Americans are inundated with articles, podcasts and videos purporting to teach us various methods of how we can become our higher, better selves. How to be more productive, more healthier, wealthier and wiser. Entire blogs and podcasts are dedicated to time management, leadership and entrepreneurship. And each January there are countless articles on making New Year’s resolutions, how to keep them and how to succeed at anything we put our mind to. The internet is a digital swamp of articles on forming new habits and how-to’s on reaching our goals. TED Talks anyone? But is all of this self-improvement vain, narcissistic even?
Americans in particular seem to be prone to being more driven than other western cultures—to do and be more. Whether this is a result of us trying harder over the last several hundred years to catch up to our European cousins and other ancient civilizations, this obsession with self-improvement is a grand distraction and a master illusion.
The typical U.S. worker at a private company gets 10 days of paid vacation and six paid holidays per year. That is markedly less than what employees in Europe receive. France has the most generous vacation policy, mandating a minimum of 30 paid days off per year. The U.K. comes in at No. 2, at 28 vacation days, followed by Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden (25 days). Indeed, our own President is said to sleep very little and can be found calling people or tweeting in the middle of the night. And his work ethic is lauded by everyone.
And it’s killing us. Life expectancy at birth is lower in the United States than other industrialized countries for both women and men. The life-expectancy gap between the United States and other countries narrows somewhat at older ages, but still exists. According to a Peterson-Kaiser study, in 1980, the average life expectancy at birth was similar in the United States to comparable countries. However, while the United States gained five years of life expectancy in the subsequent decades, the average comparable country with similar GDPs and average income gained seven years.
But it isn’t just the length of our life that matters. Americans are more anxious and depressed than ever. With little time to invest in relationships and meaningful endeavors, we have bought into this illusion that we can make more time if we just use the time we have more wisely or somehow become a better version of ourselves. And that’s not to say that we shouldn’t try to live our best in the short time we are here. What I take issue with is how all of this pressure to do more with the little time we have only adds to our stress and decreases our self-worth when we fail to maintain rigid schedules that are supposed to give us a better life.
I also take issue with the fallacy that we have that much control over changing ourselves. As fragile failed humans, we live in a fallen and broken world. We are like the man who looks in a mirror, walks away, and forgets what he looks like. So instead of making resolutions that will more than likely add stress to your stress, relax and recognize that you are not in control of everything. The bible also tells us that, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.” So by all means, make a plan, but for God’s sake, slow down, smell the roses, and remember: you’re just a non-playable character in a digital simulation. Everyone’s race ends at the same finish line and you never know when you’ll be taken out of the game. #Reignwell