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Rat Race Quotes

Updated on September 16, 2011

Most quotes about rat race is rather negative. Take for example ...

"It's not natural; it's not right. We weren't made to be in the rat race. Not even rats were made to be in the rat race."

This quote is by Tal Ben-Shahar on an NPR radio program titled Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom. Tal Ben-Shahar teaches Positive Psychology at Havard (which at one time is the most popular course on campus).

In general, Ben-Shahar does not have much good things to say about the rat race. What he has written is that ...

"The rat racer is sustained by the hope that his actions will yield some future benefit, which makes his negative emotions more bearable. However, once he reaches his destination and realizes that material prosperity does not make him happy, there is nothing to sustain him." [p57 of Happier]

and ...

"The mind-set of the rat racer is antithetical to emotional intelligence and thus to a happy and successful life." [p85 of Happier]

and ...

"Because the life of a Perfectionist is an endless rat race, his enjoyment of success is short lived." [p19 of The Pursuit of Perfect]

Nothing Good About Rat Race

Apparently, he is not the only one who sees rat race as a negative. Found in The Happiness Hypothesis, it says ...

"Buddha, Epictetus, and many other sages saw the futility of the rat race and urged people to quit." [p87]

On page 40 of The Joy of Not Working, Ernie Zelinski writes ...

"we often use the term "being in the rat race." It isn't an appropriate term, however, simply because it's demeaning to rats. Rats wouldn't stay in a tunnel without cheese."

Page 21 reveals the advice ..

"Opting out of the rat race and putting more leisure time into your days can lead to a far richer life."

And who are most likely to want to opt out of the rat race? According to blog ...

"Generation Y is a generation that loves the topic of escaping the rat race. The stuffy corporate job where we were a minimum of 9-5 in an office building just isn’t an attractive option for today’s up-and-coming work force. No, we prefer flexibility, mobility, a wide range of opportunities, work/life balance, corporate responsibility, etc. Those that take this a step further prefer to escape the rat race altogether."

In the book The Science of Happiness, it says ...

"The rat race -- the chase after recognition for money and status -- doesn't pay." [p 211]

That is because ...

"big ambitions have a more than average likelihood of being accompanied by anxiety and depression." [p211]

Lily Tomlin has this quote which had been seen on T-Shirts ...

"The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you're still a rat." [reference]

What is the Rat Race

Even Wikipedia which is impartial defines rat race in a somewhat negative light ...

"A rat race is a term used for an endless, self-defeating or pointless pursuit. ... The rat race is a term often used to describe work, particularly excessive work; in general terms, if one works too much, one is in the rat race. This terminology contains implications that many people see work as a seemingly endless pursuit with little reward or purpose."

Other definitions include ...

"any exhausting, unremitting, and usually competitive activity or routine, esp. a pressured urban working life spent trying to get ahead with little time left for" leisure, contemplation, etc." [ ]

and ...

"Rat Race is a term used to describe a frustrating, hard-to-break financial lifestyle. It is a lifestyle that is lived by countless people, oblivious to the very nature of it, to a degree that even when called upon, vehemently deny it." []

David Foster Wallace speaks of the Rat Race

Author David Foster Wallace said the following as published in the Wall Street Journal Online

"The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the "rat race" -- the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing."

That article was adapted from adapted from a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class at Kenyon College. He had said to the graduating seniors that they had no idea what day in and day out really means. Sometimes it "involves boredom, routine, and petty frustration". To explain this type of "rat race" thinking, he gives the example of going grocery shopping after a long 10-hour workday and being hungry. He emphasized the importance of mentally choosing how we think.

Wallace suffered from clinical depression. Three years after giving this speech, Mr. Wallace committed suicide in 2008 at the age of 46.

Alternatives to the Rat Race

If rat race doesn't sound so appealing, what can we do about it. The book Happier (p153) asks that question:

"What can we do, then, to enjoy our lives more despite the fast-paced rat-race environment so many of us live in?"

It answers by saying ...

"We must simplify our lives; we must slow down. The good news is the simplifying our lives, doing less rather than more, does not have to come at the expense of success"

The Wikipedia entry for "rat race" also mentions ...

"The increased image of work as a "rat race" in modern times has led many to question their own attitudes to work and seek a better alternative"

But is there a better alternative to the rat race? Can one make a living without the rat race? Read the article in the link to find out.


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