The other day I Googled ‘burnt out at 26’, and got a lot of horrifying stories about gypsies, cars and caravans that made me think actually, perhaps things aren’t so bad. But then, ‘not so bad’ is a term I find myself using a lot.
As a Londoner, I’m expected to be burnt out and overworked. It’s the status quo. Adverts that are designed to appeal to Londoners always appeal to our busy lifestyles. An example is the recent piece of corporate grossness propagated by datingrepublic.com, which runs: ‘Breakfast, Run, Bus, Walk, Coffee, Sit, Facebook, Work, Lunch, Work, Coffee, Run, Bus, Gym, Dinner, Drinks, Bed!’ i.e. where’s the time for dating and being happy?
We’re so busy we don’t even feel guilty anymore about (mentally) screaming the worst expletives we know at shuffling pensioners. I’m talking the ‘c’ word and everything. ‘We’re Londoners. Move over to the f*****g right hand side you STUPID TOURIST!’
But is this normal? Is this sane? I read in The Economist last week that Chinese people fall into a number of tribes depending on their social habits. One of these is the crush-crush tribe, who, because they’re all so stressed out, stand in the aisles of supermarkets grabbing packs of dried noodles and crushing them in their hands. I ask again: is this normal? Is this sane? I think we can safely say that if you’re going into a supermarket with the sole purpose of relieving your urge to turn noodles into smithereens you’re not sane. But, in China, it’d be increasingly normal behaviour.
That’s the problem: we conflate normality with sanity, and end up wasting our lives on totally pointless activities that we don’t want to do. We do it to avoid cognitive dissonance – ‘the feeling of uncomfortable tension which comes from holding two conflicting thoughts in the mind at the same time’. Simply put, we can’t spend 12 hours a day running around chasing pointless goals at work, sitting on packed trains, while simultaneously believing these things are pointless. So we rationalise the aspects of our life that don’t truly satisfy us, or that are possibly in opposition to our true values or beliefs. Everyone else is doing this after all, so it must be okay.
But it’s not. Stress is linked to conditions such as heart disease and addiction to alcohol and other drugs – all prevalent causes of death in the UK. I’m aware I sound like a terrible pessimist. Maybe it’s just me; maybe everyone else is running around and quite happy about it. After all, I didn’t get any relevant results to my Google inquiry, so it must be just me. I’m not normal. I must not be sane.
Image by bottled void courtesy of Flickr