Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Which Is Better:The Work Ethic Or The Leisure Ethic? Or Both?

August 23, 2010

A woman commented on her husband’s mentality. He was too grim, negative and uptight. He seemed to be always engaged in battle mode - find out what is wrong and eliminate it. He reacts to life as if it is an endless series of chores to be crossed off a list with a heavy sigh. His enthusiasm, his joy in living, his smiles, and his sense of humor have been lost among his sense of duty and obligation to his work.

She would love for him to loosen up - to laugh and to play once in awhile.

He has learned the work ethic well - too well. From childhood the message has been drummed in that rewards, prestige and success in life come through hard work. It’s true. If work has been chosen well, has meaning and significance, and draws out our strengths and talents, then deep satisfaction and positive emotions are the result.

The work ethic and negative emotions. However, when the work is seen as a battle against vicious dragons that are coming to get you, positive feelings are replaced by negative emotions of anger, fear, and sadness. The battle is more frightening when you have to face the dragon alone. The problem with many men is that they believe it is manly to fight and slay the dragon all by themselves.

Negative emotions are appropriate for situations where critical thinking is called for. Usually these are win/lose situations when all the chips are on the table. This isn’t work of play, creativity and excitement. This is the work of survival.

Fear and anxiety are our controlling emotions when we are in deadly competition, or when it is to eat or be eaten. Sadness and anger take over when the struggle is to avoid loss, or to repel trespass. A skeptical and analytical mind helps us to react defensively, and look out for number one when a lot rides on the decision.

The negative emotions get us ready to fight, flee, hunker down or give up. The analytical frame of mind helps us narrow our focus on the problem at hand. That is all we see or should see.

Going from win/lose to win/win. This is where the positive emotions fit in. Life isn’t always about battling dragons. Life has many situations where everyone benefits: courting and marriage, raising children, teaching and learning, constructing and creating, worshiping, reflecting, and playing together.

Good feelings such as joy, good cheer, contentment and happiness help us see opportunities for action. It is a different mind set. We are open to new ideas and new experiences. It is during these times of

security that we build up our emotional reserves, gain new skills and add resources. Instead of dragons, we see growth.

Positive feelings are a key to reaching out, exploring, cooperating, and gaining confidence. They are a spur to creativity. Happy people are more generous, like others better, are less self-focused, and tolerant. By living a balanced lifestyle with leisure, play, social life, spiritual and mental growth, they develop skills that are useful

during times of trauma and crisis.

Having positive emotions and expressing them are at the heart of all relationships. The time to build relationships is during good times when the mood and outlook are positive. Happy people are a magnet in relationships and end up with rich and fulfilling social lives. During those times when the dragon comes, they will have a companion and confidant at their side.

When it comes to making crucial decisions, when confronted with threatening information, happy people are able absorb negative information and shift tactics to an analytic fight or flight mode. They cope better.

What seems to be missing from many farmers, professionals or executives lives is the leisure ethic. Life is a journey not a destination. We are meant to be happy. Life is to be enjoyed.

Play is child's work. It is a safe, miniature world where children experiment, rehearse, practice skills and resolve conflict. Play affords the space to shift concentration, exchange roles and step outside oneself. It is time set aside to observe, to pretend, to enjoy or to create.

As playful adults, we look wide-eyed at life with curiosity. In each day, we can see newness, complexity and contradiction. A fascination with life as it happens balances out the graver concerns of striving and achieving. The world gets bigger through play. In the adult world of duty and responsibility, the capacity to play creates an island of safety, a passport to the world of the present and an experimental lab to try new things.

Play gives perspective. A playful attitude can help us meet life's challenges. If life itself is viewed as a win/win game, it has no consequences so severe as to defeat us, no failure that is not a stepping stone in disguise, no experience from which we cannot learn.

Through play in parenting, needs are met. Through play in marriage, love is expressed. Through play in friendship, bonds are strengthened. Through play in living, growth is fostered.

Family time, play time, vacation time and special times all add to the memories and specialness of life.

Work hard, play hard. Well chosen work is play. Play outside of work makes the work even better. Play makes the family better.