Thursday, August 14, 2014

Summer Vacation

Well, I've decided to stop working for the rest of August. It's just hard to sit in front of a screen and give a shit here in late summer, and I don't know why anyone has to do it. Work's slow enough, and I have the hours (having taken none so far this year), so it makes sense to take off rather than charge my project for me to sit and be miserable.

I get the same reaction of shock when I tell outside people I'm leaving for the rest of the month. "That's a long time," is the universal comment here in America, even though no one would bat an eyelash for that in the entire rest of the friggin' planet. I've just got to get out of this country somehow.

I don't what it is this time of year. I just want to tune out everything, including the Robin Williams suicide, the police state rollout in Fergustan, and the Islamic state in Syria. Much of the government is on vacation, and as with health care, it's interesting to the note how the elites in America give themselves perks and benefits that they steadfastly refuse to extend to the people they govern.

Anyone have any suggestions where to go? I've been paralyzed by too many choices. South America or Europe? I was considering Ireland, but I'm also contemplating London, Amsterdam, Prague, maybe even elsewhere. Any readers want to put up a blogger in their house? Anyone in Europe want to have a meetup?

Obviously posting will be a bit unpredictable and intermittent from now until Labor Day.
Every August, Paris now sees another rapid transformation. Tourists rule the picturesque streets. Shops are shuttered. The singsong sounds of English, Italian, and Spanish float down the street in place of the usual French monotone. As French workers are required to take at least 31 days off each year, nearly all of them have chosen this month to flit down to Cannes or over to Italy, Spain, or Greece, where the Mediterranean beckons and life hasn’t stopped like it has here.

Some might call it laziness, but what French people are really doing by vacationing for the entirety of August is avoiding the tipping point of overwork. Just as the city transforms overnight, so do French work habits—and this vacation time pays dividends. That’s because, even though the amount of time you work tends to match how productive you are as if on a sliding scale, length of work and quality of work at a certain point become inversely related. At some point, in other words, the more you work, the less productive you become.

For example, working long hours often leads to productivity-killing distractions. Such is an instance of the saying known as Parkinson’s law, which states that work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Work less, and you’ll tend to work better.

It has long been known that working too much leads to life-shortening stress. It also leads to disengagement at work, as focus simply cannot be sustained for much more than 50 hours a week. Even Henry Ford knew the problem with overwork when he cut his employees’ schedules from 48-hour weeks to 40-hour weeks. He believed that working more than 40 hours a week had been causing his employees to make many errors, as he recounted in his autobiography, My Life and Work.

It seems silly that many work long hours simply for the sake of having worked long hours. Perhaps the reason people overwork even when it is not for “reward, punishment, or obligation” is because it holds great social cachet. Busyness implies hard work, which implies good character, a strong education, and either present or future affluence. The phrase, “I can’t; I’m busy,” sends a signal that you’re not just an homme sérieux, but an important one at that.

There is also a belief in many countries, the United States especially, that work is an inherently noble pursuit. Many feel existentially lost without the driving structure of work in their life—even if that structure is neither proportionally profitable nor healthy in a physical or psychological sense. In his 1932 essay “In Praise of Idleness,” the British philosopher Bertrand Russell corrects this idea, writing, “A great deal of harm is being done in the modern world by belief in the virtuousness of work.” Rather, “the road to happiness and prosperity lies in an organized diminution of work.” That is to say happiness is ultimately not found in late nights spent at work, but in finding a way to work less, even if that means buying fewer things or recalibrating your perspective such that having free time no longer suggests moral shortcomings.
To Work Better, Work Less (The Atlantic)
We Americans work hard. Weekends are more like workends. We sleep with our smartphones. And we think vacations are for wimps. So we don’t take them. Or take work along with us if we do.

But what if taking vacation not only made you healthier and happier, as a number of studies have shown, but everyone around you? And what if everybody took vacation at the same time? Would life be better, not just for you, but for the entire society?

Yes, argues Terry Hartig, an environmental psychologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. Yes, indeed. When people go on a relaxing vacation, they tend to return happier and more relaxed. (The operative word here being relaxing, not frenzied whirlwind.) Traffic? A smile and nod instead of flipping the bird. An upset at the office? A deep breath and a focus, not on the drama, but on the task at hand.

And those mellow, good vibes, he said, spread “like a contagion” to everyone you come in contact with...To test his theory, Hartig and his colleagues studied monthly anti-depressant prescriptions in Sweden between 1993 and 2005. In a recently published study, they found that the more people took vacations at the same time, the more prescriptions dropped exponentially. That was true for men and women, and for workers as well as retirees.

Summer, by far, was the happiest time – or at least saw the steepest declines in anti-depressant prescriptions. It’s no surprise why: Since 1977, Swedish law has mandated that every worker have five weeks of paid vacation every year. And workers can take four consecutive weeks off in the summer. Europeans, with their 20 and 30 days of paid vacation every year, live longer and spend less on health care than Americans, Hartig said.

But that kind of widespread, vacation-induced health and euphoria is unlikely to hit the United States anytime soon. “Collective restoration,” Hartig said, is only possible if the entire population can coordinate time off. And the only way to do that, he argues, is through national policy.

The US is the only advanced economy with no national vacation policy. (Unless you count Suriname, Nepal and Guyana.) One in four workers, typically in low-wage jobs, have no paid vacation at all. Those that do, get, on average, 10 to 14 days a year.

American workers don’t take all their vacation days, leaving, by some estimates, 577 million unused days on the table every year. And even when they do, many say they take work along with them. (All those unused days add up to $67 billion in lost travel spending and 1.2 million jobs, according to a recent report by Oxford Economics, an economic forecasting group.) The closest that Americans may come to collective restoration, Hartig said, is the quiet week between Christmas and New Years, when large swaths of the population leave the office behind.

William Howard Taft didn’t want Americans to have to go on vacation alone. In 1910, he proposed giving American workers two to three months of paid vacation every year. The naturalist John Muir said better than compulsory schooling, the U.S. should consider compulsory vacationing. In 1938, Congress proposed the 40-hour work week, a minimum wage and two weeks of paid vacation. In both instances, the vacation proposals died.
Latest research: Why everyone should take vacation (Washington Post). A Republican president proposed two to three months of vacation back in 1910. Can anyone even imagine that today? So much for "progress." See this too.
Daimler employees can head to the beach this summer without worrying about checking emails, sparing their partners and children the frustration of work-related matters intruding on the family vacation.

The Stuttgart-based car and truckmaker said about 100,000 German employees can now choose to have all their incoming emails automatically deleted when they are on holiday so they do not return to a bulging in-box.
The email culture that is German, with reference to optimal queuing theory (Marginal Revolution) More here at BBC.


  1. Come to Mexico


    Jimmy's got the best b&b in Mexico.

    You're welcome

  2. Washington Post article comments were entertaining and sad.

    1. This one reads like an Onion parody, but I don't think it is:

      "Vacations are un-American. All the lazy, marginally performing slackers, LIKE OBAMA take off, and leave their work behind for their more dedicated co-workers. "Collective restoration?" Sounds like a communist term V.I. Lenin came up with."

      *Sigh* Politics makes us stupid.

  3. I recommend Český Krumlov. :-)

    1. I Googled some the images. Wow! I've never heard of it, but what a beautiful place.

  4. Hi,

    You are welcome to come to Thailand and stay with us (nice place with an extra room in Bangkok) for free. Let me know by responding to this comment with your email and I will email you.

    1. Isn't it the rainy season? Thanks, I'd definitely like to take that up sometime. Is the Banana Pancake Trail still going on?

  5. I'm no longer a resident so unfortunately not able to offer accommodation but do recommend Budapest and Hungary in general. Politically an interesting basket case but the people are great and Budapest is at least in my opinion the best city in europe. The surrounding countryside is varied and it's a good center for getting out into the surround countries. Best avoid Ukraine for the moment.

    1. I've always wanted to see Eastern Europe. I was just watching Michael Palin's New Europe where he travels through there.

  6. Take care, come back refreshed! <3


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