Is financial success worth killing ourselves?

I’ve always dreamed of growing up and getting a “big girl job.” That term seems so immature, but that’s how I describe it. A career that defines you, like being a nurse, a lawyer or a journalist. But as I approach graduation I see that this fantasy might not be all it’s cracked up to be. Our nation and our society have created an almost hostile work atmosphere.

As Americans, we crave things. We want the dream house, expensive clothes and a gas-guzzling SUV. We want to be able to travel, to have a monthly hair appointment and a maid. Unfortunately, you need money to have these things.

The American workforce is burnt out. They work overtime without getting raises. They aren’t happy until they have the corner office or designated parking spot. The average worker doesn’t even use their vacation days. And we all excuse this to the fact that we’re the “greatest country in the world.” I’m not denying that, I’m just saying our work ethic–make that life ethic–needs to change just a little bit.

Image courtesy of Creative Commons.

According to Forbes, the United States is only 14th on the list of happiest countries. Denmark, Finland and Norway are at the top of the list. These countries have stable governments and economies, and their citizens aren’t that much different than we are; they just know when to relax.

This unhappiness is affecting our health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 12% of adults are diagnosed with heart disease, a leading killer in both men and women. Causes of heart disease include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and limited activity. Studies have shown that while stress itself doesn’t cause heart disease, how you react to it does. When a person is unhappy and/or overworked, they tend to develop bad eating habits, smoking and low activity hobbies, like watching TV.

This situation is also hurting the planet we live on and our future generations. The Happy Planet Index measures a country’s subjective life satisfaction, life expectancy at birth and ecological footprint per capita. On this list, the United States ranks 114th. Not exactly what you would expect from the greatest country on the planet.

But on the bright side, there are pretty easy ways to change this way of life. It starts in baby steps. I’m not for completely stopping productivity or ambition, but we need to slow down! The most important thing? Get some sleep. Honestly, in college, that doesn’t usually happen, but try to make it a priority. When you’re rested, you’re more alert and productive, what you were aiming to be while you were working yourself into the ground.

Another important step is to get more exercise. The endorphins will help you with energy and mood. Another helpful hint is to get organized. This helps with time management in order to get things done.

Our country can still be number one. We just need to learn that maybe the dream house and SUV aren’t worth a heart attack.