I recently sat on a metro opposite a middle-aged man who kept repeatedly falling asleep. It was painful and equally tiring to watch as he slid down on his seat settling into a much-needed rest, his head dropping to the side hitting off another passenger, only for his umbrella to fall and startle him awake. But this didn’t just happen once or twice, this happened continuously, like clockwork over the duration of his twenty-minute metro trip. It got to the point where, had my Spanish been better, I would have asked if he would like me to hold his umbrella so he could rest, undisturbed.
Although I had never met nor seen this man before, I highly doubted the issue here was a neurological disorder like narcolepsy. To me, he just looked simply exhausted. He appeared run down, had dark half-moon shadows under his eyes, and his inability to keep his eyes open for longer than thirty seconds uncomfortably displayed his sheer fatigue.
It reminded me of another occasion where a petite older man, on a busy metro ride stood in the corner dropping his (what looked like a takeaway) bag on the floor every 20 seconds or so when he would drop off to sleep – while standing – and his hand would relax and release his assumed dinner. This was partly fascinating to watch as he would fall into a full head back, mouth wide open and snoring sleep until the sound of his bag would hit the ground and wake him. He’d pick it up, look around a little discombobulated and within another few seconds he was asleep, letting his bag drop again.
I see so many weary people on the metro every day and sometimes, I’m one of them. I might not drop my bag or slide down on my seat but if you see me leaned forward cradling my head in my hands then I’m probably trying to catch a few seconds of shut-eye myself.
Why are we all so tired? And by ‘we’ I don’t mean those subjected to ride the metro system of Madrid, I mean ‘we’ as a generation, a nation, a world.
Presumably, it’s because we are overworked, overburdened and overwhelmed by the daily stresses and pressures that come with ‘adulthood’ (whatever that is).
Though it is inspiring and admirable to retain the mentality of living for today, doing what makes you happy and so on, I find it increasingly impossible to live life by these mottos.
If we all just woke up one day and decided to live by our own desires and rules there would be chaos and the world would cease to function.
Everyone’s idea of success and happiness are different, yes, but relatively similar. We all want to break the rules from time to time, eat takeaway two days in a row and neglect the gym, spend as much money as we like and not show up to work when we feel like it.
But we can’t.
Although it would be amusing and exciting to live today like it was our last, the chances are (hopefully anyway) it won’t be our last. And when you wake up the next day after a night of binge drinking, or a shopping spree, or booking flights somewhere you can’t afford or telling your boss to f*** off, then you now have to pay the consequences, and there are always consequences for this type of ineffable ideology.
I know that if I was aware it was my last day on earth, I would certainly not spend it at work, and I would absolutely blow through all my savings.
The irony is what happens when trying to hold this fetishized, fantastical ideology of doing what you want while also being a law-abiding citizen and living responsibly.
Because often, the two can’t coexist.
If we did just live today like it was our last, every day, we would probably be unemployed, broke, alone and be at risk for many diseases, making it impossible to live a ‘normal’ life.
It seems that there are only a select few that get to have it all and its harder come by than not. Saying that the work institution is changing to encourage flexibility, time-saving and a better work-life balance.
Studies show that millennials and generation Z are much less likely to explore career paths such as police work or medicine because there is a higher chance of working overtime. Nobody wants the stress and effect on your personal life that might accompany these job titles when it’s becoming a commonly paid job to post pictures on Instagram.
I read in a book recently that though Generation X might have had 5 jobs in their lifetime, Generation Y is likely to have 5 jobs in a year, but Generation Z will have 5 jobs at one time.
Our relationship with work is changing, for good or for bad. And I can’t help but wonder, is the work institution our real source of happiness? Do we work just so we can enjoy our time off? If we weren’t restricted by rules, responsibilities, and expectations, would we enjoy the time we can break free from it all?
Is it our actual dreams and aspirations for a life of happiness and convenience that really make us happy?
If we got everything we wanted, perhaps we wouldn’t be truly happy because a little bit of pain and stress makes it all worthwhile. Maybe nothing would feel so good if we didn’t have anything bad to compare it to.
Like the saying goes, why do I keep hitting myself with a hammer? Because it feels so good when I stop.