For those of us in Wisconsin, it's been a long cold winter already. The idea of only being halfway through seems daunting. I take solace in knowing gardeners and farmers are already at work planting seeds. Spring is inevitable even if the ice on the lake is a foot deep.
February 2 marks the halfway point between winter solstice and the vernal equinox. We're officially at midwinter.
Midwinter was traditionally a time to take stock of what's left in the larder. Is there enough to make it to spring?
This year, the economic crisis is forcing people to take stock of their stocks.
In the New York Times today, Andrew Ross Sorkin suggests giving bonuses to watchdogs: "Maybe someone deserves a bonus. Like someone who sniffs out the next Bernie Madoff. Or jousts with tomorrow's gonzo bankers. Or defuses the Next Big Crisis in whatever Next Big Thing is dreamed up by Wall Street. Someone, in short, who regulates."
Maybe not a bad idea. Greed regulating Greed.
Then on next page, there's a story about how "bonus" really isn't a bad word. "The bonus is a pillar of meritocratic capitalist system." Hmm. A French private jet doesn't exactly scream meritocracy to me.
You know what sounds meritocratic to me? Vacation! Everyone deserves time off, but unfortunately, we are a No Vacation Nation.
Every other industrial country in the world has minimum paid vacation leave-except the United States.
As John de Graaf writes: "Americans get the shortest vacations in the industrial world - when they get them at all. A Harris poll found that only 14 percent of Americans were taking the traditional two-week summer vacation in 2007. Another survey completed by Gallup on behalf of The Conference Board, a corporate think tank, found that 40 percent of Americans didn't take even a single week off as a block in 2006. More and more of us take what vacation days we have one by one, here and there, and use them to catch up on the errands for which our ever-increasing work demands leave little time."
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With the economy in shambles, it's easy to think this is not a good time to advocate for legislation regarding paid minimum leave. But it's the perfect time. We are re-thinking how to get the economy to work. We are re-thinking our family budgets. And we are probably re-thinking taking a vacation this year.
While we are re-thinking our consumption habits, let's remember this: consuming doesn't bring us happiness.
"Psychologists are finding little correlation between life satisfaction and increases in the Gross National Product that come from an emphasis on producing and consuming," de Graaf writes. "On the other hand, having more time for friends and family consistently improves people's subjective sense of well-being."
The fine folks at Take Back Your Time are creating a new campaign: Right2Vacation. A June 2008 poll by the group found 69% of Americans saying they would support a law that would guarantee paid vacations for workers.
As de Graaf points out, "The struggle for vacation time comes down to a question of values. What is our economy for, anyway?"
What do we value? We value equality, community, family, our health. All of these will improve if we take more vacation.
Not taking vacation can be detrimental. From Take Back Your Time: "A growing body of evidence suggests that burnout is just one of the negative consequences of too little vacation time. Studies have firmly established that men who don't take vacations are 32% more likely to die of heart attacks and women are 50% more likely. Lack of vacation time doubles rates of depression for women. After vacations, workers gain an hour per night of quality sleep and their reaction times are 30-40% faster, improvements that last for several months."
But is vacation a luxury for the affluent? After all, lower-wage workers and part-timers are less likely to receive paid vacations, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.
Well, it doesn't have to be. That's why we need legislation mandating paid leave for everybody.
In order to stop and smell the roses, we need to plant seeds. Now is the perfect time.