The New Yorker for May 24 has a long article on burnout by the historian Jill Lepore.
She links burnout to declining church membership. Leaving time for religious quiet, worship or prayer, has apparently become an optional luxury.
In 1985, 71% of Americans — at least nominally — attended a house of worship, a figure had been constant since the 1940’s. In 2020 the number had dropped nearly 25%. Less than 50% of Americans identify themselves as churchgoers.
The question is not whether a secular society is inferior to a religious one. It’s whether mental health suffers when there is less and less “time off.”
Burnout is endemic. We’re victimized by obsessive work routines.
I remember being impressed with Loren Bacall’s memory of a childhood in the ’30s when her father, a Physician, met her in the yard every afternoon for play at 3:00 p.m. No Physician — or other professional — today could get off work by mid-afternoon.
If long hours cause burnout, is that just an unhappy fact of life? The Puritan Ethic valorizes unremitting work. Is there a leisure class anymore? Little leisure is allowed to creep in from weekends. It’s not unusual for bread-winners to work 6 or even 7 days a week.
How find relief?
Meditation brings quiet. Yoga is calming.
Quiet evening walks temper a work alcoholic’s affliction.
But once burnout invades, it blocks access to relaxation, and worse, shuts down a capacity to imagine alternatives.