Work: What it really does to us.


Life in the Western world, is played out in a series of tomorrows, of future time. We’re forever thinking of the next steps, the better promotion, the bigger house. We are seduced by the allure of perennial gain, so that it becomes not only a mode of work, but a way of life.

It follows suit that when we arrive at the end of life, much of us will have sacrificed so many of life’s moments, for the sake of such contrived illusions. These fleeting concepts. As economic uncertainty plagues Britain, the cracks in our current system are exposed once again. The capitalist economy is not only fragile because of the dynamics of boom and bust, but because of the fragility of the dreams of all who pursue it. Those of workers and consumers who conjure ideas of delayed gratification. Insatiable wants.

Looking to the East, we begin to understand the possibility of having an economy that is centred around people, and not only profit. So, Buddhist Economics, said by some to be a contradiction in terms, can provide an alternative perspective. It has often been seen as occupying  a distant, distinct way of life. But Buddhist thought can offer light on the part of our humanity that is eclipsed by capitalist ideology. It can offer a way to reimagine concepts of being and success.

Credit: webblogcartoons
Credit: webblogcartoons

Reimagining our relationship to work, has a lot to do with rethinking our cultural perception of time. ‘That Friday Feeling’, is rife in societies with service sectors that instil the 9-5. As a school child, I used to think of this feeling as a natural antidote to the duties of the timetabled week. It was a feeling of release, a freedom from commitment. But, it is also a mark of how these divisions in time cause separations within and between us. As the Author E. F Schumacher points out in his book Small is Beautiful, Economics as if People mattered, the way that modern Capitalism draws a distinction between work and leisure, puts pressure on both. How many times have you rushed to the weekend, and found that the vision you had, whilst dreaming at your desk, never quite caught up with you?

A Buddhist perspective on work draws us into the present. We work for those around us. Working towards a common goal is more important than individual statuses. Having a concept of togetherness delineates the boundaries that makes man’s professionalism a drain on his sense of compassion. One example of a Buddhist centred economic system is the Sarvodaya organisation in Thailand,  an organisation set up throughout 13,000 villages that uses human labour to provide resources for people in need, rather than for individuals.

Credit: Kidufoundation, Bhutan, a kingdom whose economy is more sustainable
Credit: Kidufoundation, Bhutan, a kingdom whose economy is more sustainable

Consumption, in Buddhist belief, is merely a means to satisfy our material needs, so that we can access personal growth. In the West, late capitalism sees consumption as an endpoint. It gives us things, status, a sense of purpose. It makes us feel our hours of toil and labour were all for something. In a society intent on imposing order, over a world that naturally resides in chaos, it is perhaps time to consider an alternative perspective on what our work is really for. 

The fact that wealth in Bhutan is measured by Gross Domestic Happiness, can show us happiness can be integrated into the economy. An awareness of transience, anchored in Buddhist ideas of wealth, should reinstate the humanity in work, and lessen the desire for endless elsewheres. It can allow us to live in a today we know we’ll never have again, rather than a tomorrow, that might never come.

About Gabriella Morris

Gabriella is a researcher and Anthropologist at Captioning Culture.