Talking about the medium chill and leaving work early … but still paying the bills

I am always tempted to complain, because it is hard to admit that you have it almost perfect, but my work/life balance is almost perfect.  I work short days, with fairly interesting projects at my day job, and hours with my wife and kids and time to write at night.  Oh, and I get paid enough not to worry about repo men and foreclosure.

Thank you Sweden.  Now if only you would learn how to smile …

The medium chill: This is a story from Grist last year, and I love it.  It goes into all the difficulties humans have with stepping off the fast track, eliminating possibilities and walking away from prestige and money.  And it praises relationships and time with family, while being realistic about the annoyances of being a little short of cash.  Even here in Sweden, E and I reach for the medium chill – small apartment, summer cottage with no water, no car, old stroller, not working 100 percent.  And we gain so much.  A quote:

That’s what consumer culture forever tells us: more money/stuff/status means fewer constraints, more freedom, more choices, thus more happiness. The entire economy runs on spending and debt, and for that to work everyone needs to think they’re not happy but could be happy if they just had more sh*t or a better job or a better house. Every “consumer” needs to be running on the treadmill, working toward the next thing.

But social psychologists tell a different story. They point out that there’s very little evidence that, once a certain base level of material security is achieved, more money and stuff make us happier. Gilbert offers one explanation: having fewer choices is often more conducive to synthetic happiness.

Her Key to Efficiency, Arrive Late, Leave Early:  This story tells an expat tale from Paris of a woman who discovered that she was more efficient with shorter work days.  Yes!  Having only six hours to get my job done means I leave very little time for screwing around.  Of course, it puts the pressure on too, but I’ll take that if I can unwind in the sun with my kids every afternoon.  Plus, there was this interesting tidbit about Dads. Once again, I find I am not unique:

More interestingly, she found a third category of men, who were successful in terms of performance evaluations and compensation, but who actually worked fewer hours and were unavailable for the office on evenings, weekends and vacations. These men subtly and skillfully chose the projects and clients that would allow more flexibility – and surrounded themselves with kindred spirits who would cover for one another. But they had also learned that it was better for their careers to remain discreet about their strategy, and so they weren’t role models for the rest.

Bring Back the 40-Hour Workweek:  From Alternet, via Salon, this is a look at why we had the 40-hour workweek to begin with.  And guess what? It was not just labor being lazy.  It was business figuring out that workers work best when they have shorter days.  In the short run, we only get a little more done in hours 40-60, and over the long run, it’s a disaster. :

American workers don’t realize that for most of the 20th century, the broad consensus among American business leaders was that working people more than 40 hours a week was stupid, wasteful, dangerous and expensive — and the most telling sign of dangerously incompetent management to boot.

Money Is the Root of All Parenting:  But don’t get poor!  Which seems obvious, but is perhaps a good message in the face of all these earthy work less links.  Lisa Belkin at the Huffington Post talks about reports that show that parents lose it more when they are stressed and angry (of course).  And how to avoid that?  Don’t lose sleep about the car repair bill.  Don’t get frantic about bank overdraft fees.

Hard to pull that off if you are poor.  So how to help the poor, or more specifically, their children?

What, then, is the alternative? They start with a few suggestions: “stabilize incomes, provide low-income credit alternatives to deal with the ups and downs of life, or ensure stable housing. These may not be “parenting” programs in the conventional sense of the term. But by freeing up psychic resources they allow people to be the parents they want to be, they allow more traditional parental skills programs to be more successful.”

The top five regrets of the dying

This is from a book by an Australian nurse who spent years working with people in the last 12 weeks of their life.  I like to think my time in Daddyland means I will be less likely to have these regrets.  I’m sure I’ll have them, but I am really, really happy that I won’t say #2.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

Monday links: Talking about a revolution or business as usual?

Back in the 1990s, while I lived in post-war Croatia, I was on the edges of a proto-environmental, social justice movement that first blossomed in the anti-globalization protests in 2000 and now with Occupy Wall Street.  I am far from that life now (well, not if you consider pushing paternity leave a radical politics), but am fascinated by the change in tone in the mainstream press since OWS.  What seemed unthinkable in the 1990s and especially during the credit boom, which I covered as a newspaper reporter outside NYC, is not commonplace – open talk of socialism and the radical failure of market captialism.

Really?  Sometimes it becomes so clear what a bubble we inhabit in Sweden – a bubble of the good kind.

Capitalism versus the climate: Naomi Klein goes to a conservative conference and confirms all their fears.  Yes, to save the world we will need to drastically reject everything they stand for.  We will need to restructure the way the world works.  And the climate must go before all else.  Our survival depends on it.

Is This the End of Market Democracy?: This is notable because it appears in the New York Times, though on the campaign blog, which suggests to me that it got smuggled in somehow.  A Columbia journalism professor examines all the very respectable and mainstream economic figures who argue we need a major change, that the current system is more or less doomed.  Jeffrey Sachs invokes the success of “northern Europe” and its social democracy as a model. It ends like this:  “At an undetermined point in the not too distant future, however, as the “gale of creative destruction” blows through the heartland, the debate will become inescapable.”

What Future for Occupy Wall Street?: A look in the New York Review of Books at where OWS has come and where it is going.  Bascially, the story is not uplifting.  Police intimidation is working.  The lack of concrete demands and the insistence on radical consensus makes the movement hard to build.  But you have to admire that the core group is about more than moderately changing the status quo, it is about a moral call for a new kind of society.  And with a huge chunk of Americans under 30 in favor of “socialism,” who knows where it will go?

Bill Clinton:  Someone We Can All Agree On:  And for the counterpoint, we have Bill Clinton, the ultimate believer in working the system to make it all work.  This is the standard view – and one that is very compelling.:  we have to focus on what is achievable, we have to look at what Obama actually got done, we have to find people real, concrete jobs, not worry about all this hippie stuff on the edges, that you have to be realistic about the American culture, that the country is center-right, and so on.  I get it, I really do, Bill.  But is that reality or just the 1990s calling?