“It is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy, and the two cannot be separated with impunity” (John Ruskin).
LABOR, ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S THOUGHTFUL LABOR UNDERTAKEN ON BEHALF OF THOSE WE LOVE, IS ONE OF THE MAIN THINGS THAT MAKE LIFE GOOD. We may forget it while we’re working, but it only takes a period of sickness or enforced inactivity to remind us: the ability to work is a blessing, not a curse.
Labor is not inherently good, of course. Whether it’s good or bad depends on the object of our endeavors. As far as character traits go, it’s better to be industrious than not industrious, but it makes a big difference whether we’re trying to achieve honorable ends or not. Judging from the evidence, the devil has a diligent work ethic, but for all his hard work, he still has some serious public relations problems!
To be satisfying, our labor must be based on valid principles. It must be aligned with truths that are known to produce helpful results, rather than harmful ones. And not only that, it must be motivated by something more than self-centered aims. We’re at our best when we’re laboring to create something someone else will enjoy or profit from.
If you don’t have somebody for whom you love to work, you need to find somebody like that. You need to have one or more persons whose needs it gives you great pleasure to fulfill. There really is a great deal of truth to the saying that “it’s more blessed to give than to receive.” By nature, we’re producers, and we derive a deeper pleasure from that than from consuming what others have produced.
Since we’re all connected to a vast array of relationships in the world, we also need to see our labor as being connected to the labor of others. Whatever our work is, our activity impinges on others in some way; it affects their work, either positively or negatively. Since that’s true, one of the most ennobling things in life is to aspire to the making of a positive contribution, one that will add a little quality or excellence to the world’s output. When we labor toward that end, gratefully and enthusiastically, good things can be expected to happen.
“No task, rightly done, is truly private. It is part of the world’s work” (Woodrow Wilson).