Time and attention deficits are making people unhappy

We are aware that the modern work life can take a hefty physical toll on our human bodies because of the ensuing fast pace, pressure, stress, etc.  But what about the mental toll?  What is making people unhappy?  We cannot possibly aim to be fit and healthy to tackle the world’s problems without tending to our psychological needs.  After all, humans require motivations and incentives to thrive and strive.  Otherwise, we get bored and demoralized easily.  How can NATORZ offer meaning, value and enjoyment?  After we feed our bodies, what do we need to nourish our minds and souls?

Our group strongly felt that it is an area that needs our full attention in order to attract a majority of people to widely accept and adopt NATORZ.  For it to be successful, we have to make it desirable and appealing enough to substitute the current lifestyle.  First, we need to understand what is making people unhappy now before we can figure out the opposite.  We devoted today to explore the potential formula.

We looked to what we have learned from our Psychology class about Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: physiological need, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization.  The physiological and safety needs are mostly met by the majority in developed countries now and can be taken care of by the structural basis of a future sustainable, self-sufficient and resilient NATORZ. The question is: How do we go about to instill and foster an environment that will encourage the rest?

Currently, the capitalist incentive offers us money rewards as a possible means to achieve all ends.  We are misled to believe that money can buy almost anything.  For the less gullible, we are deluded to think that we have to make enough money to feel secured first before we can pursue other higher needs.  But in the end, we are all caught up in this elusive chase of money that sees no limit.  For most people in the U.S., we have enough money for survival.  Instead, our group realized, we have a problem of time deficit and attention deficit.

The overwork schedule deprives us in both respects: It leaves us with less time as well as less mental and physical energy to be attentive.  There is a reason for a workday to be traditionally recommended to an eight-hour limit.  A slogan of the Eight-hour Day movement in 1886 stated, “Eight hours for work, eight hours for rest and eight hours for what you will.”  Somehow over time, it has been eroded.  Nowadays with constant access to the internet, most people’s workday never ends along with the blurring of the physical space between home and office.

So, what gives?  Why can’t people just work as much as they can?  Apparently, there are many side effects.  The obvious ones include physical symptoms, like fatigue, sleep deprivation, depression, anxiety, immune system problems, etc.  Mental acuity is also diminished like creativity and judgment.  This work time invasion of our private time makes it difficult for us to fully wind down, relax and recover while we are playing catch-up all the time, leading to eventual burnout for some people.  It also robs us time to indulge in and cultivate personal interests and hobbies where our true passions usually belong, and severely curtails our quality of life and the balance that keeps us sane at times.  Furthermore, without time for introspection and contemplation, we also suffer a disconnection between our internal and external environment.

The time deficit also aggravates the second problem.  When our brain is physically and mentally drained, we end up developing very short attention span.  We do not want to and cannot think about what is not personal and not affecting us directly and immediately.  On an individual level, we may grow impatient and distracted, escape from responsibility, take rash actions, make mistakes, or become mentally sick.  The cognitive dissonance can be exhibited by what we want or intend to do and what we actually end up doing if we do anything at all.

When manifested on a societal level, we, as a country, may become apathetic, irrational or powerless in dealing with complex societal problems.  We have a lot of excuses, but the results are the same.  We choose to stick with the status quo, opt for the path of least resistance, or kick the can down the road.  We delay, avoid or shut out anything that is too difficult or too upsetting.  We become especially indecisive or confused, and even numbed and unresponsive at worse, in the face of abstract and indirect potential dangers, like climate change, and pay a high price for our inertia.  The irony is that while seeking that illusory peace of mind, we still cannot escape from all the disturbing events and evidences from global warming that keep piling up in front of our eyes.

The recent popularity of meditation, mindfulness and reconnection with nature may help some people to bridge the gap between their inner and outer thoughts as a coping mechanism.  But the palliative effect is only tentative and ephemeral when the root cause is not being dealt with.  Given the enormity and pervasiveness of our climate predicament, there is no way to avoid it.  At the end of the day, no one lives in a bubble and we are intimately connected to each other and to our natural environment.

We are squeezed in every direction: at home, at work, in the public sphere, physically and mentally, inwardly and outwardly, and individually and communally.  Even if we can manage in one area, we are still being bombarded in another area.  Of course, we are unhappy and desperately need relief.  Our group recognizes that the myriad of causes, effects and solutions is over our heads and beyond the scope of our objective and ability, but we agree that restoring the work-life balance is definitely the first step we should take to unravel this mess.  We like the idea of the eight-hour workday mandate and absolutely want to reinstitute it in our NATORZ.  We understand that the way to go forward on a difficult path may require us to take one small step at a time.

Let us imagine what if…