Naked Politics Blogger
As I write, I’m sitting in my small rented room, tired but determined to do yet another productive thing after what feels like a long day at work. I don’t have to write this article, but I want to. I don’t know why, but I guess I want to feel like I’ve made the most of the time that is my own. And even though I feel tired and generally apathetic, I’m determined not to let this mood overtake me.
After all, I’m lucky – I’m not like my friend who works as an investment banker and returns home after midnight. Or my friend who works in recruitment and starts at 7.30 every morning. Or my boyfriend, who is a doctor and works irregular and unsocial hours. I work a standard 9-6 day, I don’t tend to stay too late, and I live half an hour walk away from work. In other words, I might as well be living the dream.
But recently, I stumbled across the Green Party’s Free Time Index. The party believes that GDP (the economic value of a whole country) as a measure of economic prosperity doesn’t show the quality of the lives people lead. Co leader Jonathan Bartley thinks having genuine free time allows people to ‘have a family life, relax, and pursue the things they care about.’ These things are linked to greater well-being, in a way that GDP never can be.Studies suggest that people who spend money on experiences rather than material possessions are happier, suggesting doing fulfilling, interesting things with our time is in fact what makes us happier.
That’s probably why I write. I feel a sense of satisfaction when I put my thoughts down on paper, and a sense of accomplishment when I see them in print. But what if I worked an hour or two longer in the day, or that I didn’t manage to take a lunch break. Would I be able to write this article, or would I feel too drained? Would I have to make a choice between writing articles and having a social life?
Imagine I’d commuted an hour on the train and didn’t have a pleasant walk in the crisp evening air to refresh me when I left work. There are so many different variables, but they all seem to point to a situation in which having genuine free time- that is, time which you can fill with the things you care about as opposed to being exhausted from a day at work, becomes increasingly elusive.
And for me, not having that free time would undoubtedly impact negatively on my well-being, regardless of what I earned. GDP is used as an indicator of how well a country is doing economically, but it is also often associated with how healthy a country is generally. But to use a rather high level indicator of economic prosperity as an indication of the quality of life in that country just does not work. Increasingly, especially in newly economically developed countries, growing GDPs are being seen as an illusion. That low-paid workers contribute lots to growing economies is often overlooked in this statistic. That GDP can still be high whilst workers are exploited is also ignored. To use GDP as a measure of anything other than the economy is a mistake. Certainly, it may indicate how materially wealthy our economy is but it is not a measure of a nation’s happiness.
The slow spread of an ideology that associates increased work with increased wealth and therefore increased happiness has been insidious. When I was young 9-5 was what I imagined my working life would look like. Now I am thankful to only be contracted from 9-6. But although I am grateful to have the time to do the things that are important to me and to be able to spend time with people I love and care about, this is as it should be.
My hours and commute should not be a fantasy dream; they are what workers should expect at the very least. We need to change the narrative we have around working environments, where longer hours are falsely equated to greater productivity. Instead, we must acknowledge that it is vital that people have the time to have a fulfilling life outside work, because countries that value the happiness of their people are the only countries that are really truly healthy.