Does Hard Work Bring Happiness?
“AFTER all, work is everything for a man, isn’t it?” asked Bunpei Otsuki, a leading magnate in the Japanese business world. He was explaining why he did not want to take a summer vacation. His words are typical of the Japanese who reconstructed the country from its postwar chaos. The Japanese have been described as an industrious people ever since Commodore Perry of the United States opened Japan from its long period of seclusion. And they take pride in being hard workers.
However, Japan is now being criticized for working too hard, having the longest annual working hours among the so-called industrialized nations. The Japanese government is trying to blot out the workaholic image. “Labor Ministry Says ‘Stop Working So Hard,’” reads one newspaper headline. In its campaign motto for the 1987 summer vacation period, the ministry even went as far as saying, “To take a vacation is proof of your competence.” In other words, the government is asking the nation, “Why work so hard?”
Of course, not all in Japan are dedicated, hard workers. A recent Japan Productivity Center survey of more than 7,000 new workers revealed that only 7 percent of them gave priority to a job over private life. This trend can be seen in other countries too. In Germany the Allensbacher Institut für Demoskopie learned that only 19 percent of Germans in the 18 to 29 age bracket claimed that they give their best at work irrespective of remuneration.
Compared to the easygoing youth, guest workers in Japan are far more hardworking. An employer in Tokyo talks glowingly of his Algerian employee who does manual work. He says: “Japanese will not apply for this kind of job, and even if they did, they would quit immediately.” No, not even hardworking Japanese are innately diligent. When people work hard, there must be strong motivation.
Reasons for Working Hard
“Wealth, stability, possessions, and getting on in the world”—these are the things that hardworking Germans are after, reports the German weekly Der Spiegel. Yes, many work hard to gain material wealth so they can enjoy a measure of stability in life. Others work hard with the objective of “getting on in the world” or moving up the corporate ladder. Many who are strongly motivated by the competitive educational system to pursue such goals unfortunately end up running the treadmill of industrial society—wearing themselves out and getting nowhere.
Money and status, however, are not the only reasons people work hard. Some work for the sake of work. To them, work is everything. Others enjoy their work. “I was so intrigued with what I was doing in my laboratory,” admits Haruo, “that spiritual pursuits were choked out.”
Then there are those who are dedicated to worthwhile causes for the service and welfare of others. They work hard to save lives. For instance, a fire fighter works hard every day to keep his equipment in order.
But are these all sound reasons for working hard? Will they lead to happiness? Indeed, what work can really make you happy?