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Inspired by a book, TikTok user explains why many of us overwork ourselves without free time

Author Celeste Headlee's 'Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving,' takes a hard look at why most of us have an unhealthy devotion to efficiency and are literally working ourselves to death.

Inspired by a book, TikTok user explains why many of us overwork ourselves without free time
Cover Image Source: TikTok/simplifying.sam

In her book, "Do Nothing: How to Break Away from Overworking, Overdoing, and Underliving," author Celeste Headlee highlights how most of us today have an unhealthy devotion to efficiency and are literally working ourselves to death. "Despite our constant search for new ways to 'hack' our bodies and minds for peak performance, human beings are working more instead of less, living harder not smarter, and becoming more lonely and anxious. We strive for the absolute best in every aspect of our lives, ignoring what we do well naturally. Why do we measure our time in terms of efficiency instead of meaning? Why can't we just take a break?" the author asks.


The book—and Headlee's recommendations on how to reclaim our time and humanity—struck a chord with TikTok user Simplifying Sam who was so inspired by it that she made a 2-part video series on it. "If you are someone who can't take a single day off, or wake up at noon and not get ready without feeling completely terrible about yourself, hating yourself for not getting anything done, wishing you were more productive, not feeling relaxed at all even though you took the day off, then this is for you," she says in the first video.


"So I started reading 'Do Nothing' by Celeste Headlee. This book is going to make you question all the reasons why you overwork yourself, why you don't give yourself free time, why you believe that you are only good when you are being productive," Samantha continues. "To understand why we feel this way, we do have to go back in time and put this into context. So for like 300,000 years, Homo sapiens did not work 40 plus hours a week and we didn't even work 300 days a year. Going back as 4000 years ago to the days of Ancient Greece, we find Athenians had up to 60 holidays a year. And by the middle of the 4th century BC, there were nearly six months of official festival days on which no work was done at all."


"Work for the ancient Greeks was carried out in spurts—intense activity during planting or harvest, followed by extended periods of restless celebrations and feasts. Humans were pretty happy living this way for tens of thousands of years until about 1760 when the industrial age started in Britain. And up until the 19th century, only the wealthy could afford candles. So in the summer, the day was about 14 hours long and in the winter we only had 10 hours. So sun down, lights out," she explains in the video. "Now, the book does not try to suggest that you should go back to medieval England and be a serf on a plantation. Their quality of life definitely sucked. But even serfs who were essentially servants worked less than us right now."


Samantha goes on to recount that up until the dawn of the industrial age, people were mostly self-employed or were contractors making their own schedules. However, when factories started propping up, local business owners were forced to shutter their shops and take up positions on the factory floor. "And this is where the significant transfer of power begins, further stagnating social mobility. Cut to 1879. We now have the invention of the light bulb," the TikTok user says in the video. "The light bulb actually changed everything, because daytime initially signified waking hours, was in when the sun was up and when it when down. And now it was signifying working hours, meaning that we could work longer past when the sun went down."

"This is literally what led to labor unions. Workers were complaining that we should be working reasonable hours," Samantha explains. "People marched and protested and then was born the 8-hour workday." So how did we go from fighting for reasonable working hours to voluntarily answering work emails even during our days off? According to Samantha, this was the result of employers switching their battleground to culture and religion. "This is largely due to the fact that the Protestant work ethic views idleness as immoral and hard work as virtuous. If you live in the modern Western world, then you are a product of the Protestant work ethic, which was largely responsible for the growth of capitalism and the success of Northern Europe," she says in the second video in the series.


"At the same time, the idolization of hardworking people came into play with people like Benjamin Franklin... So we start to also see changes in language due to this evolving philosophy such as 'bootstrapping.' In the early 1800s, this literally meant to pull yourself over a fence using only your bootstraps, which was basically meant to do something completely ridiculous. This phrase later transformed to mean someone who was going to go from rags to riches through individual effort only and it became a serious compliment. These notions started to mirror the opinions of broader society, and now people were starting to idolize people like Henry Ford," Samantha continues.

@simplifying.sam My unsolicited presentation on why we should work less or why you think you should always work more #ihatecaptialism ♬ original sound - Samantha


"Even as the income gap continued to grow, many Americans actually convinced themselves that they could go from rags to riches through honest labor, and employers took advantage of this," she says. "If we zoom out, we can start to see how the industrialist desire to have fewer workers working more hours aligned with the religious belief that idleness is bad and hard work is good. So the glassblower who now has to work in a factory and can no longer set his own hours or wages begins to understand that time is money. Which now signals to Americans that idle hours are a waste of money. If our worth is our time spent at work and it's mixed with our identity, then we're going to feel stressed any time we're not at work. So who benefits from this? Your employer."

@simplifying.sam Thank you @Celeste Headlee !!! Excited to read the next one #productivity #selfworth ♬ Easy On Me - Adele


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