I always leave my cowboy friends’ house in a good mood, relaxed from a couple of cans of Coors, and covered in dog fur. It’s the best way to go through life.
“Cow Camp,” as they call their quaint little homestead, is frequented by cowboys, of course, eccentric old-timers, eccentric young-timers, and regular folks like me who enjoy the laid-back, old-fashioned attitude of the place. No one’s ever in a hurry there. (It’s hard to be when you’re three beers deep by three in the afternoon.) It’s a refuge for the world-weary to escape the demands and chaos of “reality” for a little while and be refreshed by a straight-talking, fun-loving remnant of outlaw culture.
Lonesome, On’ry, and Stressed
The cowboy was once the quintessential symbol of the American spirit — and still is, if international tourists to nearby Jackson Hole, Wyoming are any indication. The American cowboy used to represent freedom, adventure, and romance, but his allurements mostly faded with the advent of personal computers, if not before then.
An article published last week declared: “We’re becoming ALLERGIC to the modern world.” The culprit: “Multiple Chemical Sensitivity” causes people to suffer from anxiety and depression, among other things, due to “toxic exposures in one’s home, school, or place of work.”
The nature of modern life causing anxiety and depression to rise is constantly in the news, it seems. Drudge shared a link to a story last week that reported: “Depression rates rising fast for young U.S. teens.” Research shows our addiction to technology causes—you guessed it—anxiety, not to mention fertility issues, vision problems, poor posture, and something called “cybersickness,” which is similar to sea and car sickness except you don’t leave your couch.
As a nation, we’re a mess. The Daily Mail reported earlier this year modern life is “making us all ill,” blaming sweets, synthetic lighting, screens, and polluted cities. Even everyday sounds are making us sick.
Then there’s stress. “The number of young Americans who’ve struggled with [anxiety and depression] over the last 80 years has increased steadily,” The Guardian reported in 2016, citing sociologist Jean Twenge, author of Generation Me, who concluded, “Modern life is not good for mental health.”
“Twenge came to believe that our forefathers and mothers were much happier that we are today,” the article said. “Or, at least, that they were less depressed and anxious…Twenge theorizes that demographic shifts toward people leading more independent, less family-oriented lives have led to the upswing in unhappiness.”
Take This Job and Shove It
So people are more stressed and less happy than they used to be. What’s changed?
Tons of complex factors are at play making people more miserable than they were in the good ol’ days. I wrote recently about how the modern generation was raised on entitlement and self-esteem, resulting in a dull, creatively inert, sad generation without an identity. A correlation I find telling about the ever-rising rate of anxious Americans is that so many people, not only Millennials, are dissatisfied at work.
“Two-thirds [of American workers] are disengaged at work, or worse, according to a new Gallup study on the American workplace,” CBS News reported earlier this year. “Of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work—meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.
“Another 16 percent are ‘actively disengaged’—they resent their jobs, tend to gripe to co-workers and drag down office morale as a result.”
Perhaps two-thirds of American workers, like so many Millennials, are lacking an identity, too. I once had a blue-collar man who knew I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time ask me incredulously what all those people in those tall building in the big city do in their offices all day long? I told him honestly I had no idea. Our sense of self used to be tied to our beliefs and professions. Many of us are godless, and unless you’re a cowboy or a soldier, good luck creating character in a cubicle!
There’s a running joke on the TV show Friends about no one knowing what the character Chandler does for a living. He works in “data reconfiguration and statistical factoring,” whatever that means, and he’s the only friend of the bunch unhappy in his job. The rest are employed in straight-forward professions that don’t take three paragraphs to explain: chef, masseuse, actor, waitress, college professor. And then there’s Office Space, the iconic film that’s been striking a chord in the hearts of burned-out employees stuck at soul-sucking office jobs since it came out in 1999.
Manufacturing in America is down. The factories that gave Detroit its character and Pittsburgh the name of its football team are long-gone. Over-regulation and a heavy tax burden have led to globalization which has and destroyed the little man and “replaced patriotism as the civil religion of our corporate elites,” according to Pat Buchanan (who happens never to be wrong).
The argument is that if we allow other countries to produce our goods for us, we will have the freedom to engage in more sophisticated activities. But has that happened? No. The people who worked, as the Alabama song says, a “40-Hour Week for a Livin’” and produced material American goods have lost their purpose and resorted to doing what?
Taking service jobs and working in generic, corporate, retail shops selling cheap, Chinese junk at stores to which they have no familial or community ties. Otherwise, they’ve been laid-off and gone on welfare to support their opioid addictions. The pride that came with producing something in one’s hometown has been devoured by free trade, what Buchanan (you can’t quote him too much) has called “the Trojan Horse of World Government.”
Data shows healthcare jobs have been the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. (while most manufacturing jobs make the “most rapidly declining” list) for a number of years now. Why are we all so suddenly unwell, anyway? Could it be the stress, depression, and general unhappiness caused by fluorescent lights, a sedentary office job, unfulfillment, and a vending machine lifestyle that is contributing to this our national deterioration?
Obviously, a demanding warehouse or factory job is no walk in the park, but a study released a few months ago determined, “People have an irrational need to complete ‘sets’ of things.” Other studies have shown, “Employees want to know that their work has significance within the workplace, along [with] the impact that it has on society.”
What have the jobs that have replaced manufacturing done to make workers feel more complete? Few people now can point with pride of workmanship and say, as Obama infamously mocked, “I built that.” Who now can proclaim, “I produced that Zippo lighter/Ford vehicle/coal that heats your house,” when what most people do brings about the same never-ending frustration of a dentist or postal worker whose job sees only repetitive dejection via a disgruntled customer or unhealthy fellow citizen?
Should’ve Been a Cowboy
The cowboy community I’ve been privileged to know, on the contrary, practices its own, miniature form of economic nationalism. The cowboy is a dying breed, but those who are left do a job that’s dangerous, difficult, and unlike the work of many of his fellow citizens, oh-so-tangible.
There are no “chemical sensitivities” on the range, no synthetic lighting or harsh screens. A high risk of injury, yes, but no danger of “cybersickness.” The cowboys I know are happy. They get to be outside, and studies show being in nature helps reduce anxiety and depression. They have a defined purpose, an obvious skill set, and a tight-knit community with a vibrant culture that supports one another. They work hard for little pay, but they aren’t stressed-out and depressed by a mind-numbing job the reward of which they never see, a nerve-racking commute, or loneliness brought on by isolation in a cubicle or by job the product of which they can’t comprehend.
Not everyone can have a job they love, I know, and there’s way too much complex government bureaucracy to be dealt with to say goodbye to paper-pushing (or is it PDF pushing now?) just yet. Technology has also taken away many of the jobs manufactures used to take pride in doing, and that’s inevitable. But Millennials, for once, get it. Most of them say they’d rather make less money and work at a job they love than get paid a lot for something that makes them miserable, and if that’s not a sign of snobbish egotism, then it’s a good thing.
If we’re lucky, the next generation, like our cowboys, will do what they can to devote their careers toward producing something they’re passionate about, contributing their efforts toward improving society in a definable way they can witness and experience themselves, since “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.”
In the meantime, if you’re stuck in a cycle of mindless monotony with no end in sight, my advice is: Go West! You should get a hobby that gets you out in the fresh air, gives you a creative outlet, enables you to exert yourself and produce something you can put your finger on and be proud of in that America First kind of way.
Teresa Mull is a writer living in Teton Valley, Idaho.