"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." --proverb, 1659
America: let's admit it and tell the truth about a not so secret "secret" that too often defines how much we enjoy life. Or don't. We work too much. Way too much. And when it comes to play and playing? Well, we play, have fun, chill out, decompress, vacation, get away, rest from our labors much too little. Just look at the rest of the world, who seem so much better at having a good time than we "nose to the grindstone" American workers.
Eighty five point eight percent of American men and 66.5 percent of American women work more than 40 hours per week, among the highest numbers in the industrialized world . Add up all those extra hours and overtime and we end up working 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.
Don't even get me started on how we Americans labor so much more than our French friends, who while we grab a soggy bagel on the frenzied rush to work? They get to slow down and eat a fresh baked croissant in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower on a warm spring morning in Paris, all while humming a jaunty tune, as accordion music plays in the background..
Yes, that's hyperbolic and yet there is some truth to it. Like that the French are among the majority of western countries that mandate for every worker at least 20 paid days off per year. In France you get a whole month off to play! In the U.S. we average just 13 vacation days per year and I'll bet chances are good that you don't always take all of your days off. Do you?
I'm not anti-work. We all need to work: to make money, to support our loved ones, to find fulfillment, to make a difference, to be creative, to make a home, to raise our kids. Most days I like the work I do and many days I absolutely love it. But what I always need to remind myself is that I am not my work. I do work but finally it does not define my essence, who I am, and who God makes me to be.
God makes us not just to toil away but to take regular Sabbaths too. "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy," the Lord said to Moses, in the fifth of God's ten commandments. And so Christians and Jews and Muslims: we all are invited to claim at least a weekly Sabbath, true rest from work. That's what we are supposed to do. That means no weekend emails or work texts. No sneaking into the office. No working on a project after the kids have gone to bed.
Because God knows (and I suspect we do too) that all work and no play does make you and I and all the other overworked Americans dull and tired and cranky and spent. The more we work the less precious time we have for family, for faith, for fun, for friends, for sure. Heck if our President plays golf every weekend, can't we at least take a little more time for ourselves too? Claim a hobby. Sing in a choir. Create art. Build furniture. Play trivia. Plant a garden. Cook like a master chef. Ride your bike. Volunteer to help those in need.
And just play. PLAY!
Not as the exception to your rule of work but as a necessary balance in this life, something to keep you sane and to nurture your soul. The wisest folks I know are the ones who both know both how to work and how to play. They also tend to be the happiest too. And not all of them are from France either.
What will you do this day, this weekend, this summer, to play? So I dare you. Put down the briefcase. Shut off the phone. Close the laptop. Punch the time clock and don't look back. Because while work might seem endless, life is limited. We've only got so many days left to take a Sabbath. Who wants this as an epitaph on our gravestones: "I wish I had worked more."
I wish to play more. That's my prayer today. Go ahead. Enjoy a croissant and take a break from work, work that can wait. But life? It waits for no one.