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Waking from a Beautiful Dream: From Money-Making and Tireless Toil to Eudaimonia and Ataraxia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By William Clements
July 14, 2021

“It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me.”

These are the lyrics from the great Nina Simone. According to a recent investigative report from The Wall Street Journal, the words of Nina Simone seem to take on new meaning as many employees have begun quitting their current jobs for different careers. Philosophically, there are a myriad of reasons for this occurrence. Many questions can be appropriately asked regarding this change in employee behavior, but this piece will not address the philosophical theories in depth. Rather, it will seek to shed light on some of the reasons for this behavior and the importance of remembering that a new dawn follows the past dusk.

Dusk had come.

Globally, March 2020 marked the end of the pre-COVID-19 world. This would also metaphorically mark the end of “day” for millions of employees, employers and administrators worldwide. What would follow was a bitter, cold and merciless night that not only caused catastrophic loss of life along with economic and social damage. This darkness also allowed for millions to rest their weary eyes and, finally, dream again. Arguably, many people indirectly undertook a method of transformation called eudaimonia, once acknowledged and defined by the Greek philosophers Plato, Aristotle and Epicurus. Even the great Benedictus de Spinoza utilized this concept in developing the conditions for happiness. According to Plato, eudaimonia (well-being) is virtue-based. In other words, happiness is dependent on having values, not just the acquisition of more material objects. According to these philosophical giants, acquiring material things that are absent of virtue will only add to a person’s vexation once the object of desire is acquired, wherein afterwards, the object will be instantly replaced by another desire. Hence, this marks the trap of consumerism and the difficulty in finding happiness.

The Dream

“Work hard. Achieve success. Be financially stable.” Many of us have heard these phrases at some point, but the missing component of this proposed formula is the inclusion of happiness. There are many, like myself, who have worked tirelessly as an employee and/or student since they were in their early teens. As such, many Americans in particular have dedicated the majority of their developing years away from hobbies, interest, and self-exploration in exchange for working hard, being successful and the elusive pursuit of becoming financially stable. The global pandemic allowed many overworked and emotionally expended people the opportunity to rest their tired eyes for a moment, finally taking a restful break, and spend time with themselves. This rest allowed for interests and hobbies to become realized in life, much like in a dream. People could then imagine themselves free from repetitive reports, hurried deadlines, last-minute work assignments and other managerial mistreatment. They could instead realistically envision themselves spending time with family, watching children grow, painting, working part-time, working remotely or in some cases cease working altogether to pursue more virtue-centric endeavors.

To add further clarification, this is not to suggest that working 40 hours each week or working within the office space lacks positive virtues, but merely to place due perspective of the likely distortion of what adds value to an individual’s life. Therefore, it is not a farfetched argument that emergent work commitments, extended hours and spending more waking hours during the week in the workplace than at home with family can distort one’s value-based view.

The Dawn of a New Day

As the nation and the world are beginning to wake from this metaphorical slumber, many are now refreshed and renewed. Their dreams have been recognized and reaching eudaimonia, even though not realized directly, is the new goal. For many, this is a troubling occurrence. With news reports and headlines reiterating that employers are in desperate need of employees, this should immediately give rise to another frame of thought. Rationally, if an employee leaves an employer or an employee does not desire returning to the office, then there quite possibly has been a change to the previous formula: a transformation of sorts. Maybe a large portion of society has reached or is very close to reaching a state of mental calmness, known as ataraxia. The slow awakening of the economy has also allowed the awakening of the dream by those who had the opportunity to rest for almost a year’s little while. This occurrence is a plausible explanation of the uncertainty of the market and the lack of suitable candidates to fill open positions. Public administrators, instead of viewing this as a negative occurrence, attempt to view it as something beautiful, something genuine and yes…something transcendent!

It seems America now sings in union with Nina Simone, “It’s a new dawn. It’s a new day. It’s a new life for me.”

Author: William Clements, PhD, is a professor in the School of Government at higher education institutions. With a BS of Justice Studies, MS of Forensic Psychology, PhD of Public Policy and Administration (concentration: Public Management and Leadership), he has served in public service fields for 13+ years. His interests include economics, politics, and public policy. Email: [email protected]

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