Drink to Unwind
Live to Work: Puritan Work Ethic Culture
He works hard. He is from a culture where the Puritan work ethic is still very strong; being seen working hard is a virtue. Many people or projects depend on his timely attention, and he feels the pressure. So at the end of the day, he has a drink. It is a quiet drink, it is not like he is going out to the bar and getting plastered. Just one or two to relax, to still the busyness of the mind, to take a break from the expectations of life. The slight numbing of a few shots. The muscles relax with a beer. The doctor even said a glass or two of red wine is good for his blood pressure, which has started to be of concern as he has aged. It is depressive drinking. He is not an alcoholic, but he has a psychological dependence.
Work to Live: Quality of Life Culture
She keeps her private life precious. She is from a culture where maximizing quality of life is a deified human right; distinguishing and safeguarding the time to enjoy being alive from work life is an absolute. Meeting friends for a drink, a very social act, is the outward expression of when she is in living mode and can not be bothered by work or the tasks of the day. There is an existential quality to her life that she punctuates with the little joys of drinking, socializing, and savoring. She meets her friends, she vacations, she sits at the cafe, and time becomes hers and theirs to do with as they please as they sip their wine.
Life is stressful, boring, and demanding. People expect much of each other, and much of themselves. Especially people who are in competition, who are searching for some greater meaning, who are judgmental. It is tough work to constantly be held to their high standards. To drink is to take a break from the race, to reject the responsibility, to set aside the expectations of life. Those who drink to unwind think of living in two categories. The first category is responsible living, the living that happens in the daylight, which is stressful. To be productive is a virtue, to be progressing towards goals is a virtue, to be planning and building for the future is a virtue. These puritans were told the story of the Ant and the Grasshopper growing up, and the ant was the clear hero of the story: he planned for the winter, he stored up the wheat; he is industrious, hard working, forward thinking, and self sufficient. The grasshopper wasted away his life and did not deserve the fruits of the labor of the virtuous ant. The second category is the earned reward of the busy day, when they treat themselves to their reward for being so virtuous: they allow themselves to enjoy life. The opening pop of the first bottle is a little psychological joy as it signifies that the work is done, the play can start. They call it “to unwind”. Monday is an awful concept. Whoever invented the beginning of the work week should be punished. It means the end of enjoying life, and going back to the dread of working life. These two forms of living are intentionally and carefully kept separate so the ugly working life and beautiful enjoying life do not pollute each other.
The sober man is accountable for his responsibilities. The man who has had a few drinks is excused. He should avoid driving his car, he may be excused for saying more honest things than he would normally say, he can unwind and relax because it is the appropriate time to do so—he is allowed to enjoy life. He is allowed by others and by himself. Opening a bottle is the signal that this time of lacking responsibility has begun. All he wants to care about is the proper char on his grilled meat and cheering on his sports team, or to sit in his favorite chair and pet his dog. He mowed the lawn, he filed the paperwork, he paid the bills. Now he is a bit buzzed, so any task he forgot to do will have to wait until tomorrow. He is now a free man.
To drink to unwind implies the normal state is to be wound up—tense, nervous, or strained. These people see life and work as demanding. There is only so much responsibility one can handle, and life demands a great deal. Responsibilities pile up, and that is usually not a problem because they have discovered a system that works for them: they do what life asks, and then at the end of the day they treat themselves to a little reward. High level politicians have someone deciding what outfit they wear each day because of how many decisions they expect to make in a day. They know they can only ask so much of the mind, and any choices above this will cause decision fatigue, so they limit how many questions they address to prioritize the important ones of policy. In a similar manner, some may find that if they go on a diet, and start an exercise routine, and commit to extra assignments at work all at the same time, something will fall short—it is too much responsibility to demand of themselves at once.
Drinking to unwind is a nice psychological trick. They have hacked the feel good hormone, they know how to use dopamine to incentivize themselves to keep going through the week. Stress is normal Monday through Thursday, and this is acceptable because of the unwinding that happens at the end of the day or Friday through Sunday. So in this way there is not alcoholism, but there is a psychological addiction. For some it is food, for some it is shopping, for some exercise, for some binge watching or gaming, for some a few drinks.
Excuse to Be
Some people have a persona they have taken care to build up. Some people are usually rational, or known for being smart, or want to be thought of as a good person. They are excused from maintaining this burden, by themselves and others, when they have a couple drinks. Jokes are funnier. Everyone is flirtier. Judgments of dancing skills are lightened. No one expects someone who has enjoyed the evening to be quick at solving a math problem. No one expects someone who has had a beer to be diligent about the children’s bedtime. Everyone can chill. Everyone can let down their guard.
All of the expectations of life can seem like the weight of Atlas when there is no break. So drinking can be used as an excuse to break conventions. Alcohol is referred to as the “social lubricant” especially in cultures that are a bit more formal, a bit more introverted, a bit more cold with first impressions. A drink can be a nice way to make a warmer connection. And if someone’s attempt to connect is rejected, both parties can choose to shrug off the rejection as a lapse in judgment caused by drinking. Drinking can license and embolden; drinking can likewise excuse and scapegoat.