I have taken decisions in my life where I’ve turned down job offers that offered more money but required me to work longer hours. The reasoning was that I would have more free time to pursue other things that I’m interested in, like writing a blog post every day or reading a new book every week or writing jokes and performing standup comedy.
I know a lot of people who have made similar decisions — to value free time more than money (after a certain point). There have been several studies that have concluded this as well — that earning more money than a certain amount ($75000 a year in the US) has little to no effect on the happiness of people. After that point, it is the things they do with their time that can significantly impact their levels of happiness.
Now, let us say, every person optimizes their lives this way. Find good work that pays well until they reach that threshold (equivalent of $75000 in the US), and then spend the rest of their time doing things they enjoy more.
When people would rather spend two hours a day with their kids and reading books than earn another $25000 a year by working those two extra hours a day, you would expect the world to be a happier place.
But, that $25000 that people forego will not be spent on consuming things they don’t really need. This drop in consumption results in faltering growth for companies that make these things that these people don’t really need as their profits begin to slump. As a result, the overall market cap of the economy and hence the GDP, begins to fall.
This results in some of these companies cutting costs and laying off employees and/or forcing down their wages. And an equilibrium is reached only when those people that decided to spend two hours with their kids and reading books instead of working those two extra hours, now have to work those two extra hours just to make the original threshold ($75000 equivalent).
And the cycle repeats.
Our economy is not structured to allow people to work a few hours and have a few more hours free. Our incessant need for GDP growth results in a society where people need to constantly maximize their productivity and fill up as much of their time with work as possible.
It doesn’t really matter if we don’t value the things we can buy with the extra money we can make by working extra hours or not. We need to work those extra hours just to keep the semblance of our society and economy going.
There will always be a handful minority that exemplifies saying no to extra work and extra money in favour of extra free time and a significant majority looking up to them and hoping to be like them.
But they cannot do so. Because, once they do, they just shift the equilibrium to a new place which again results in a handful minority and a significant majority on opposite sides as before.
For the majority, free time is permanently elusive. Unless, we find a way to restructure our economy to make that graspable.
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