'We wouldnʼt need to practise wellbeing if we experienced it everyday'


What these positive-sounding buzzwords are really telling us is that however unpleasant or exhausting or stressful or damn near-impossible our lives have become, it is our fault we find them so difficult. Resilience, for example, lets our leaders off the hook because its hidden message is that you should just plough on regardless. If only we were more resilient, we wouldn't constantly feel like we're just keeping our heads above water.

Teachers in the US are an extreme example. They have long been so underpaid that many now take one or more additional jobs to make ends meet, while continuing to give their all in the classroom. That's resilience and then some.

But rather than tackling the difficult political task of sensible gun control in that country, teachers are being expected to take a bullet – or, at least, to risk a shoot-out – to protect their students! That's not resilience, agility or innovation.

That's just lunacy.

Worse, the way we treat teachers, nurses, medical interns (among the most overworked people on the planet), new parents, anyone pursuing a career in the arts, communications, journalism or social justice, reveals just how easy it is to exploit their "passion". We overwork and under-support the people in such professions because they really care about what they do.

How dare those who work with the disadvantaged and the suffering put their own needs for rest, recreation and decent pay ahead of the needy? We tell young people to follow their "heart", to do what they're "passionate" about, and then we rip them off blind, increasingly asking them to work for long periods as unpaid interns. That's not motivational, that's a confidence trick.

We allow working conditions to deteriorate while the hours needed to do many jobs expands. Our leaders no longer feel obliged to change shitty work conditions, improve stagnant wages, or alleviate the absurd juggle to balance work, family and the mortgage. Because the more we all keep being resilient, the less they have to change anything. Neat.

For a long time now, I have felt that the world most of us live in no longer works very well. To relax is almost illicit. To allow yourself any fun is an abdication of responsibility. "Quick getaways" have taken the place of long, annual holidays.

Even the things that appear to be therapeutic feel like cons to me. We wouldn't need to practise wellbeing if we actually experienced it in our everyday lives. We wouldn't need to practise mindfulness if we weren't so constantly overwhelmed by ever-increasing expectations. And getting up at 5am to fit in regular exercise is not agile (I don't care how limber you may be), it's just another symptom of a world out of whack.

Bring back lolly-gagging, daydreaming and mooching around. Bring back the weekend. Legislate a 35-hour week. I bet we'd all be nicer, kinder and less aggro within days.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale November 25.