If you’re the type of person that believes in “work hard, play hard,” and it’s working for you…then you should move on. This email isn’t for you.
But if instead you find “work hard” a struggle and if “play hard” is hopeless dream, then I’m talking to you.
I’m talking to you if, for one reason or the other, you’re finding it hard to “get it together.” Maybe you’re dealing with an injury or health condition that’s disrupting your normal lifestyle. Or maybe you are feeling down in the dumps and you just can’t shake it off. Or maybe you just had a baby and you’re feeling the loneliest you’ve ever felt in your life. Or maybe you just don't have the energy you did a decade or two ago.
If you can relate to the feeling that everyone around you seems to be handling life with ease and you just don’t understand why you’re struggling, I want to tell you something.
One a recent trip to Botswana, I had the good fortune to be able to go on a safari and observe the wildlife in a habitat with minimal human interference. On that trip, I noticed something about the animals. While those animals spent a portion of their day hunting for and consuming food and water, they also spent a large portion of their time just chilling.
I observed hippos hanging out in ponds all day. I observed lions napping for hours after a meal. I saw antelopes and birds just standing around. I saw groups of elephants communing at an actual watering hole.
And guess what none of them were doing. Not one of these animals was feeling guilty about it. None of them were worrying about not being “productive enough.” None of them were stressing themselves out over “wasting time.” They just lived. And part of living, I observed, is just relaxing without worry.
Of course, it’s easy to think, “Well those are just animals. Humans are more complicated beings so of course things are different for us.”
Okay I hear you. Which is why I didn’t send this email back in June. But recently I’ve been reading a highly recommended book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. In the book, the author makes an illuminating point about our forager ancestors and the lifestyle they lived in comparison the lifestyles we live today. I want to share this excerpt with you:
“The hunter-gatherer way of life differed significantly from region to region and from season to season, but on the whole foragers seem to have enjoyed a more comfortable and rewarding lifestyle than most of the peasants, shepherds, labourers and office clerks who followed in their footsteps. While people in today’s affluent societies work an average of forty to forty-five hours a week and people in the developing world work sixty and even eighty hours a week, hunter-gatherers living today in the most inhospitable of habitats – such as the Kalahari Desert – work on average for just thirty-five to forty-five hours a week. They hunt only one day out of three, and gathering takes up just three to six hours daily. In normal times, this is enough to feed the band. It may well be that ancient hunter-gatherers living in zones more fertile than the Kalahari spent even less time obtaining food and raw materials. On top of that, foragers enjoyed a lighter load of household chores. They had no dishes to wash, no carpets to vacuum, no floors to polish, no nappies to change and no bills to pay.”
The author goes on to point out that unlike our hunter-gatherer counterparts, most of us eat a much less varied and much less nutritious diet and spend most of our time in polluted environments living monotonous lives instead of roaming around in nature and living in small and supportive communities. And the difference in lifestyle leaves hunter-gatherers with much more time to “gossip, tell stories, play with the children and just hang out.” And although we don’t get chased around by tigers or bit by snakes as much, we do have to “deal with automobile accidents and industrial pollution.
That isn’t to say that the modern life doesn’t have its comforts. As I type this, my hair is still wet from a hot shower and I’m sitting on my plush sofa with a soft blanket draped on me while the AC hums in the background. I’m not afraid to admit that I am a fan of modern amenities.
But it is certainly worth considering that in the last 10,000 years since the beginning of the agricultural revolution, our environments and lifestyles have changed much more than our bodies have been able to keep pace with. That is to say, our bodies weren’t really built for the lives we live now.
I find this thought pretty freeing. Because maybe it’s not us. Maybe it’s the people who can work for 10 hours/day, drink for 4 more, raise their kids with perfect ease and still make it to the gym and their salon appointments who are the odd ones out.