The short-term fix of Olympic glory aside, Essential’s weekly poll suggests Australia is a pretty miserable place right now. We may be living in one of the most prosperous societies in history, but we aren’t happy with how our own lives are travelling.

Oops, no time to rub my face. Now I'll be late to pick up the kids.

The majority of us say we are either struggling or just coping financially; we are worried about losing our jobs and expect our personal situation to deteriorate over the next 12 months.

We actively dislike our elected leaders, both PM and Opposition are disapproved by about two thirds of us. We have have not only lost faith in government in most of our public institutions – the public service, the High Court, the Reserve Bank, business, unions, the media, even religion.

From border protection to climate change, we are becoming angry about just about everything, until we can’t remember what it is we are really angry about.

So what’s going on Australia? Here’s one theory: our problem is time, or the lack of it. We are so stretched and stressed that we just don’t have the time to keep our lives on track, let alone engage in a sensible national debate.

I tested this out in the latest Essential Report, asking people whether they have enough time for the basics in life. The findings make sobering reading,

If you are a little embarrassed to check the top of the kitchen cupboards, or have started turning a blind eye to that scum around the kitchen sink, you are not alone. Forty four per cent of us in paid work admit we no longer have the time to keep the house clean.

With longer working days, one third of us say we don’t have time to prepare meals - good news for the take-away industry - not so great for our diets. As for gardening and doing odd-jobs around the house, more than half of us have given up and are letting things slide.

Our relationships are also suffering from this time drought. Half of us say we don’t have the time to keep in touch with friends and relatives, with a similar number withdrawing from community activities. And if we have kids playing sport, nearly 40 per cent say we are missing out on this rite of passage,

And this is not just a matter of a lifestyle issue, a startling 58 per cent of workers agree with the statement “there are times when I feel the stress from juggling work and other responsibilities is impacting on my physical well-being.

Listen to ourselves. We are becoming a nation of stressed out, lonely worker bees, living in squalor, eating rubbish and driving ourselves towards a collective breakdown.

Adding to the misery is the reality that there is no easy fix to our collective plight – in fact many of the changes we embrace make matters worse.

Take technology. Now that we all have these fantastic smart phones and tablets we are connected 24/7. But those emails that once sat in the inbox till morning now appear urgent as they ping into our downtime.

For many of us, our workdays now seem to stretch into this new 24-hour cycle of tasks until we never really clock off. When business leaders call for more labour market flexibility, we wonder what it is they will try to squeeze out of us next – because there’s nothing left in the tank.

We chew up hours a day commuting to and from work – on either clogged roads or packed trains. We all agree on the need for better public transport and a more coherent planning policy for our cities, but because we are addicted to the idea of low taxes, state and federal government doesn’t have the funds to unclog our lives.

And if we are in a relationship, chances are both of us are in the paid workforce. That’s been the big shift in the past 40 years, except no one has worked out that if the blokes are still working long hours, this leaves a massive hole in the home.

Instead we are locked into an increasingly complex matrix of pick-ups and transfers of offspring as we try unsuccessfully to align the old school day into the modern workday.

It’s like we have snookered ourselves with our progress and our desire to have it all, and what’s emerging is a society that has too much of everything except the one thing it needs the most, a bit of time to get our stuff together.

Let’s hope we get a hit of the gold rush over the next couple of weeks, but when the Games are over we have some fundamental things to think about if we want to maintain the glow.

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38 comments

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    • Bertrand says:

      06:37am | 31/07/12

      I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think so much of this is personal choice
      As a society it seems most of us have fully succumbed to the admass ideology, that anything different seems almost incomprehensible.

      Downsize. Work less. Consume less. Pursue your interests. Prioritise. Slow down.

      It’s not hard but to many people it doesn’t even register as a possibility.

    • Emma says:

      08:22am | 31/07/12

      Good on you. Well done. I am trying to get there.

    • Elphaba says:

      09:03am | 31/07/12

      Well said.  I’m not a fan of my job at the moment (the personal relations in my department are disgusting, and the management communication to its workers is non-existent), but I only work it for 40 hours a week, and make enough money to pay my bills, have fun with my mates, and put a bit away in savings.

      I’m scouring the job ads for a new gig, but I want to make the right move, not a knee-jerk one.

      My life could be much worse…

    • Budz says:

      09:09am | 31/07/12

      That’s because the image of ‘success’ is purely based on how much you consume. How big your home is, how nice your things are in there, what car you drive, are you dressed in the latest fashion?
      If my idea of happiness is a new BMW with Gucci clothes, a big house in the inner city and sending my kids to a private school, I’m sure as hell going to work my butt off to get those things. All without the understanding to know that these things by themselves isn’t going to make me happy.
      Here is a great series on happiness on a documentaries site which I recommend everyone watch if they get the chance.
      http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/philosophy-guide-to-happiness/

    • subotic's diary says:

      10:33am | 31/07/12

      A lethargic population is the key to our control…. too burned and glazed to threaten us with purpose in their lives….

    • Rebecca says:

      10:48am | 31/07/12

      Think from someone else’s perspective. Yeah, your job sucks. But the guy who’s just been made redundant would love to take your place. Yeah, it’s hard work looking after your kids after a long day. But the woman who just found out she’s infertile would do anything to have a family like yours.

      Also - life is as boring as you make it. Who says you can’t have fairy bread for dessert tonight?

    • andrew says:

      07:26am | 31/07/12

      i know i certainly spend a lot of time thinking about my financial future - between my fiance and i we earnt 120K last financial year and probably only have around 20K to show for that between savings and reduced debt. We are not in a capital city and live what i would consider a moderate lifestyle - one car , a unit ( small mortgage ) , one week interstate holiday a year , wedding will only cost around $5K, honeymoon on gold coast. I work 5 days + on call , she has been working 5 1/2 days lately too. Rarely see friends or my family anymore - weekends are spent catching up on housework and relaxing with a drink or watching movies, with the odd surf or fishing trip. By the time we pay income tax, strata fees, council rates, contents insurance, car rego/insurance,petrol, electricity, water, groceries , national registration fees for my job etc etc , there really isn’t a huge amount left over. If we were to lose my fiance’s income and have a kid or two i can’t even see us being able to maintain this lifestyle.

    • Mazz says:

      08:27am | 31/07/12

      You’d cope.  It’s costly maintaining a job - clothes, lunches, vehicles, travel, social club fees etc etc.  I didn’t think it was possible either but then if you have kids the govt gives you quite reasonable subsidies.

      Worth considering.  Like having kids, you don’t know how you do it until it’s on you.  The idea alone is scary.

    • andrew says:

      10:37am | 31/07/12

      I’m not saying we’d be poverty-stricken Mazz, more that I could see us being in the position where we are unable to afford the LUXURIES we have now, like being able to go on a holiday, buy alcohol, lotto tickets etc. Going without those things for any extended period of time will make life a rather mundane experience, yes we will have enough money to pay the bills but I can definitely see it being difficult to upgrade to a house, buy a boat unless I can convince my fiance that kids need to wait another couple of years purely for financial reasons. I don’t think she will want to hear that!

    • Emma says:

      07:33am | 31/07/12

      I know it feels like that - for me as well - but I dont think it is actually true. How come then we are able to recite the last episode of Masterchef, but say, we have not been able to cook ourselves a proper dinner? What I notice personally is that I can go through periods where I dont have the energy to do these things, its not that I am lacking the time. So I have to kick myself in the butt to get active. The problem is often that I have too much going on in my head and it is draining. I want to change my career, I want to save more money, I want to develop a hobby and quality time, relationship stuff, family stuff going on overseas. So I would personally say the stress is more self made and I have to come up with a better coping system. I admire people that go through life with an attitude of “things will sort themselves out”.

    • Mahhrat says:

      07:49am | 31/07/12

      What a fantastic article.  Time is money, and money is the problem.

      Time management is something dearly important to me, having watched Dad work 80-hour weeks (and he still does, pushing 60). 

      While in many ways my work is soul destroying, I became a public servant.  The hours are M-F, 0730-1600.  Every day.  I don’t have to worry about work when I’m not there.

      Sure, I get paid less (though enough for what I do), but I trade that for the knowledge that I’ll be home and able to properly unwind and do my chores and (if the mood takes me) turn off all the electronics.

      I am convinced that most of the stress we put on ourselves is of our own devising, falling for the hype that life is a competition and that we have to beat our neighbours. We smash ourselves all day, every day, just to try and make enough money to buy all the things we’re told successful people have.

      The other article here today about housing prices is a case in point.  Houses are that expensive because we feel we need the absolute very best one or we’re a failure. 

      You know what?  Fuck that, and fuck the system that tries to tell us that’s what we “need”.  Max-Neef classifies the fundamental human needs as:

      - subsistence,
      - protection,
      - affection,
      - understanding,
      - participation,
      - leisure,
      - creation,
      - identity and
      - freedom.

      Nowhere in that rather good list does it suggest a 5-bedroom rumpus-roomed pool is a requirement for a happy life.

    • Michael says:

      08:12am | 31/07/12

      Put affection first, must include affection for one’s self. When all of the others are done through affection or compassion then we have a chance at fulfillment of our own needs and the needs of others.

    • acotrel says:

      09:13am | 31/07/12

      The highest ‘need’ in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is ‘SELF-ACTUALISATION’.  You won’t find that in the public service or many large corporations.
      Bring on Employee Share Ownership Programmes !

    • Cry in my Gin says:

      09:22am | 31/07/12

      Public servant huh. Now we all know where you get the time to sit around and post on the punch all day.  (my excuse is shift work.)

    • Mahhrat says:

      10:33am | 31/07/12

      @Cry in my Gin, get off the damn stereotype. Perhaps I have time because I’m just good enough at my job to have the time? 

      Don’t be a muppet.

    • gobsmack says:

      07:54am | 31/07/12

      Too many Australians must be reading the Punch.

    • Tubesteak says:

      08:01am | 31/07/12

      “Listen to ourselves. We are becoming a nation of stressed out, lonely worker bees, living in squalor, eating rubbish and driving ourselves towards a collective breakdown.”

      Sounds more like a bunch of whingers that don’t want to admit to their poor decisions and life choices.

      Pretty much none of that applies to me because I’ve made intelligent choices.

      I don’t have to worry about long commutes on clogged transport because I live only a 5 minute walk to work.

      I’m not stressed out financially because I chose a well-paying career and did not get a mortgage that pushed me over the edge because I wanted something I couldn’t afford.

      Yes, I don’t like the government or opposition because they are a bunch of useless clowns but I don’t let that get me down.

      I have plenty of time because I have little demands outside of work and my own leisure pursuits. I get home by 5:30 on most nights and can spend the night doing whatever I want.

      I don’t care much about cleaning and can do most of it on Saturday mornings by running the vaccum cleaner around and giving things a bit of a wipe over.

      Dinner for me, because I am extrmely lazy, is microwaved organic soup I buy from Woolworths which has about 1400kj and is ready in less than 5 minutes. Added to this is tuna and lettuce for lunch and Weet Bix for breakfast and my diet is pretty good.

      Because I’m too lazy to organise anything I don’t see my friends much but I see my family pretty often. I could easily change this but I’m content with how things are now. I’m not a very social person.

      I can’t see the sense in shackling myself to a woman now so I don’t have that stressor in my life. That can come at a later stage when I don’t need to work because I’ve built up a decent nest egg.

    • James1 says:

      11:28am | 31/07/12

      I largely agree.  My life is a little different, being a family man, but I don’t really identify with the pressures expressed in the article. 

      In my experience, those that do identify with these pressures tend to make their lives very complex by choice, and then wonder why their lives are so complex and they can’t keep up.  In a lot of cases, they are the “I’m a busy mum” type.  Every day I thank Zeus that I married an uncomplicated woman.

    • M says:

      08:09am | 31/07/12

      I’m already at work 11 hours a day. If they can’t get an email to me by COB within that window, that’s their issue, not mine.

      I am looking forward to this contract ending and going back to a 40 hour work week though. Oh, to be able to roll out of bed at 7 instead of 4:30.

    • Wickerman says:

      08:36am | 31/07/12

      Mostly its own fault. We become a willing participant to the rat race. With modern time saving devices (e.g. clothes dryer) we still are out of time? I am not “time poor”, I just do things at my pace.  Remember - even if you win the rat race, you are still a rat.

    • M says:

      09:59am | 31/07/12

      If you don’t participate in the rat race you are destined to a life of destitution. Have your spiritual fullfillment, I want to have my own roof over my head eventually.

    • AdamC says:

      09:49am | 31/07/12

      “Here’s one theory: our problem is time, or the lack of it. We are so stretched and stressed that we just don’t have the time to keep our lives on track, let alone engage in a sensible national debate.”

      Yet another mediam myth. The fact is, people are working the same hours they did decades ago. (http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/featurearticlesbyCatalogue/67AB5016DD143FA6CA2578680014A9D9?OpenDocument) Over that same few decades, our real incomes have risen vastly. (So we are actually getting paid much more to work the same hours.) But, hey, why let a pesky thing like reality get in the way of a big whinge session? We’re Aussies after all!

      If we cannot outdo the mother country at the Olympics, we can at least take their mantle as the world’s most miserable whingers.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      12:48pm | 31/07/12

      We might be earning more for doing the same hours but,cost of living is a hell of a lot more. My first house in Melbourne 35 years ago cost just under $30,000 with a base wage of approx $15,000 a year. House value approx twice my average wage,wouldn’t happen today.

    • Cry in my Gin says:

      09:51am | 31/07/12

      The one with the most when he dies, wins!!!

    • subotic plays ya... says:

      10:35am | 31/07/12

      He who dies with the most toys, still dies….

    • Hanzel says:

      09:52am | 31/07/12

      I think the idea that we live in the most propsperous society is illusory. The average Australian works much longer nowadays with less job security. We have fewer family members and the average property has shrunk by half but trebled in price. Cheap clothes and electronics aren’t enough to make up for the decline in the fundamentals, so hence, people are starting to agitate.

    • Matt says:

      09:59am | 31/07/12

      Poor Ozzies… Imagine living in a country that has real problems.

    • Jme says:

      11:11am | 31/07/12

      Thank you Budz, the link you provided is very helpful.

    • Leigh says:

      11:21am | 31/07/12

      What a bunch of whingers Australians are. And we all expect the government to fix it for us. That’s a sure road to slavery folks, and we are well down that road already: nanny state, bigger government, loss of freedom (spare time etc.), lethargy (hence more bad government).

      Our problems are our own to fix, but we have handed so much control to governments and public servants that’s it’s probably too late now to recover.

    • TracyH says:

      03:05pm | 31/07/12

      I agree. It’s an excellent life if the attitude is right. Most FIFOP workers I know do 2 x 2, but it depends on the company and the trade. Off shore is even better, 2x2 with 6 off every third swing. Time to change company, M

    • Relaxed says:

      11:34am | 31/07/12

      This is why I work FIFO. I get so annoyed when I keep reading or seeing news reports on how bad FIFO is. I work 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off and when I am home I am home 24/7. No phone calls or emails and I can’t be called back into work to do a quick job.
      My wife does not work and the kids are at school so we have plenty of time for us and the kids. Yes I miss some things the kids do but at least I am not missing out on everything they do. Plus I live in a smaller community that has high unemployment on the coast, so housing is cheaper. This allows us to live in the house we want, where we want and I am home 6 months a year.
      FIFO is not for everyone, you need a good partner but everyone I work with thinks it is the best work/life mix.

    • M says:

      12:33pm | 31/07/12

      Most FIFO i know of is 3 weeks on, 1 week off.

    • chuck says:

      11:46am | 31/07/12

      Incisive Pete. It may also point to some of the reasons why society appears to be fragmenting too. As for the Olympics - yet another Circus maximus and is doing a mighty fine job at entertaining the proletariat!

      How dod Fahey end up with a job on the anti doping committee. Almost an oxymoron and yet another example of the lengths and rapaciousness that the anointed people will follow to devour more and more!

    • ziggy says:

      12:05pm | 31/07/12

      What a crock! The biggest problem is over-inflated expectations. There has never been a more accurate saying than “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. Problem is, people want to get “lucky” without working for it and then complain when they see those “lucky bastards” with something they haven’t -be it something material or some other benefit like plenty of free time in your 50’s and beyond. It’s a simple choice, but let’s not let that get in the way of a good whinge.

    • bloke says:

      12:15pm | 31/07/12

      i’m sorry but some people run up pretty impressive debts for lifestyle garbage, so they have no choice but to be tired to the boss.

    • SAm says:

      12:26pm | 31/07/12

      Considering buying a caravan and living homeless. Actually doesnt sound like a bad idea anymore

    • Chris says:

      03:18pm | 31/07/12

      Well figure this out… we moved to Asia and have a full time driver, a full time live in ya ya and a full time executive assistant. I work full time and the wife works three days a week… and the crazy thing is we have never been busier…

      I think the problem is the staff have a job to do in terms of keeping us productive, so we just have endless networking / social things like, in the last year I have attended both a St Andrews and St Georges ball… you find yourself trussed up in a tux and such an event… I would rather be at home on the couch watching footy… but then you are at home and the bloody maid keeps asking you if you are ok and if you want anything. And you can’t just lie around in your undies with your gut hanging out as you have staff to consider.

      So I think that the race to have more and more and more and more stuff is at the core of all this busy-ness. The more you have the more complex you life becomes - you then pay three thousand to travel and go and stay in some simple little farm cottage for three nights - probably worth about $50k if you bought it… and you sit in the middle of nowhere with your arm around the wife and watch the birds at dusk and listen to the crackle of a fire burning with wood you just chopped yourself and think ‘wow - if only I could live somewhere like here’. - and in truth you could in a nano second if only you were prepared to walk away from all the ‘stuff’ that clutters your life.

    • Louise says:

      06:34pm | 31/07/12

      Until we realize the truth of this point of view, no one will stop scheduling breakfast meetings, weekend conferences etc. Even not so early/late starts/finishes eat into personal time when a trip through the morning traffic is at least an hour for the people who bought 20 minutes away!  Add to this, every one wears a watch (not necessarily synchronized) and is expected not just to get to work by x o’clock, but to have stashed the bags, donned the uniform, whatever.  So time is not just the governing object, it is obsessively so such that it has become a demigod and woe betide the poor so-and-so who gets it wrong. “Time” to wake up, slow down and admit that importance and urgency only sometimes overlap. Most things were very well handled without 24/7 attention - in fact sometimes better when the secretary opened the mail, at least it wasn’t missed like the stick drawings of a gunman!

 

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