Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reexamining Love and Work

The last couple of weeks have been pretty busy and crazy for me and I missed on posting articles on my blog. This week is actually crazier; I leave home before 9 in the morning and am not back until past midnight because of my responsibilities in coordinating leadership events for a course of which I am the course director. So in a way it is ironical that I’m writing an article for my blog today, but I couldn’t have stayed away from my blog any longer. So here it is, a brief elaboration of the idea I was referring to in a couple of my previous posts. It is the original idea which stimulated a different idea that I hope, when developed well, could be published in a management journal.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, is supposed to have said that love and work are the goals of psychotherapy. This famous quote of Freud was cited by Erik Erikson in his book “Child and Society.” I haven’t actually read the Erikson’s Child and Society, and so am not in a position to comment on the context in which the statement was made. However, Freud’s statement has generally been understood in terms of love and work being the important characteristics of psychological health. To put it differently, your ability to love and work determines how psychologically healthy you are. Not just Freud and Erikson, but even the general public understands the importance of love and work in their lives. People spend most of their waking time working or loving. It is not hard to understand why. Work feeds our stomach, and love our heart. So people typically spend, I would say, an average of about 8 hours at work and 4 hours with friends and family. Those who neither work nor love are probably the mentally imbalanced ones – the psychopaths and sociopaths who live in the fringes of our society.

The English proverb, “An idle mind is a devil's workshop” suggests that our minds need to be occupied with productive activities, if we are to stay psychologically healthy. Freud would add: work and love constitute these productive activities. It is undeniable how important love and work are towards our mental wellbeing. However, it is also imperative that we recognize that love and work automatically do not lead to mental wellbeing. Although most people spend their waking hours working and loving, not all of them are psychologically healthy. Many probably are bitterly dissatisfied with their lives, yet continue to keep working and loving to maintain their sanity. While their love and work probably prevents their psychological problems from getting very serious, they still are not in a state of mental wellbeing. Absence of (say) clinical depression does not mean one is in good psychological health. If love and work are not enough to achieve mental wellbeing, then are we missing? How can mental wellbeing be achieved?

The missing points paradoxically, I think, are love and work again. We know that love and work are important but what needs to be realized is that they apply to each other as well. To put it more simply, one needs to love one's work and work on one's love. Mental wellbeing is created not by love and work per se but by the process of loving one's work and working on one's love. When we love our work and work on our love, we get better at both. Since getting better at what we do is an important need for us, the process leads to increased mental wellbeing.

In addition, when we love our work and work on our love, we perceive ourselves as authentic. When a person does not love one's work, a state of conflict exists at the mental level, which is uncomfortable for the person and in the long run takes a toll on the psyche, unless resolved by starting to love one's work or taking up a work which one loves. Similarly, when a person does not work on one's love, the love does not sustain for long. Love grows stronger only when one continues to work on it on a regular basis. When you work on your love, your partner perceives your love as authentic. But even more importantly, you yourselves perceive your love as authentic. This sense of authenticity creates mental wellbeing.

We have a need to love and work. We also have learned about the importance of love and work in our lives, and so spend a great deal of time doing these activities. However, the best benefits of love and work comes out when we are mindful about the process of loving and working. We become our best when we love our work and work on our love.


  1. 'Work on your love' ---- mmm that's interesting.

  2. Good re-interpretation of Freud's quote.