An article in the September-October issue of Harvard Magazine begins, “For all the hand-wringing over their failure to amass savings, Americans may actually be too disciplined.” The article explores the research of Anat Keinan, a professor at Harvard Business School, which reveals that Americans are often too productivity-obsessed, “viewing pleasurable pastimes as wasteful, irresponsible, and even immoral.”
In the activist community, taking time for oneself is often suspect, viewed with criticism. There is, after all, so much work to be done. Years ago, when I was hired by a non-proft, changemaking organization, employees had to work 52 weeks in order to get a single week’s vacation. The message was clear.
There are activists I know for whom endless work brings great joy because it is the “antidote to despair” that I wrote about in a previous blog post, quoting Joan Baez. But for many others, the constant effort to create change, the burden of guilt for indulging in pleasurable activities that don’t “make the world a better place,” and the self-imposed pressure to do good all the time can lead to burnout and depression. I’ve known many activists who’ve simply abandoned changemaking efforts or who suffer from stress-related physical problems and illnesses. This doesn’t do anyone any good.
In my book, Most Good, Least Harm, I profile several people in the section, “Live your epitaph,” who are endeavoring to make the world a better place. One of them, Melissa Feldman, a humane educator and friend of mine, said she wanted her epitaph to read thus: “Melissa did some good and had some fun along the way.” So simple.
Finding the balance that allows us to be happy, joyful people who are full of life and love and who also strive hard to create a better world utilizing our best selves is a challenge, one in which a bit of healthy guilt may spur us to work harder, and a bit of healthy self love may spur us to take care of ourselves and celebrate the glorious miracle of our own existence. This is no either/or but an important both, and that’s worth our effort to cultivate consciously, responsibly, and joyfully.
Image courtesy of hbp_pix via Creative Commons.
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