Seven Pleasures They’ve Wrested From Us

An under-discussed cause of modern-day stress.

Posted Oct 30, 2017

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Life is not easy. More may be expected from us at work. In relationships, we may be expected to do it all, as the jingle went, “Bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan.”  We’re told we’re not saving the zillion dollars we’ll need for the ever more absurd cost of college, let alone for retirement.

We’re hamsters on an ever faster-wheel, like when the faster Lucy boxed the chocolates, the faster the conveyer belt went until she just couldn't do it all.

Indeed that’s what’s happening in real life. Many people are breaking. Some drop out and become homeless while others anesthetize with alcohol or drugs. I believe that’s part of the impetus to legalize marijuana despite it being more dangerous, physically and mentally, than the Big Tobacco-driven messaging would have us believe.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. suicide rate is at a 30-year high  And its epidemic is among middle-aged white men: NBC News cites the Centers for Disease Control findings: “Victims of death by suicide are overwhelmingly white (7 out of 10), male, and between the ages of 45 and 65. “

At the same time, many of life’s soothers have been wrested away. Here are seven examples.

Job security. Not so long ago, job security wasn’t an oxymoron. People could go to work confident that unless they were bad employees, they’d have a job and enjoy knowing the organizational culture and looking forward to a career ladder, plus the pleasure of a long-term relationship with favorite colleagues.

Now, even so-called permanent jobs are subject to “a reorg,” today’s jargon for mass firing. And ever more jobs are getting converted from career positions to temp gigs. Many employees have a Damoclean Sword hanging overhead: Constantly be more valuable and for less money than someone else we could hire or you’ll be pounding the pavement.

Food.  Perhaps it's just that I live in the San Francisco Bay Area but I can almost hear it now:

A burger?! Forgetting about the calories and cholesterol, do you know how environmentally wasteful meat is? And don’t even talk to me about veal. I don’t care how good veal parmigiana tastes. Just picture those calves in crates! Corporate food?! Do you know how much pesticide, how many GMOs, how many jobs have been killed by factory farming, and then the companies process the food with chemicals and load them with salt. Eat local,  fair-trade, organic, sustainable vegetables and some fruit.

How could anyone eat a burger or even filet mignon amid such invections?

Conversation. Even among friends, we can’t fully relax. We must remain vigilant to committing even a microaggression. No less than the president of the University of California Janet Napolitano warned against, for example, asking "Where are you from?" (That's deemed xenophobic) or saying “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.” (That doesn't acknowledge that racism and sexism could keep certain people from being the most qualified.)

And at workplace relaxations such as the water cooler and even at a TGIF, one comment, even a joke, that one listener perceives as having crossed The Line, risks your getting a call from HR, or worse. You must be vigilant, without relent, from the moment you leave the shower.

Relaxing in front of the TV. They warn, “Sitting is the new smoking.” Want to watch a sitcom? The intelligentsia guilt-trips us for watching “the boob tube.” PBS, CNN, and MSNBC, however, are acceptable. Fox is verboten.

Driving. After a long day’s work, it felt good to have a few minutes in the car as respite between work and home, but not a stressful, unpredictable hour or two, which increasingly is what’s required. In one of government's attempts to reduce carbon footprint, far fewer roads are built than necessary to meet population growth.

Mass transit? Those commutes are longer still, and would be even if many more of our tax dollars were to be spent on expanding train and bus service. And mass transit during rush hour can mean standing the entire time on a roaring train, pressed like sardines next to other workers sweaty after the workday.

Exercise. Not long ago, the advice was 20 minutes, three times a week. Doable. Now it’s 30 to 45 minutes five to six days a week. Amid our ever busier lives, how many people want to devote that kind of time to bodily torture?

Even sex. They tell you that, even if it feels worse, unless you’re darn sure of your love, wear a glove.

The takeaway

An under-discussed cause of modern-day stress is that many pleasures have been wrested away. Have you found sufficient replacements?

Dr. Nemko's nine books are available on Amazon. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at