Community//

Busyness: Humblebrag or Opiate?

Over the past several years I’ve noticed a significant upturn in “busyness.” Being “really busy” seems to have become very commonplace, almost a badge of honor. When I get requests of any sort, they usually preface the request with “John, I know you are really busy, but….” The truth is that I’m not “really busy” […]

Overworked woman in front of a window full with notes
Overworked woman in front of a window full with notes

Over the past several years I’ve noticed a significant upturn in “busyness.” Being “really busy” seems to have become very commonplace, almost a badge of honor.

When I get requests of any sort, they usually preface the request with “John, I know you are really busy, but….”

The truth is that I’m not “really busy” and have made a point of remaining “unbusy” for some twenty years now. But why do people assume that I am really busy? I suspect it is because almost everyone they know is super busy.

An NBCNews online article* about an American survey starts off:

“Being busy isn’t an excuse or a lament anymore. It’s a sign of status — maybe even a humblebrag…

“But when the same researchers tried similar research with Italians, the results flipped. The article concludes:….Italians considered people with more leisure time to have higher status than those who were working all the time.

“So next time you’re feeling crazy busy, think about whether what you’re busy doing is really accomplishing your goals, and if all else fails, consider Italy.”

A 2017 article** in The Atlantic begins:

“In his 1899 book The Theory of the Leisure Class, the economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen wrote that “conspicuous abstention from labor … becomes the conventional mark of superior pecuniary achievement.” In other words, the richer one gets, the less one works and the more likely one is to try to show off one’s ample leisure time.

“For a while, Veblen’s theory held, with few exceptions. But no longer. In the U.S., one can now make a good guess about how rich somebody is based on the long hours they put in at work. The wealthiest American men, on average, work more than those poorer than them.”

Recently I engaged with a friend over this matter after she mentioned in detail how tightly scheduled she had been. I asked if she was enjoying the hectic pace of her life. She replied, “I’m bored if I’m not busy, and deeper than that, I start to fall into questioning my worth.  If I’m busy, I feel like I’m contributing and therefore have value.  It becomes a habit.”

I asked her if she felt the habit to be a healthy one – as opposed to a compulsive addiction – and she responded, “Sometimes when I slow down and am just present, I can experience my worth in the way people love me for who I am and not what I do.  And if I slow down even more, worth doesn’t even enter the equation. What arises is a joy of being alive. Meaning comes from experiencing my existence and the existence of all that is around me.”

It would appear my friend has recognized how she had her sense of self-esteem tied to how busy she was and now intends to change – to break the habit of busyness and its related connection to her valuing herself.

While I’m delighted that my friend has recognized her habit and plans to break it, I am keenly aware of the near-epidemic of busyness – particularly here in the U.S. Like many social conventions, it can creep into one’s lifestyle like a burglar in the night. It is insidious and a mass collusion. Once one succumbs to it, and sees all their friends and colleagues doing the same thing, it becomes the new way to be.

The best way to avoid this epidemic is to stay awake, remain conscious of your actions and propensities for distraction. Be extra-discerning about what is essential to what’s important in your life as opposed to what might be a mere distraction that does nothing more than occupy your attention for a short time. 

*NBCNews article: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/careers/busy-trap-how-keeping-busy-became-status-symbol-n742051

**The Atlantic article: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/03/busyness-status-symbol/518178/

    The Thrive Global Community welcomes voices from many spheres. We publish pieces written by outside contributors with a wide range of opinions, which don’t necessarily reflect our own. Learn more or join us as a community member!
    Share your comments below. Please read our commenting guidelines before posting. If you have a concern about a comment, report it here.

    You might also like...

    Community//

    The Badge of Busyness

    by Bree Weber
    Work Smarter//

    Research Confirms We Think Busy Is Better

    by Shelby Lorman
    Community//

    On Busyness

    by Nicos Hadjicostis

    Sign up for the Thrive Global newsletter

    Will be used in accordance with our privacy policy.

    Thrive Global
    People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.

    - MARCUS AURELIUS

    We use cookies on our site to give you the best experience possible. By continuing to browse the site, you agree to this use. For more information on how we use cookies, see our Privacy Policy.