Examining the Benefits and Problems of Being Busy
I read this on my facebook feed and it made me pause. I like being busy, but I also like to relax. I immediately agree with this statement, but I generally want to question blanket generalizations. What counts as busy? Why do we glorify it and what would we gain from stopping such veneration?
Who Is Doing the Glorification?
I want to be clear before I dive too much deeper who “We” refers to. It refers to people who glorify busy. This includes most of the Westernized business culture throughout the world. But there are many countries, cultures, societies and people who do not glorify busy.
If you do not have a busy-glorifying-bone in your body, then perhaps the rest of this article will be interesting from an anthropological standpoint, perhaps it is not for you, or perhaps you will find that you have some hidden busy-glorifying tendencies of your own.
What is the Problem With Being Busy?
If there are legitimate negative side effects to being busy then our glorification is unconsciously promoting them. We should at least put some warnings on the label before we go around celebrating it in our selves or others.
We May Be Missing the Point of Living.
Being busy engenders stress, and stress can have a wide variety of negative effects on our psyche, our bodies, our relationships, and even our lifespan. (1)
You might argue that you are happiest when you are busy. I think you are missing a third variable—the joy that comes from acting in alignment with your life’s deeper purpose.
Being “busy” for the sake of itself does not generally lead to happiness. If, on the other hand, our days are full of meaningful activity—where we feel like we are living each day fully, being used to our fullest capacities in ways that bring joy and transformation to ourselves and people around us—we experience a happy exhaustion. It is the difference between waking up in the morning with excitement or dread for the full day ahead.
What Do We Gain From Being Busy?
I do not put much credence into pathology—I think the human self-system is so incredibly intelligent and self-organizing that even our harmful actions are serving a deeper, unconscious need. If we want to change something, it is useful to recognize that our current state of being is helping us in some way, so that we can consciously choose to let go of that previous payoff in service of our new, desired state of being.
Or, if we discover that the previous benefit is worth the payoff, we do not have to waste energy and effort on changing something we do not want to change. In this case, if you find out that being busy provides you with something you are not ready to give up, and you are willing to accept the consequences, by all means keep being busy (but as discussed, it is still worth stopping the glorification as you recognize that being busy is not necessarily good for everyone).
Being Busy Provides Many Positives:
Gives us a sense of meaning and purpose in our days
Helps us say no to people and activities without investigating our motivations or hurting feelings
Keeps us autonomous and self-reliant
Helps allay our fears of scarcity in the world
Makes us feel better about ourselves (especially better than non-busy and people we think are lazy)
Provides a self-identity that is easily shared in social and family gatherings
Provides talking points and a way to connect over shared reality
Reinforces cultural value
Keeps us from introspection and self-reflection (often keeping us from dealing with painful emotions we would rather ignore)
It encourages behaviors that would be hard to justify otherwise such as eating out for each meal, being rude or tired, or doing work on vacation, etc.
It keeps us from behaviors we want to ignore such as skipping workouts, visiting relatives, cleaning the house, doing yard-work, paying bills, etc.
The Importance of Context and Introspection
The benefit one gets from being busy is likely to be different for each person. There are no doubt common themes that emerge in different communities (eg: academic, business professional, health care, artists), and for people with shared values and worldviews (eg: egocentric, fundamentalist, modern-rational, individualistic-egalitarian).
Therefore the following list is just a launching pad; if you feel like you are too busy simply reading these will not be enough to produce change. Ironically you will need to take a little more time on it. Like most things, a full four-quadrant analysis (2) of your own life—where we look for the interaction of psychological, cultural, behavioral, and systemic causes and payoffs—would be most useful.
So if you want to stop being busy, or stop glorifying it, you will (ironically) need to take a little more time. Look for what you gain from your current way of being and honor that. You will have to let go of these benefits or find other ways to achieve them if you really change.
Then look for what gives your life meaning—what makes you excited to get out of bed in the morning—and focus on filling your life with that. Because if you get rid of being busy, what are else you going to do?