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Why the rat race is good for your soul (Cathy Keifer/Cathy Keifer)
Why the rat race is good for your soul (Cathy Keifer/Cathy Keifer)

Why the rat race is good for the soul Add to ...

Rush

By Todd Buchholz

(Hudson Street Press, 292 pages, $30)



In 1989, Todd Buchholz gave up his fat salary as an economic analyst in New York and moved to Washington at a huge pay cut to serve as director of economic policy for then President George H.W. Bush. On his second Monday in that exalted atmosphere, Mr. Buchholz found himself, of all things, depressed. It became clear that many of his colleagues had been in the office during the weekend, but his boss had not called upon him to work.

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“Now I am not a compulsive fiend who needs to work seven days a week. Nonetheless, I wanted my weekend imposed upon. I wanted to be wanted,” he writes in Rush: Why You Need and Love the Rat Race.

“My happiness was not going to be a function of my White House salary; my happiness was going to be a function of how much respect and self-respect I would gain.”

You don’t have to work in the White House to share those feelings. While most of us complain about the busyness in our lives, we also, at many levels, crave the emotional gratification it provides. That thirst is hard-wired, Mr. Buchholz argues; it’s part of our genetic makeup, something that has sustained us over the millennia and will continue to.

His book is one long attack on those he calls “Edenists,” who view capitalism as original sin and believe we should return to that noble, leafy, peaceful place we left behind in Genesis. A place where we never wanted anything. A place without the pressures of today’s daily grind.

“Much of the common happiness advice is feckless, and sometimes dangerous. It starts with harmless prescriptions like meditation for adults and timeouts for children. If 15 minutes of meditation is good, 30 minutes must be better. Sitting cross-legged in a room trying to lose one’s sense of self strikes me as a reckless state of mind, if we give a darn about other people,” he states.

Interestingly, he started out with a different argument in mind, one the Edenists would have hailed. His book was originally to be called Tail Hunters: How Americans Are Chasing Success and Losing Their Soul. He was distressed to see so many people racing after money, shelling out for plastic surgery, and frantically urging their children into soccer, ballet and other activities. He saw that as chasing the “tail end” of the bell curve, everyone trying to be richer, skinnier, and more outstanding than their neighbours.

But he decided there was no proof that cutting out the frenzy would make us happier. He felt the happiness studies could be interpreted, correctly, in a different light than the Edenists present. He suggests we feel better chasing the tails, even if we never catch them – the hunt makes us happier.

“The spirit of competition and the rush of life is mighty. It is integral to our beings. Blame it on evolution, blame it on God, blame it on Dan Brown and The Da Vinci Code conspiracy. But the twisted strands of DNA that make us human cannot be unfurled and examined without finding competition. And the happiness we seek cannot be found if we foolishly try to run away from who we are,” he says.

Rush delves into disparate research that supports Mr. Buchholz’s argument. He calls dopamine, for example, the molecule of urge, transmitting expectations. We seek dopamine in activities, and he argues it is not the reward for winning, for conquering or for finishing a race, but for trying. “This is the key to human life, the key to successful social and economic systems, and the great flaw in the thinking of happiness gurus and egalitarian political regimes. Our bodies evolved to crave and to compete,” he writes.

He says work charges our brains with dopamine when we start anticipating a new success. But we need a sense of control for that to happen: We are all control freaks, with work helping us to recreate ourselves and create a new tomorrow. In a Stalinist regime, facing an assembly-line operation, with no sense of control, we would lack the energy.

Mr. Buchholz believes a competitive system prods us to treat strangers like neighbours and kin. We build trust because we need each other to be successful, whether that’s working with a colleague on a company project or being a potential customer for a merchant who needs your business.

These musings on the competitive system are a long way from the frantic nature of our daily life, which, with the lure of the title, attracted me to the book. What I found, instead, was a deeply researched, contrarian approach to happiness, woven together by an economist and former hedge-fund operator determined to show how our competitive, capitalist system meets our instinctive needs for gratification. It’s an enjoyable book, although at times the many twists and turns (a section titled “Willie Mays and your brain,” for example, shows how ball players with nicknames live longer) did drain me and reduce my happiness level.

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POSTSCRIPT



Winning the War for Talent in Emerging Markets: Why Women are the Solution (Harvard Business Review Press, 275 pages, $35), by economist Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Ripa Rashid of the New York-based Center for Work-Life Policy, looks at how the talent wars are heating up in emerging countries and suggests that reaching out to untapped hidden talent could be your secret weapon.



In Rainmaking Conversations (John Wiley, 271 pages, $29.95), sales consultants Mike Schultz and John Doerr frame their system for sales success around the acronym RAIN – for rapport, aspirations and afflictions, impact, and new reality.



The Art of Uncertainty (Tarcher, 277 pages, $17.50) by Dennis Merritt Jones, founder of the California-based Center for Spiritual Living, promises to help you embrace the notion that the future is uncertain and learn to live in the moment.

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