The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for failing to achieve a work/life balance

If you feel that work has taken over your life, read Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha – a novel guaranteed to help you reassess your priorities

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Ailment: Failing to achieve a work/life balance

Cure: Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse

Thirty years ago we thought we had a fair idea of what the workplace would look like in the 21st century. Machines would be doing so many of our menial tasks that we'd only need to work part-time, and our biggest challenge would be finding enough ways to spend our free time.

Sadly, the reality is somewhat different, with many of us working much longer hours than our parents did. If you feel that work has taken over your life, read Siddhartha – a novel guaranteed to help you reassess your priorities.

Siddhartha, the son of a fictional Brahmin in ancient India, brings joy to everyone. Handsome, well versed in the art of meditation, surrounded by people who love him, he seems destined for great things. But Siddhartha feels like something is missing, and he decides to leave home to find it. First he joins the Samanas, ascetics who deny the flesh and seek enlightenment through renunciation. Then he tries the opposite approach and immerses himself in earthly pleasures, becoming the lover of a beautiful courtesan, Kamala, and the right-hand man of a merchant, Kamaswami.

One day he is sent to another village to buy a rice crop, only to discover that it has already been sold. Instead of losing his rag and coming straight home, he stays on, befriending the farmers and their families. On his return, Kamaswami is furious at the waste of time and money. What did Siddhartha think he was doing – taking a pleasure trip? "Yes!" laughs Siddhartha. "Why else should I travel? I got to know people and places, I enjoyed friendliness and trust, I found friendship."

As Siddhartha's business acumen and wealth increases, he loses this joyous perspective. There are other, better aims in life than accruing wealth and power – Siddhartha ultimately finds great contentment as a simple ferryman. But if you allow work to always take first place, you'll be way too busy to find them.