Opinion | Inter-dependency improves quality of life

Placing less emphasis on independence cultivates a better work-life balance for everyone.


Sophia Meador, Opinions Editor

“Americans work so much!”

This was a common sentiment I heard in Barcelona, and the facts surrounding American labor prove this as fact. Workers in the U.S. put in over 25 percent more hours than those in Europe, according to the Chicago Tribune.

A good work ethic is important, but America places too much emphasis on hard work. The U.S. should be taking notes from countries abroad to gain a better understanding of work-life balance.

Over spring break, I traveled across the globe to Barcelona, Spain, for one week. While visiting the city, I stayed in a hostel with other young people from across the world, including South Korea, Israel, Ukraine, Germany, and the Netherlands.

This was an amazing week to meet a diverse group of people and to observe daily life in a foreign country. I learned many things from my friends abroad, like how to avoid pickpockets, where to find the best sangria, and why not to bother the bus driver.

But the biggest lesson I took away was the beauty of work-life balance.

In comparison to Barcelona, walking along  downtown Iowa City is chaotic: People brush against your shoulders trying to make it to class on time, business professionals speak loudly over the phone while blowing through the streets, and there always seems to be someone trying to give you some sort of pamphlet.

In Barcelona, life moved slower. People sat outside during the afternoon eating and chatting with friends. The public benches were normally filled with people smoking cigarettes, and pedestrians were in less of a rush thanks to reliable public transportation.

During the afternoon, businesses often close from 2 p.m. – 5 p.m. to allow workers a break and time to take a siesta — a midday nap. I can imagine Americans scoffing at the very idea of stopping work during the day to sleep.

In Spain and many other European homes, individuals move-out of their parents’ homes at a later age than is typical in the U.S. People live in smaller dwellings and share greater community with their neighbors. There is no embarrassment in asking for help from the people around you.

One reason Americans work long hours is to bring in a sufficient income. But many people also must work more than one job to acquire health insurance and other services.

The U.S. places a high value over independence. Americans are expected to work hard so they do not have to rely on social programs. Thus, programs like welfare, food stamps and public health care are not only underfunded and inaccessible, but they also carry a negative stigma.

People who have fallen on hard times are looked at as being lazy and burdensome for using programs in the U.S. social safety net. Yet, other countries offer social programs to all individuals, regardless of income or ability.

In Spain, the country offers universal health care, birth and child care benefits, and unemployment insurance. There is no stigma for using public services because people are not expected to be totally independent.

For many Americans, it is hard to imagine slowing down and asking for help, whether it be from the government, relatives, or friends. Unfortunately, until there are significant changes in public programs that promote interdependence between the government and the public, slowing down is not an easy task.

As difficult as it is, you must take time for yourself. From my time in Barcelona, I was reminded that life should not just be about work. As corny as it sounds, you have to slow down to enjoy the beauty that surrounds you.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.