For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity—promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.
On a deeper level, Americans have forgotten an old-fashioned goal of working: It’s about buying free time. The vast majority of workers are happier when they spend more hours with family, friends, and partners, according to research conducted by Ashley Whillans, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School. In one study, she concluded that the happiest young workers were those who said around the time of their college graduation that they preferred careers that gave them time away from the office to focus on their relationships and their hobbies.
How quaint that sounds. But it’s the same perspective that inspired the economist John Maynard Keynes to predict in 1930 that Americans would eventually have five-day weekends, rather than five-day weeks. It is the belief—the faith, even—that work is not life’s product, but its currency. What we choose to buy with it is the ultimate project of living.