In 19th century Sweden the “torpare” or crofters were farm-laborers with a cottage. This already brought their status up compared to the ordinary laborers. They had the use of a tiny cottage; 1 room and a small kitchen with dirt-floors and some land around it for planting crops. The “rent” for the cottage was to work for the landowner and sometimes also with payments in the form of crops. The families were usually large with 6-12 children and everybody had to work; man, wife and the children over a certain age. The average working-hours were from 4am – 7pm. They were allowed 13 Sundays per year to go to church. For each hour of missed work, one entire work-day was demanded. Besides this, the rules for how to run the cottage were very strict; the lands and cottage had to be well-tended and in perfect repair. Their food and survival came from the crops they grew at the cottage, usually on very meager soil. Pregnant women usually worked until the contractions started and a day after giving birth, they were back at work. Smaller children were tended by one of the older. With all this work for the landowner, when on earth did they manage their own land? Herculean effort 24/7, 352 days/year. Oh, almost forgot, the landowner also had the right to beat them if they did not perform. Slavery? not quite, for extra work (extra work? you’ve got to be kidding, right?) they would receive a pittance. And these were people that were enviable to others…
This kind of living ended as late as the early 20th century, there are still people, albeit old, who have some memories of this kind of life through the stories told by their parents. The industrial revolution came as a blessing; regulated working hours, regulated salaries, medi-care, insurance… still, to us living today, even the industrial era is an unimaginable hardship.
Hard life? Stress?
In comparison our lives today are comfy, lazy, luxurious ….and whiny. How did these people survive such a hard day-to-day life? And what about when really tough times hit? Drought, famine, death, inability to work… they would be out on the street, entire families with no possibility whatsoever to feed or clothe themselves, let alone all the children. From my point of view this kind of life would induce such tremendous stress; people must have been constantly in a state of burn-out, heart-attacks galore, aches and pains, sleeping problems, nervous break-downs, psychological wreaks and what-have-you.
I see people every day that complain of stress and sometimes I honestly wonder “what is their problem?” Over time I have found a red thread: dis-contentment. Society today showers us with ideas of what we could have. And everybody is believing it. Nothing seems quite good enough and everything is exchangeable. Tired of your sofa, car, man, woman, house, stereo, TV? …exchange it. Values disintegrate and the rat-race is on. Now we talk about sustainable living, 6 hour workdays and our rights. What rights? Who’s rights? Who are going to give us these rights? Aren’t we all responsible for our own reality? You want to be sustainable? Keep your stuff until it falls apart, don’t throw your food away, be grateful for all that you have and repair!
We complain about stress, how awful it is, how it is the new disease. Still, we all know about stress, it doesn’t come as a surprise and with this knowledge we should be able to nip it in the bud, don’t you think? If you know that you will break your leg by jumping off the roof, will you still jump? With the basic living quality we have today…how can we have such huge personal problems with more or less everything? Don’t accept stress, say no. Keep remembering your “good place” and pay attention to stay there and most of all; find contentment. I believe today’s stress has more to do with dis-content than actual pressure. And if you are angry with me now for saying this, maybe you should read the first paragraph again.
Be grateful you have a car, even if it looks like shit and you would like a Mercedes. Be grateful for your health and, when you fall ill, that you get medical care and are not left to die by the roadside. So you have to wear last year’s dress…at least you have one or two or more. Every time you run your washing machine, give thanks that you don’t have to wash by hand – all that extra time saved. Next time you are about to throw out the left-overs, think again and turn them into another meal. Take a moment every day to think about all the blessings in your life and feel the gratitude. Your ancestors worked themselves to death to create this abundant life for you. I think they’re turning in their graves at how ungrateful and whiny we have all become. Find contentment and you will beat stress faster than a cat sneezes.