It’s revolutionary to be happy

Halloween, 1968: Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (W.I.T.C.H.) hexes Wall Street, New York. The stock market reportedly falls by thirteen points the following day.

The past few days I have been struggling to deal with my flawed ideals that normal every day people do not have to have some basics of insurance literacy in order to navigate the intricacies of the medical/health insurances so that we will not get duped, as my mother was about to get admitted to the hospital. The short story was that there was a change in the insurance policy in the midst of our subscription which rendered my mother ineligible to be covered for all of her hospital admissions. The long story, was, too long and however uncomplicated it should be, turned out to be complicated and we are tired. It felt defeating in moments like these, it felt almost revolutionary to be happy.

If you think I haven’t been talking incessantly about Anne Helen Petersen’s newsletter enough, I am going to mention her excellent points again on her today’s edition on the pursuit of productivity and what this may cost others. In her quest to write a book about millennial burnout (available for pre-order!), she picked up two excellent books that have “clarified and shifted her thinking”. The first book is called The Sum of Small Things by Elizabeth Currid-Hackett which argues as “economic class continues to disarticulate from education level (aka, people with PhDs can be barely making ends meet, and people with a high school education working in the trades, or owning their own businesses, can be solidly upper-middle class) people increasingly signal their class status, or their aspirational class status, through “productive” leisure””.

Before, you could announce your spot in the upper-middle class through the purchase of recognizable luxury brand items. Now, buying an item for its luxury status is conceived of as crass, or uncultured — a mark of new money. The real way to show that you’re cultured is to evidence (through conversation or Instagram) consumption of cultured things (podcasts, articles, award-winning books, quality television) and participation in cultured activities (pottery class, skiing, bread baking, endless numbers of self-optimizing physical activities).

The next book (which had also been recommended to me by a dear friend) is called Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy by Melissa Gregg, who compiled time management manuals and guides and discerned a pattern from all of them. What caught my attention and what I caught myself nodding aggressively is particularly this paragraph as Petersen, in summarising Gregg’s findings, came to this conclusion (emphasis mine):

It’s also no accident that the first office productivity manuals arrived as secretaries — once standardised in most work places — began to vanish, or at least vanish as a regular feature for most every (man) with an office job. Before, productivity was possible partly because all of the “mundane” labour of the workday, from typing to making dinner reservations, was offloaded to the paid and unpaid women in your life. And every productivity manual or app is a blueprint, in some way, to returning to this model of work, where the concerns and demands of others’ largely did not concern or demand of you.

And for those tasks and inefficiencies we can’t offload on coworkers and family, we now underpay others to perform them for us: TaskRabbits, Uber drivers, Instacart grocery shoppers, Trunk Club stylists, Blue Apron packagers, nannies, home organisers, Handy housecleaners, Amazon warehousers and drivers, Seamless delivery people. People have always paid other people to do the mundane, time-consuming things they can afford not to do. But the current price of those services makes them widely accessible in a different way.

We’re creating a new class bifurcation, between those who work so much, and are so conscious of squeezing productivity out of every hour, making enough money to offload all unproductive tasks, and those making very little in order to make that productivity possible.

I would probably quote everything Petersen wrote (and I can’t wait for her book!) so you might as well just read her writing and subscribe to her very excellent newsletter now.

Some related, some not:


  • Reading: Finished my library copy of Comparative Revolutionary Movements. Now on to read Paulo Gerbaudo’s The Digital Party, that I have been putting on pause since last year.
  • Viewing: Season 6 of my favourite series ever, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, is now on Netflix so I am going to binge watch it this week.
  • Listening: Not listening to anything new yet this week.
  • Food & Drink: Had some croissants, frozen lasagna, and some coffee.

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