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Is “tang ping” the antidote to burnout?

A fascinating article written by Lydia Feng for ABC news has revealed how an increasing proportion of Chinese millennials are rejecting the ‘996’ work culture, choosing to live a life free of anxiety with “tang ping,”  meaning “lying flat” instead.

The ‘996’ Rule has been embedded in Chinese culture for many years. It’s based on the idea that success only comes from applying yourself to hard work, lots of hard work, working from 9 am to 9 pm 6 days a week.

As a lifestyle practitioner, I remain horrified knowing this practice is still encouraged because it is so dangerous. Death from overwork is a reality, even if it’s not always officially recognised. In China, it’s called “guolaosi”, in Japan, “karoshi” where death resulting from chronic high stress and overwork occurs from heart attack, stroke, or suicide.

 

It’s one thing to want to be successful in your chosen career, but not at any price.

“Tang ping” or lying flat is the practice of choosing instead to live a minimalist lifestyle, working in a low paid job, or even not working at all.

The concept is thought to have been started by a man called Luo Huazhong, who quit his job as a factory worker in Sichuan province and then cycled to Tibet to live very simply and get by with doing odd jobs.

As you might imagine, those in charge in Beijing seeking strong economic growth are not happy with this trend. The Chinese work ethic of hard work, drive and commitment to the cause is deeply rooted.

In a world grappling with the emotional turmoil and chronic fatigue associated with the global pandemic, beyond China’s Great Wall, others are reacting in a similar way, choosing to move out of a city, choosing to work from home or to only go to the office a couple of times a week.

 

Is this the end of our love affair with materialism?

I doubt it.

But it may signal the growing awareness that success in life is about far more than the amount of money earned or the hours spent to earn it.

It’s about being satisfied with less, appreciating what you have and being grateful for having the choice to live with less stress or risk of burnout. It makes life simpler, less complicated, and more enjoyable.

Would you, given the option, agree to take a pay cut or work fewer paid hours in return for more time for non-work activities?  We work for the financial security required to live but considering how much of our waking hours we spend at work is there something else as, if not more important?

Research from Canada has shown if you perceive your job to provide you with meaning you are more likely to accept less pay for it, compared to other similar jobs rated lower on meaning. You might also reject a higher paying offer if you’re satisfied your current role is high in meaning. 

A survey by Joblist in the US, found the average worker would want to be paid an addition US$10k a year to give up their personal time. Which is why having work flexibility matters so much. 

Have you found yourself yearning for more of the simple pleasures in life, away from the hustle and guilt associated with taking time out to focus on your tomatoes in your veggie patch, enjoying a great meal out with friends or just to sit on your back porch with a cup of coffee and soak in the sunlight?

Simplicity is not about abandoning your passion for your work or enjoying some of the complexities of the modern world, rather it is about redressing the balance between too much and enough. It’s about resetting your priorities to distinguish between what is necessary versus indulgence and wastefulness. As David Shi anthropologist says, “simplicity is essentially a state of mind”.

“Tang ping” may not be for everyone, but it offers an alternative to the corporate model of high stress, high expectations, high level of job dissatisfaction, loss of meaning and psychological distress. 

What are your thoughts on this?

 

Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, coach and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.

If psychological safety, resilience and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about for your workplace, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.

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