The harm of America’s obsession with productivity

Does our “doing” define our happiness?


Ella Jennings

Madison Smoak, Staff Writer

Obsessed with hustling and the “#grind,” American society has single-handedly created a harmful culture of evaluating self-worth via one’s productivity. Not only has American culture become obsessed with producing, but we have shaped our identity around it as well. From a young age, we are celebrated for our accomplishments, output and ability to maintain a busy schedule. We invest in these structures and commitments as we become young adults and begin to structure the way in which we see and treat ourselves.

Humans spend most of their time focused on doing. The harmful effects of this mindset show in our inability to be present. Society grades humans on the work they have produced on any given day as though it justifies their ability to finally climb into bed at night. We place daily pressure upon ourselves to work for our rest, as though caring for our well-being is an earned privilege. Moreover, to-do lists have become one example of a satisfactory way for humans to grade and track their level of productivity. We write physical and mental lists of tasks that need to be completed from the time we wake up in the morning.

Americans feel successful if they have accomplished or completed their tasks from the time they untangle themselves from their bedsheets in the morning until the moment they stare at their exhausted faces in the mirror, brushing their teeth at night. More importantly, when these tasks are not completed at night, a paralyzing stress begins to consume us. Thus begins the lack of sleep and the fear of prioritizing all the wrong areas of life. We allow our productive society to hold our happiness in its hands.

Being busy has begun to feel like a badge of honor that we flaunt to our peers, family and coworkers. Who is working more jobs? Who is completing another degree? Who is maintaining a job and raising kids? A 2019 study conducted by a professor at the University of British Columbia found that Americans spend 390 more hours a year at work than Americans did thirty years ago. We make continuous jokes about the 9-5 work schedule, effectively normalizing forty-hour work weeks. Even when we sit down with a cup of coffee in the morning, we are already logging onto work, checking emails, and preparing lists of things that need to be completed. Americans are constantly working, even when they are off the clock. Perhaps the only thing that could have caused Americans to introspectively reflect on our obsession with productivity is a pandemic. People have been forced to question their identity outside of their workplace, the economic competition, and accomplishments that they dedicate themselves to. Who are we outside of being producers? And why is it so hard for us to love that person?  

When we meet new people, we introduce ourselves according to what we do, as though our occupation defines our worth and humanity. We feel successful when we are “doing it all” and doing it all “well.” Our identity is more than a career or the accomplishments we achieve. Our self-worth is more valuable than the work we produce every day. Our culture’s obsession with productivity harms our creativity. It fosters a stress that is inescapable and a pressure to conform to a working culture that strips people of passion and relationships. We need to check up on ourselves in the face of exhaustion and overcommitment and question our ability to just be. There is a way to restructure American society from one of worth by productivity to one of being. Being here. Being whole. Being a light. Being passionate.


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