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How Less Work can Make the World Better



Among the more pleasurable strategies for social change are More Vacations, Shorter Work Weeks, and Naps.

These three approaches are part of a very healthy trend in Western cultures -- away from maximizing monetized production and consumption (which get measured by Gross Domestic Product) and towards optimizing our quality of life (which get measured by ... uh... well, it seems we SHOULD have some measure for it if we want to increase it...).

As cultures, we Westerners produce and consume -- and speed around -- much more than is healthy for us, for our communities, for third and fourth world nations, and for the natural world we impact. If we can all slow down and stop wildly producing and consuming, we could give ourselves and the world around us a chance to catch our breaths and heal a bit. More time off gives us more time to play -- and more time to play our roles as active citizens, community members and agents of social change and cultural evolution.

This powerful life improvement strategy can be pursued both at the individual level AND at the level of social policy. We can make "less work" not only socially acceptable, but built-into our way of life and even into government policy and law. This effort is already starting. Consider these:

- MORE VACATIONS.  I first ran across this campaign in the Sept/Oct 2000 Utne Reader, which refered me to "Join the Vacation Campaign". Check it out if you are tired of the U.S. lagging pitifully behind the Europeans and the Japanese in the realm of annual vacation time.

- SHORTER WORK WEEKS:  I hear the Swedes are about to make 37.5 hours/week their official standard.  Back in FDR's era, the 1930's, the US government was trying to decide if they should reduce unemployment by reducing the work-week (to 30 hours, as labor wanted, which would create more, shorter jobs) or by creating a consumption-promoting economy (as business wanted, which would increase production and profits).  Sadly (and not surprisingly) the government chose the latter course -- and now we're working _more_ than 40 hours per week.  (See - click on "Publications" then "Choice of Work Hours" - for a fascinating history of this.) Perhaps we could start turning back this trend.  A quick way to shorten the work-week is with part-time work.  Combining programs to illegalize discrimination against part-time workers (see with life-simplification approaches like Joe Dominguez' and Vicki Robin's book YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE or , we could raise our quality of life even as our incomes went down and our free time went up!  Not a bad deal. I wonder which union will start this healthy trend....

- NAPS:  Naps?  Yes, naps.  I didn't have it on my list, either, until I read the article below (thank you, Susan Strong). I never realized what a good idea it was. But we should probably leave nap policy to the unions, enlightened companies, and individual workplaces and homes, rather than getting laws passed on this (zzzz!)...  

I thought you'd find all this interesting. Take a break and enjoy it! Or roll up your sleeves and take some action to change this cultural treadmill for everyone...


Tom Atlee

eco.logic  <<->>  July 2000
by Ann Hancock <>
(for free e-subscription to eco.logic -- or to comment -- write Ann)




Anne Seeley takes a nap every day with her husband. In our harried, speed-cranked world, napping seems like a vestige of the past. Yet, this dynamic couple swears that a siesta midday enables them to lead better lives. Napping also contributes to a positive future, as I will describe.

I first learned about Anne's nap habit from a friend who wanted to include Anne, Chairperson of Concerned Citizens of Santa Rosa, in an afternoon meeting. To my friend's consternation, Anne told her that she could not attend because she would be napping. How unusual, admirable and intriguing, I thought. Anne must be elderly to be so protective of her naps.

When we finally met, I learned that we are, in fact, about the same age. Curious, I asked Anne if the rumors about her taking regular naps were true. Yes, she answered, and then told me her story.

When she was in college she discovered how sleeping midday gave her a boost. She followed her parents' practice of napping regularly. She and her husband Brien began napping together when she was in nursing school and he was in medical school. When their children were young, they benefited from spending extra time with their daddy, were willing to take naps beyond the age that most children stop, and seemed less cranky than others. Once the children went to sleep in the evening, Anne and Brien enjoyed many productive hours to themselves.

For more than 25 years, Brien has come home from his medical practice for lunch and a fifty-minute nap with Anne. Although this unusual routine sets them apart from others-for example, Brien declines most lunch meetings-the Seeleys feel that they live more attuned to the natural rhythm of their bodies. This time out "refreshes and recharges--almost like starting the morning again," says Anne. "Our culture doesn't give permission for people to follow good sense. Instead, we push on even though we are tired.

"Work is better when there's the promise of being able to drop out for a while. Plus, it's a delight to have this cozy time with someone you love. People say they can't set aside time for naps, but it's a habit that can be cultivated," Anne affirmed.

Beyond contributing to lives that are less cranky, and more productive, more refreshed, cozy, and loving, here is how napping can help create a positive future. Imagine viewing the Earth from outer space. We observe furious human occupation: driving, bulldozing, chainsawing, constructing huge edifices, manufacturing and transporting mountains of products and waste, digging up minerals, pumping out oil, jetting around the globe, shooting satellites into orbit. Busy, busy. Hurry, hurry. Like termites on speed, we are devouring the planet.

Now imagine if everyone would just  s-l-o-w  d-o-w-n .  Ahhhh.  Such benefits this would bring us. Time to smile, breathe deeply, and reflect. Time to meander instead of rushing from point A to appointment B. Time for a siesta.

"Sleeping is very sustainable." More sleep not only attunes us to our own bodily rhythms, it also puts us in a generally more sympathetic relationship with nature. When we are sleeping, we are not wreaking havoc. We are not pumping methyl bromide into the atmosphere, emitting carbon monoxide, knocking down apple trees, or extinguishing any species.

From Earth's perspective, humans would be less destructive if instead of doing, we would NOT do--how Zen. I am not suggesting that we stop all activity, but merely that we pause from our current destructive frenzy.

When I think of activities that are more Earth-friendly, they are the same ones that for me are richer and joy-filled: Tenderness with friends and loved ones, learning through exhilarating conversation, enjoying a garden's glow at dusk, convulsing with laughter, teaming up and solving tricky problems, pushing the body to its limits, and napping luxuriously.

By the way, half way through writing this column, my eyes grew heavy; I took a break and napped. The Seeley's habit might be catching.