Updated: Sep 24, 2021
I am sure by now; we all know that at we live in a society that demands constant productivity. The golden age that we all find ourselves in is filled with a million hours of content on how to produce more when deep down, we only want less.
The constant need to improve ourselves has been fixated in our minds for centuries. It can be argued that true productivity originated from the Greek philosopher Aristotle who famously quoted "excellence is an art won by training and habituation". We have always been seeking to better ourselves. In fact, we have always been seeking to better others to produce more quantity.
The problem is that we are, by nature, a competitive species. We are always looking to gain an advantage over one another, whether this be through mating, fighting or even social status. This competitive "spirit" is interwoven into our genetics and passed down through generations of people who are never satisfied, who always demand more. We are told that we must become doctors to live a good life. We are told that to be rich is to be happy. We are told that we must beat up Jimmy from down the hall to gain respect. Why are we as a species so determined on achieving more?
It all begins with our bodies. We are trained from an early age that when we do "well" by societal norms, we are rewarded. This reward causes the brain to fire dopamine between nerve cells which release a sense of joy and happiness. Funnily enough, dopamine is also released when we anticipate rewards.
As our brain releases "feel good" chemicals on the anticipation of rewards, we may even develop bad habits. For example, a third-year college student will be depriving herself of sleep when she studies for an exam. As she delves further into her studies, she anticipates passing the exam, so her body begins to slowly release dopamine. She feels great as her brain processes the grade being received but her body feels terrible, she has not slept in weeks. Even though she feels confident for the exam, she is slowly destroying her physical and mental health. This is all too common in Universities.
Unfortunately, this all begins when we are young in elementary school. The educational system of the world grants stickers or stars to young students who are then placed among charts in front of the class to highlight who is the best. This is a process of the more stars (reward) that you have, the better you automatically become, right?
Even early adulthood where being an entrepreneur is plunged into our minds through social media. Society boasts that these people who make the "clock work for them" are magicians and that everyone should need to work like that to succeed. Our reward system dreams and anticipates ourselves being in that position, so we sacrifice everything in the name of being more “productive” than anyone else.
If we take a quick glance to the people around us, are we really the ones who are sacrificing everything? Do we really need to go that little bit extra and divert our attention away from those who love us the most in the name of productivity? If we as a species are very much interwoven with one another, why would we ruin the connection we have for a little more reward?
It is not uncommon to feel that we should always be working on something so that we are not deemed “lazy” by societal standards. This is a never-ending process that causes us to overthink and forces us to work that little bit extra. We may feel that the saying “I will rest when I am dead” applies to us as we feel guilty for taking a break, but what is most important in life is to find the balance between working and relaxing. By feeling the need to achieve an endless goal, our stress levels increase, which may lead to further problems such as impending headaches or even an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases.
We live in a world where we are told to produce more, but it is important that we take back control of our lives by acting on behalf of our mental wellness. We should start by going for a small walk around the block or spending more time with family and friends. We should feel as if we can let go of our minds and be free from the fear of not achieving.
We should start by setting smaller, more achievable goals, ones specifically that are not forever increasing. By setting smaller goals, we will have smaller pleasures when we complete them. We do not need to overreach for the moon if we can base our goals around those we love; to spend a little more time walking or a little more time with our family. After all, when death comes knocking at our doors, it will be those who surround us that we will think of the most.
I understand that it is very much easier said than done but we are only human, we can only grow so much. We should love each other, we should take a break when we struggle and ultimately, we should do the opposite of what society wants us to do because we deserve it, we deserve to be free.