese have a word for it- Karoshi. Many in our present day urban societies have dropped dead from exhaustion due to too much work.

Even if it doesn’t kill you, it can damage your health. The average blood pressure is higher in countries where people work more. It can kill off relationships and destroy the family. These two are the most important factors that determine long term life happiness.

What may induce people to do too much, and endanger their health and their relationships?

One line of thought is to think about it as a pure addiction. Hard work is highly valued. It boosts self esteem. You get praise and appreciation. One may get a high from the “Flow” of Mihaly  Csikszentmihalyi.  You get promoted and gain status. It may also act as an escape route for people with low self esteem, social mal-adaption, intimacy problems with spouse, and disinclination to invest in messy family affairs. It is much more socially accepted than plunging into alcoholism, compulsive gambling or other drugs. Seen in this light, at least some persons who overwork drastically may be having a sort of psychological illness.

But I don’t think that is true of most people. In fact, in certain countries more than half of affluent and even not so affluent may be overworking. All of them cannot be mad?

There are at least two reasons I can think of that will make people work mindlessly hard.

Unreasonably high goals are definitely one thing. Our society today teaches us that we are all similarly highly endowed with skills. Anybody can achieve anything, if they work hard and with passion. The self-help books exhort us to go all out ‘to get what is due’ and to “claim your rightful place in the universe’. All of us are born to rule. Beat everyone else. And thus gain unlimited self-esteem. “How to become a billionaire in 90 days”, “Think and become CEO” are, I believe, popular reads.

The ideas that anybody can do anything, and that our opportunities are limitless are the BIG Lies of our times. All of us have skills, tastes and limitations. A five foot two twenty year old is simply not fit for professional basketball. We have to have some self awareness and decide what we want to do. Unreasonable goals have been found to be a potent source of unhappiness, and even Depression. But then you might say- but what if I want to be a Hollywood star? Didn’t you just say that personal values and goals have to be followed? Well, strictly speaking, I said that good personal values and goals will increase well-being. You have to decide what is good.

The second reason is the treadmill. http://www.healthylifehappylife.in/the-pursuit-of-happiness-why-is-it-like-running-on-a-treadmill/   Work is a source of money. Work can bring us prestige and status. As we have seen, prestige, status and money can bring happiness to an extent. But we should remember that it is the relative position that actually determines it. So as everyone in a particular society aspires and gets more, it pressurises every other individual to work more. Everyone runs faster on the treadmill to the detriment of everyone else.

The implications are not pleasant. Our widespread notion is that if somebody works more and earns more, it is his private matter. He is not harming anyone. But the concept of relative status means that when one amasses wealth by working excessively, it actually decreases the relative income of others. It smacks of Communism and the need for forced equality.

The problem is that communist countries have always had, according to studies, the unhappiest people in the world. Historically it has been a vehicle of misery. People want to be autonomous and free. They want to be left free to pursue their goals that may include competing for money and status. What to do now?

Plus you may argue that in a developing country like ours, wont people balancing out their ambitions and working only optimally hurt the economy? How can we help people out of poverty without wealth being generated? Doesn’t relentless hard work have a role?

Didn’t Albert Einstein and Thomas Alva Edison overwork? Did the world wonder whether their families suffered? Does true greatness come from tempering your ambitions? Did Madame Curie think that Radium may ultimately kill her due to radiation sickness?

Did Amitabh Bachan think that his goal of becoming a star was unreasonable? Didn’t great writers resign their secure jobs to follow their passion?

Don’t ask me. My narrative has to follow a scientific path. But human beings are not always logical. There are no logical answers to all questions. And discussing some of them requires more talent to throw Bullshit around than I possess.

You can also read my book- “Health and Happiness without Bullshit’ . Get it from Amazon.in

Dr Jimmy

I am a Doctor, Writer and Science Communicator. I am a member of Info- Clinic, and have written a few books. This site features my blog posts and stories. Thank you for visiting. ഞാൻ എഴുതാൻ ഇഷ്ടമുള്ള ഉള്ള ഒരു ഡോക്ടർ ആണ് . നിങ്ങളുടെ താത്പര്യത്തിന് നന്ദി .