Where did the idea of a 40 hour work week come from? Are we all working too much? If we changed the way we operate our economy, might we all have to work less? Didn't we make up all these rules to begin with? Can't we change them? We all feel a little overworked, don’t we? Is this truly why we’re here? To work 40 hours a week for many years of our lives simply to survive within our society? A 2016 study published in the Melbourne Institute Worker Paper series found that people over 40-years-old perform best on a three-day work week.
The Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research at the University of Melbourne took 3,500 women and 3,000 men through a series of cognitive tests such as matching letters and numbers under time pressure, reading aloud, and reciting lists of numbers backwards. Analyzing those results with various other factors such as life quality, family structures, economic well-being, and employment, the team found that people who worked an average of 25 hours per week performed the best. What happens past 25 hours? Cognitive test results begin to drop due to stress and fatigue.
The study says: “These results indicate that, for both males and females, the magnitude of the positive impact of working hours on their cognitive ability is decreasing until working hours reaches a threshold, and above that, further increases in working hours have a negative impact on their cognitive functioning...
Then, where is the threshold? In other words, when does the impact of working hours on cognitive ability change from being positive to negative? ... Using the test scores of memory span and cerebral dysfunction for the respondents, it is found that working hours up to 25–30 hours per week have a positive impact on cognition for males depending on the measure and up to 22–27 hours for females... Our study highlights that too much work can have adverse effects on cognitive functioning.” Colin McKenzie, Professor of Economics at Keio University who participated in the research stated: “Many countries are going to raise their retirement ages by delaying the age at which people are eligible to start receiving pension benefits. This means that more people continue to work in the later stages of their life.
The degree of intellectual stimulation may depend on working hours. Work can be a double-edged sword. It can stimulate brain activity, but at the same time, long working hours and certain types of tasks can cause fatigue and stress which potentially damage cognitive functions. We point out that differences in working hours are important for maintaining cognitive functioning in middle-aged and elderly adults. This means that, in middle and older age, working part-time could be effective in maintaining cognitive ability.” Considering that the average adult finishes high school and attends university until around 22 years of age, that’s only about 18 years of work until they should theoretically be working part-time. Is it due to the fact that we’re overworked starting from high school, or maybe even earlier? What can be said about the number of tasks we do within that timeframe that we simply have no interest in? We see it in millennials as we see it in older generations, people are showing signs of burnout and overwork as our world continues to become more and more demanding and less connected. Not slowing down can lead to things like depression, fatigue, lack of sleep, excessive pain, poor relationships, and consistent cannabis, drug or alcohol use.
These are all issues that are incredibly prevalent in today’s society. Well first off, if we aren’t working 40 hours what could we do? We often hear the stories of people who retire and seem to go crazy, degrade or not know what to do. While there can be reasons for this that relate to not being sure how to slow down and enjoy life, there is also something to be said about having a lack of direction or task in life that can lead to feeling uneasy.
The Okinawan Centenarian Study has shown that the people who live the longest, and who also happen to be the happiest, don’t believe in the idea of retirement nor do they even have a word for it. In their experience, they ‘work’ their entire lives, but as you might imagine, their ‘work’ is much different than how we see it in the West.
The study indicates that people choose their jobs based on their ‘ikigai’, which is their cultural word to define purpose. In their eyes, their choices are driven by a deeper meaning to each person individually, not based on societal norms, culture or money. This sense of greater connection to self and ‘purpose’ allows them to contribute to their community in a meaningful way and also make them happier. We seem to approach many of our societal challenges with the mindset that we can create change as long as it fits within our current systems. However, our system, and our reactions to it, are providing a feedback loop that shows us things aren’t working, and that we are becoming more and more unhappy with how we’re living. While it’s true that through self-development one can find peace in many modern-day situations and challenges, the bigger question we may want to ask ourselves is: Do we want to keep living this way? Are we bored of the way life is? Get up, go to work for 40 years, come home, and maybe retire to explore more of this world ... one day. Is this what we’re capable of? Is this the life we want to continue to fight to protect? Or are we ready for something new? Think of the fact that the 40 hour work week is simply a response to an economy we made up and designed as humans. We don’t have to have it operate this way, we simply all agree to it. We’re agreeing to our own slavery, our own struggle, and our own demise in a sense. Can we not change this as a whole? What’s stopping us? Those ready to rethink their reality, life and society may enjoy exploring these big questions and more on our original CETV show, Elevate. Sign up for your free trial to start watching now. .
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