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Stressed? Depressed? Cowboy Up!

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. [1]

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.” [2] 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.” [3] Research shows our addiction to technology [4] 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,” [5] blaming sweets, synthetic lighting, screens, and polluted cities. Even everyday sounds are making us sick. [6]

Then there’s stress. “The number of young Americans who’ve struggled with [anxiety and depression] over the last 80 years has increased steadily, [7]” 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 [8] without an identity. A correlation I find telling about the ever-rising rate of anxious Americans [9] 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 [10] on the American workplace,” CBS News reported earlier this year. [11] “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,” [12] 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 [13] since it came out in 1999.

Manufacturing in America is down. [14] 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 [15] have led to globalization which has and destroyed the little man and “replaced patriotism as the civil religion of our corporate elites,” [16] 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’” [17] 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. [18] 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.” [19]

Data shows healthcare jobs have been the fastest-growing industry in the U.S. (while most manufacturing jobs make the “most rapidly declining” [20] 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.” [21] 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.” [22]

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.” [23] 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 [24] 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 [25] 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 [26] 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 [22] they can witness and experience themselves, since “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” [27]

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.

20 Comments (Open | Close)

20 Comments To "Stressed? Depressed? Cowboy Up!"

#1 Comment By Fran Macadam On November 7, 2017 @ 10:29 pm

Please don’t come out here!

#2 Comment By Robert On November 8, 2017 @ 6:57 am

The first portion of this article presents and a succinct and legitimate criticism of life in the technological age. The second portion, on the other hand, is but yet another example of a nostalgic longing for an overly idealized past that conveniently glosses over the prior eras shortcomings.

For instance, both of my grandfathers worked not the forty hour week (as mentioned in the Alabama song), but rather fifty and sixty hour weeks mining coal in the coalfields of southern West Virginia. They also both suffocated to death from black lung disease at the right old ages of fifty-four and sixty-one.

Also, I wonder if many of the people who write so glowingly about life in factory towns have ever actually been to such a town, or knew anyone who lived or worked in such a place. For if they did, they might at least make some mention of the less than desirable attributes of said places. Such as the rampant alcoholism and environmental degradation that accompanied these “wonderful and purpose giving” jobs. They might also ask why nearly every person they meet in such a place would advise their kids to go to college and make a different life for themselves.

#3 Comment By Conewago On November 8, 2017 @ 7:50 am

Stay away from rural Pennsylvania! All of you! Stay away! Don’t listen to this writer’s fantasies! Keep your concrete prisons away! You frighten the deer and the wild turkeys.

#4 Comment By Johann On November 8, 2017 @ 9:32 am

Oh, God help us. I’m with Fran. Don’t come out here.

And by the way, cattlemen use 4-wheelers more than horses now.

In fact, I have to go hop on my 4-wheeler now and help the neighbor drive his cows home to the feed yard for the winter. We had an unexpected early dump of a foot of snow.

#5 Comment By mrscracker On November 8, 2017 @ 9:33 am

Well, just getting outside & experiencing nature goes a long ways towards feeling better.
You can have a routine, indoor job with the fluorescent lights, cubicles, etc but still do fine as long as you can go home & get some fresh air, garden a little, feed chickens & suchlike.
It’s harder to find that balance in urban settings for sure, but it doesn’t have to require moving out west. There’s whole stretches of rural America that are sparsely populated.
Day to day employment’s pretty critical for most folks. Unless you’re blessed enough to inherit a ranch, you’re talking about a very large investment with unpredictable returns. And there’s a finite need for fulltime ranch help.
Where I live many folks are lower income but still enjoy trail riding. You can see horses grazing behind trailers. You can be a weekend cowboy & still work at Walmart or Popeye’s.

#6 Comment By Positivethinker On November 8, 2017 @ 10:23 am

“But Millennial’s, 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.”
Millennial’s may end up solving this problem out of sheer frustration. Because, certainly, my generation (the elders) are too bust living our own life. We’re too busy to solve THEIR problem.

#7 Comment By Will Harrington On November 8, 2017 @ 11:36 am

Chronological prejudice does not serve as a defence for the ills of today, nor does it offer a solution to them. What you say is true, but really irrelevant. You could at least have offered an argument that the identified ills of today are not actually that bad, but you did not do that. To leave this post as it is leaves us with, not an argument, but a red herring. Why, yes, I am. In English teacher mode, how could you tell? Anyway, you have a good start, but you will have to extend your line of thought to refute Ms Mull,s argument.

#8 Comment By Angolo On November 8, 2017 @ 11:55 am

Country boys can survive.

But do they want to? I see a lot of waste and ruin, and drugs. We are a long way from small yeoman farmer culture.

Woke up this morning it was drizzling rain
around the corner come a passenger train
I heard somebody yodel and a hobo moan
“Jimmie been dead, he been a long time gone”
‘been a long time gone …

#9 Comment By One Guy On November 8, 2017 @ 12:06 pm

The rural life is great if you don’t mind the critters. “Lie down with dogs, rise up with fleas.” And I love dogs.

#10 Comment By mrscracker On November 8, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

Just to mention, I know it’s an online stock photo but do you have any idea what that kind of board fencing costs nowadays?

#11 Comment By Slugger On November 8, 2017 @ 4:22 pm

The idea that civilized life does not feed the soul and redemption/healing is to be found in nature is not new. The first American best-selling author was James Fenimore Cooper, and since his time many have seized on this theme. Thoreau went to a pond, Melville hunted whales, Twain floated the Mississippi, Hemingway went on safari, and there are tons of others. The idea of turning away from the big city is ingrained in us.
Is it possible that this paradigm is not entirely a good thing? Perhaps, it would be good to think of ways of making the places where most of us live into better places to live.

#12 Comment By One Guy On November 8, 2017 @ 4:56 pm

“And by the way, cattlemen use 4-wheelers more than horses now.”

Weren’t 4-wheelers invented by city folk who weren’t drunk by 3 pm? Asking for a friend.

#13 Comment By Youknowho On November 9, 2017 @ 9:51 am

Well, there were plenty of praises for the rural way of living during the era of industrialization, where the life of a peasant was called better than that of a worker at a factory.

That is spite of all the peasants who fled the land and the poverty they endured with the hope of working for a factory.

The Enlightment also praised the peasants to the skies – Rousseau was its most egregious example.

The author is only the latest of this faux nostalgia of a lifestyle taht her forebears did their bet to escape.

#14 Comment By mrscracker On November 9, 2017 @ 12:14 pm

Youknowho says:

That is spite of all the peasants who fled the land and the poverty they endured with the hope of working for a factory.”
If they weren’t landowners that might be the only option outside emigration. But many immigrants to America hoped for their own land to farm & many were able to achieve that dream.

#15 Comment By One Guy On November 9, 2017 @ 12:50 pm

Seems to me there’s a lot of country boys and girls who move to the city just as soon as they can get out of town.

#16 Comment By Chris Williams On November 9, 2017 @ 5:32 pm

Hear, hear to getting outdoors and getting away from the modern world. New Mexico is one of the greatest places on earth. Coors and Willie Nelson and all of that too…

Nonetheless, I don’t get the dig at Obama. His “you didn’t build that” comment was directed toward Mitt Romney, and his corporate titan hero worship. If you lament soulless retail, Mitt and all of those consultants and financiers are much, much more to blame and anything Obama ever did.

And over-taxation drives globalization? Nonsense.

Dude, stick to horses and campfires.

#17 Comment By grumpy realist On November 9, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

This author’s burbling reminds me of Marie Antoinette playing at being a milkmaid.

What with the development of drones and the ever-increasing consolidation of American farms into Big Ag, the number of cowboys needed is expected to drop considerably, ditto for other labor required in agriculture. Result: the dwindling rural population because they’re not needed anymore.

Result: states like Kansas are turning into what are, to all intents and purposes, wet deserts with the population gathered in the oases we call cities.

#18 Comment By Youknowho On November 9, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

Alas, stressed and depressed are what are called “first world problems” Yes, people were stressed and depressed then, but they had more immediate problems – and their stress and depression could be seen as rational answers to harsh conditions.

Same as they did not have as high a rate for cancer because they tended to die early before they could catch it.

Yes, the cowboy life looks good. If you are staying on a vacation and coming back after two weeks.

Yes, normal life has its problems, and they need exploring and finding solutions.

But a flight from reality into a romanticized past is not the answer.

#19 Comment By Ivy On November 10, 2017 @ 7:53 pm

Young people would benefit from some time spent down on the farm. Rise at o’dark 30, do some chores in the crisp air and then see how just how good a breakfast can taste.

Exposure to, and appreciation of, simple daily rhythms without electronic interruption can have a tonic effect and leave a person with some sense of plenitude.

At the end of a day, reflect with wholesome satisfaction on accomplishments for the physical and spiritual things that you built.

#20 Comment By Dr. Diprospan On November 11, 2017 @ 1:18 pm

In my opinion, a deep and intelligent article.
Some commentators rightly point out that dullness, alcoholism, illnesses, shorter life expectancy occur in the countryside.
At the same time, one can not but admit that the countryside is a reservoir of conservative traditions. If there is a real threat of war, an eruption of a super volcano, an asteroid falling, a powerful earthquake, an infection, or still something unknown, the population will seek refuge in rural areas. People are vulnerable in the city because of crowding and lack of mobility (in a global sense).
Conservative, simple way of life is more resistant to damage than complex and comfortable cultures.
“America First kind of way” is not only a way to deal with depression but a way of survival. So the pine is a completely conservative plant. It can stand in one place without moving up to 500 years. Pine seeds themselves are very conservative objects too. They can not transform into maple or oak, but they can give life to a new pine tree, moving with the wind over considerable distances. Thus, if you are always moving to the west, you can accidentally get to Siberia.
Come live with us to Siberia! (from the song behind the scenes)
Someone’s shadows stand in the dark forest near the rotten swamps.
Hares gathered to mow the grass at midnight, singing one song all the time:
Let us be afraid of the wolf and owl – we do not care because we have a Business – mow the grass at the most terrible hour.
That hare will become brave, who three times a year at the most terrible hour will mow the grass.
If we stand at least once, at the most terrible hour, then all the misfortunes will be nonsense for us.