Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Benefits Of Daily Routines

Mental Health & Retirement

Some individuals rebel against routine; yet routine has many benefits for human well-being. Such explains why to a large degree humans tend to establish routines in their lives. Routine has been much-criticized as a path leading to boredom—it might be so in some cases, as in routine assembly-line tasks or working in a call centre—but that is not what I am referring to here. It's the daily tasks that anchor or lives: a job or significant meaningful work being the most important.

The routine of getting up in  the morning and going to a job is actually good for your mental health, if not your financial well-being. Not having a daily work routine is not as liberating as some would think. Such explains why individuals, men in particular, find themselves at a loss when they retire. Or when individuals lose their jobs for such reasons as redundancy, technological advancement or to meet the ostensible needs of companies to increase their stock prices, and thereby enrich the top executives.

Increased leisure time does not lead to increased life satisfaction, but it does lead to increased time to think, reflect and act on otherwise dormant impulses. Such are among the major themes discussed in films like Going in Style (1979), On Golden Pond (1981), Lost in America (1985) & About Schmidt (2002), which look at the issues of retirement and the loss of routineIt soon becomes clear that such freedom is not easy to both plan and bear. The routine of work had anchored their daily existence.

In The Chronicle Of Higher Education, Mark Kingwell, a professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto, writes ("The Barbed Gift of Leisure; March 25, 2013):
We have always sensed that free time, time not dedicated to a specific purpose, is dangerous because it implicitly raises the question of what to do with it, and that in turn opens the door to the greatest of life mysteries: why we do anything at all. Thorstein Veblen was right to see, in The Theory of the Leisure Class, not only that leisure time offered the perfect status demonstration of not having to work, that ultimate nonmaterial luxury good in a world filled with things, but also that, in thus joining leisure to conspicuous consumption of other luxuries, a person with free time and money could endlessly trapeze above the yawning abyss of existential reflection. With the alchemy of competitive social position governing one's leisure, there is no need ever to look beyond the art collection, the fashion parade, the ostentatious sitting about in luxe cafes and restaurants, no need to confront one's mortality or the fleeting banality of one's experience thereof.
In the same essay, Kingwell raises the idea of using robots, at work and at home, to do menial and otherwise unpleasant tasks. The idea of using robots and other automatons to do work, especially boring, mundane and repetitive tasks has some appeal, but it is a double-edged sword, leading to unintended consequences for humans. Consider this: Work not only provides financial well-being but, more important, dignity and meaning, Kingwell writes:
The gravest danger of offloading work is not a robot uprising but a human downgrading. Work hones skills, challenges cognition, and, at its best, serves noble ends. It also makes the experience of genuine idling, in contrast to frenzied leisure time, even more valuable. Here, with only our own ends and desires to contemplate—what shall we do with this free time?—we come face to face with life's ultimate question. To ask what is worth doing when nobody is telling us what to do, to wonder about how to spend our time, is to ask why are we here in the first place. Like so many of the standard philosophical questions, these ones butt up, however playfully, against the threshold of mortality.
I agree with Kingwell's assessment of the importance and of the essential benefits of work and how it confers dignity. A life worth living is bound up with work, and the routines associated with it. Too much leisure and too little routine can undermine both the social cohesiveness of society and the needs of the individual for meaning. Over-all it can be said, with a high degree of certainty that work and its routines are good for an individual's mental health, and all the more so when the work is fulfilling and meaningful.


  1. What will happen to society now that an ever-increasing number of professions involve working at one's computer at home?

    1. Although working at home often meets the financial needs of individuals, you raise an interesting question on social isolation. One of the benefits of going to a dedicated workplace is that it often meets the social needs of individuals. Having worked at home for many years as a freelance writer, I can attest to the social isolation I often felt.


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