Why Work?

Dear friend,

The criticism that most Americans get is that we “work too much”. But what does that even mean? Is it desirable to work more, or less? Why work at all?

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To start off, how do we even define “work”?

I don’t think the word, “work” is a good word. Why? When most people talk about work, it is unpleasant. I think we think of work as “toilsome labor” (undesirable stuff we gotta do, in order to make money, to feed ourselves and pay rent).

But I kind of like the biological/scientific concept of “energy”, which means the “capacity to do work” (work as defined through kinetic and potential energy).

Also, when doing research on wiktionary, the Ancient Greek word for work is ἔργον (érgon) which has similar ties to the word “energy”.

Or you can see “work” as doing action.

For myself, I’m the happiest when I’m working on “creative work”: when I am expending my energy to ACTIVELY MAKE stuff, whether it be making ideas, making words, making pictures, making videos, etc. To me, this is more fun than passively taking in entertainment. Of course, we must still consume— consume ideas from others, consume art from others, and consume food to survive.

In Vietnamese, the word work is “lam an”, which literally means to “do food”; do something in order to procure food.

So traditionally in Vietnamese, you had to labor in order to procure food for yourself, because if you didn’t labor/work, you would obviously starve to death.

But in today’s society, where we are actually dying from over-eating and over-nutrition; what is the functional purpose of work, beyond perhaps paying rent?

Many of us get our sense of purpose in life through the employment or work we do. Some of us are lucky to have a job we’re passionate about, that we actually enjoy “going to work”.

But then again, I see a lot of people who work more and more and more because they desire to get more money, power, influence, etc. But is this desirable?

Well, there’s nothing wrong with having more power, money, and influence in life. But I think it’s important for us to consider,

Why do I work?

Make it a personal question.

I think most of us work for money, and money is a tool for us in modern society to procure what we need and desire. We trade our time, labor, energy, attention, and power in order to get money. We then trade our money for accommodation, food, drink, coffee, electronic devices, clothes, cars, etc.

But I think this is where we go wrong: we use money as a “point system” to quantify our self-worth and progress in life. We treat money like gold in a video game; we think that by gaining more gold, gaining more weapons, more equipment, we are somehow better equipped to “level up”, and become level 99 (once we maxed out all our attributes and have all the rare items) and then we will be happy and satisfied forever.

But, if we do hypothetically reach level 99, will we truly be happy and satisfied for the rest of our life?

Let’s say you lived in a society or world where you were given a “basic income”, free lodging, and the necessities you need to live. For example, you’re given a basic house, enough food to feed yourself, WiFi, water, and heating.

But, you can still work to earn extra money. Or you can just expend your mental/physical energy to do whatever you want. What would you do with your life, time, energy, and hours of the day?

I don’t have the answer for you, but I suggest you to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Why do I work?
  2. How much money do I “need” in life, versus desire? What does money even mean to me, on a philosophical basis?
  3. What kind of work gives me the most pleasure, meaning, and sense of purpose in life?

Seek to know yourself,

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