Working less: this is the solution that would make it possible to be happier in life according to a Cambridge researcher

Does your work take up too much of your time? Do you dream of dropping everything? Here is a less excessive solution to be happier: work less. That’s the advice offered by South African anthropologist James Suzman, who says we should learn from our hunter-gatherer ancestors who devoted little time to their work.

This researcher from Cambridge, in the United Kingdom, was interested in the question in his book Work: the great business of humanity. In this study, he calls on modern workers to slow down. His mantra: “work less to live happily”. His thesis is based on a comparison between our hunter-gatherer ancestors and our current society. The contrast is obvious: no stress or burnout during hunting and gathering. The researcher spoke for Die Zeit, whose article was translated by International mail, on his comparative study in which he invites us to radically rethink our relationship to professional activity. Here is a small summary of his thoughts.

Greed, jealousy, burnout

James Suzman first explains that in the time of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, work was above all devoted to meeting needs, such as “the search for food”. Nothing to do today, where work is no longer a question of need but of money. Now, “we spend an insane amount of time at work, even when there is nothing useful to do”. And this loss of meaning would influence our mood. “Many of us have forgotten how to find a job that makes us really happy”. This change in relationship to work has brought with it its share of negative charges. Thus, hunter-gatherers “didn’t face many of our modern problems, like greed, jealousy, or burnout. Since everyone participated daily in the search for food, there was no incentive to hoard provisions. There was therefore no form of competition, greed or any spirit of hierarchy”.

Do we still know what we like in life?

Even if everyone is more or less aware of it, “it will not be easy to change mentalities” according to James Suzman because a second problem appears: this new relationship to work is now part of our culture and our identity. “I observe that having a job has become a kind of obsession”, says the scientist before giving a telling example: “In the evening, when you are asked what you do, or who you are, you answer most time by your profession”. Therefore, our obsession with work prevents us from not working: “The idea of ​​having less work makes us panic, we moderns”. So we give less time to what we like. Worse, we no longer know what we like, for lack of time: “Today we are so used to seeing ourselves delegated work that we forget to look for other occupations”.

Fortunately, James Suzman concludes on a positive note and sees in the last successive confinements a glimmer of hope. We would begin to understand “that there is more to life than work. And that teleworking, for example, makes it possible to be more efficient and to devote less time to one’s job” and we “became aware of the importance of free time”.


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