I recently asked a seemingly simple question here on the blog:
What is the opposite of work?
A week later there were 30 creative, insightful comments on that simple question and there are some interesting trends you can notice in them.
But first this: I had an ulterior motive for asking this question, and it was of course to get at a usable definition of work, as Martin Mouritzen guessed in the 2nd comment:
I guess that really depends on how you describe “work”. I love my work, so for me work is not work at all, and I can find myself working in the evening for relaxation.
But: The work I do for relaxation is always something which does not have a deadline, which does not have any set expectations and something which can challenge me.
So I guess for me the opposite of work is simply “stuff I do to relax”.
Many other comments echoed this. Rowan Manahan wrote:
My evolving definition of work is “Stuff you HAVE to do, whether you want to or not, because you are not independently wealthy.”
By that definition, anyone who LOVES their job doesn’t work. It may take a lot of their time and make demands on their energy and availability for other things, but if they wholeheartedly LOVE it, it isn’t work per se.
Robbert took a dictionary approach:
Wordnet defines work as “exert oneself by doing mental or physical work for a purpose or out of necessity”.
As such the opposite of work can be several things:
- Excerting yourself for no purpose or necesity (Sport or hobbies)
- Not exerting yourself for a purpose (Sleep or recovery from illness)
- Not exerting yourself for no purpose (Lazing about, procrastination)
Present in these definitions is that work is what you HAVE to do, which fits in well with the traditional, industrial-age-definition of work. It’s what I do for pay and i do it because I need money to survive.
The problem with this definition is of course that many of us love our jobs and would do what we do even if we didn’t have to.
Ioana took another approach:
I prefer the sociological distinction myself: the opposite of work is leisure. Rest would be the opposite of activity and I don’t think the concept of work can be reduced to activity. I believe the productive aspect is the essential one. Work is productive activity. It usually involves some sort of compulsion, but it might be more appropriate to speak of necessity. In a paid job there is compulsion indeed, but not for other types of work, such as housekeeping (for one’s house) and child rearing, which are done simply because they’re necessary.
This approach emphasizes production – work is that which produces results.
Chris Stapper echoed this:
I want to believe that work is something like ‘creating value’.
And so did Ken Ferry:
Work is what I do to accomplish something.
There were also some silly approaches, like this:
The opposite of ‘work’ is ‘krow’.
And though Noel Coward did not actually comment on the original post, I still thought of this quote of his:
Work is much more fun than fun.
Rather than try to come up with the most correct definition of work, ie. one that would make sense in an economical, sociological and psychological perspective, I’d rather try to find a definition of work or rather a view of work, that promotes happiness at work in most normal kinds of work.
This immediately eliminates some definitions:
- If work is simply that you do because you have to, then happiness at work is almost impossible by definition.
- If work is only what you do for money, it eliminates all volunteer work.
- If work is only what you do for a purpose, then all aspects of your job that are not productive are no longer work.
I’m not claiming to have the answer yet, but as I see it here are some elements of a definition if work that is conducive to happiness:
- Work is something you choose to do. You may not have a choice of whether or not to work but you have choice in what work you do.
- Work is something you’re valued for. Either someone pays you for your work or someone takes the time and resources to organize your work.
- Work is an activity where you make a positive difference for someone else.
Does that make sense at all?