Can 100-Hour Work Weeks Make You Happy?
Reflections On Elon Musk, Working Too Hard, and Happiness
—Elon Musk, Entrepreneur and Founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and more (pictured; elonmusk.com)
That Elon Musk quote has been sticking with me since I first read it on a friend’s Facebook page. I react to it with a strange mix of attraction and disgust. The attraction: I have a very strong drive to be successful and make a difference in the world, and I highly respect Elon Musk’s creations. I think the Tesla cars have been a driving force in the development and cultural acceptance of fully electric cars, and I think the Hyperloop transportation system is brilliant, and I use PayPal all the time. So when I combine my admiration for what this guy has accomplished in the world with my sneaking suspicion that I’m not working hard enough, I feel a strong desire to push myself harder. I want to be more efficient, more dedicated.
On the other hand, I am disgusted. 100 hours a week! There are only 168 hours in a week, and I need about eight hours of sleep a night—56 hours a week. That would leave me with slightly less than one hour and forty three minutes per day for literally everything else in life: eating, spending time with people I love, paying bills, working out, doing chores, meditating, journaling, etc. It doesn’t seem healthy. Sure, I might achieve more work success in four months than the average bear in a year, but am I also achieving cancer, and ulcers, and isolation? Am I also achieving a shorter lifespan? (1)
Even if I’m working for the good of others, what good am I really doing for them? Do I make the air cleaner and transportation systems faster just so they too can work 100 hour weeks too? What’s the point?
And what if my work doesn’t have much to do with what I care about? If I care about happiness, and my work doesn’t satisfy me, than 100 hours a week would be a living hell.
The point is always to ask “What’s the point?” If all you care about is business success, and achieving that success faster than other people is a priority, than working 100 hours a week towards it might make sense. But you’d still have to figure out if there is a point of diminishing returns—where the extra stress and lack of energy actually detracts from your output rather than adding to it. And I would still encourage you to question “what’s the point?” of business success. Because if the point is safety, for example, overworking might be counterproductive, and increasing relaxation might increase your safety.
On top of that, human beings are complex living systems. There is rarely only one thing we want, and even then there are unconscious desires that often contradict with what we think we want. Continuously asking “What’s the point?” while engaging in various practices of self-awareness, spiritually through practices like meditation, emotionally through practices like journaling, and physically through practices like working out (with conscious body awareness), can help us get in touch with these different desires. We can better understand what drives us, and therefore what truly will satisfy us.
So what can we learn about happiness from Elon Musk’s ridiculous schedule, even while acknowledging that we have no idea whether or not he is actually happy?
I noticed that there are a lot of things I spend time doing that do not contribute to my overall goals as a human being. By paying attention to how I allocate my hours in any given day, I noticed some of these things. Now I am either getting rid of them or finding a way to connect them to my purpose (for example, connecting to the higher purpose of a necessary job and getting more satisfaction from it as a result).
The lesson I take away from that quote sticking in my psyche is that the closer I spend 100 hours a week doing what I love, the more satisfied I will be with my life. So now I strive to spend 100 hours a week fully expressing my purpose for being alive, regardless of the form it takes.