Why Does Everyone Feel the Need to be Busy?

Why do people in modern society feel the need to be busy? People wear their busyness like a badge of honour. Because if you’re not busy, that means you must be lazy, right?

I’m not saying that I’m immune to this. I’ve often bemoaned that I’m busy, life is hectic and I could do with a break.

In reality, I’m not that busy.

Yes, I have a full time job, I run a blog, I keep a home and all that that entails, I spend time with my husband and friends, I waste far too much time on social media, I exercise, I go on trips, I plan for the future by managing our here and now responsibly. Sometimes my weekends disappear in the blink of an eye.

But in reality, I’m not that busy. My life right now consists of things I have to do and things I want to do (and in the future, post FI, I’m planning for my life to consist mostly of things I want to do). But even though I juggle all these things, I don’t think I’m that busy. And I don’t want to be. I don’t find happiness or fulfillment in running around like a headless chicken from one thing to the next.

I like down time. To just sit and do nothing for an afternoon. To go to the park for a walk. To go to the cinema because I have nothing better to do. Busyness isn’t a badge of honour. To me, the emotion I connect to busyness is sadness. It makes me sad to think what some people might be trying to mask or run away from by being busy. It makes me sad thinking that if people don’t slow down, they’ll miss their life that’s flashing before their eyes. Yes, some people may just have naturally busy lives, but I think others create busyness to focus on that instead of a hard reality.

People can proclaim they’re so busy now because they’re creating foundations for a successful future. To enable them to enjoy their time later on.

But what if you don’t have a future? Living for the future means you’re not living for the now. The future isn’t guaranteed. You might not ever get there. And so then, what did you end up living for?

“Life is what happens when you are making other plans.”
~John Lennon, Beautiful Boy (1980)

I understand that sometimes life can be truly busier than at other times. But I think people just use it as a default too much. It’s an automatic, unconscious response.

Thinking about busyness (and I’ve been thinking about it a lot recently), I think there’s two broad groupings that can explain it; psychological and social. And obviously, the psychological reasonings for busyness, run deeper to the core of some more challenging problems that people might be facing. Whereas, socially, it is kinda like Keeping Up With The Joneses.

So what are my reasonings behind busyness?

Psychological
  • Avoidance: I think people would rather keep themselves busy with superficial activities than face a painful reality they’re experiencing. A bad relationship, money problems, health concerns, family rifts – all of these things and more can create tension or problems in your life. And avoiding them can seem better than confronting the real issue.
  • Running from something: Similar to avoidance, you can keep yourself busy to run from something you don’t want to confront. You want to avoid your emotions and avoid confronting your problems. Busyness is used as a distraction technique.
  • Fear of success: This is an odd one, but I think that some people fear being successful and so will keep themselves busy with a multitude of other things to indirectly sabotage themselves and their success by taking on too much.
  • Fear to confront life: Specifically that our time here on this earth is short. You keep yourself busy, you avoid an existential crisis.
  • Distraction from boredom: Busyness can be an escapism from boredom: If you keep yourself busy with goals to accomplish, exercise regimes, self improvement projects, debt to get rid of, then you can distract yourself from the bigger issue that you could be bored in your professional life. You could be feeling unfulfilled and trapped because you’re doing a job you’ll probably be doing until you’re 65 that you don’t enjoy but can’t see a way out from. Instead of confronting that and addressing the situation to improve it, you just create 15 other things to focus on, so you don’t have to think about it.
Social
  • It’s a common buzzword into today’s society: Conversation opener. “Hi! How have you been?” “I’ve been well, thanks! I’ve just been so busy!” It’s fashionable to be busy. To have to rearrange a date with your girlfriends 5 times because you’ve just got so much going on. To only be half apologetic about it because, well, it’s fine to bail on them, isn’t it? Surely they all just get how hectic life is. And then when you actually do arrange a get together, you’re only half present because you’re thinking of the 10 other things you could be doing or have to do. Put. The. Phone. Away.
  • Insecurity: I didn’t add this under the psychological section as I think we tend to feel insecure about our idle time, in relation to how that will make us appear to others. We think people will perceive us as idle and lazy if we don’t have a full calendar.
  • Competition: It’s all about status. The busier you are, the more important you must be, right? You’re leading a full life. Taking time for yourself shows weakness and failure.
Problems that Busyness Creates

Being busy all the time isn’t great. It’s not cool, it doesn’t give you status. It isn’t a reflection of a fulfilled life. It creates more problems that don’t need to be problems…

  • Not present: You become detached from reality, from the here and now. It’s as simple as that. You’re not present in the present, which is the only time in which you’re living. You don’t live in the future and as much as your busyness might be tied to the future, it’s meaningless if you’re not present right now.
  • Just because you’re busy, doesn’t mean you’re productive: Checking 20 things off a to do list doesn’t mean you’re being productive. Some things take time. Take a blog post for example. It can take me a full 3 days for some posts. Sometimes I need to do some research, pull some data together, think ideas over, write a couple of drafts before I’m happy with the final product. Bashing out 5 blog posts in an hour might make you feel accomplished and productive but it’s not necessarily a good thing. The content might be poor, the message garbled. Quality over quantity is a great ideal to strive for.
  • We’re creating new generations of humans that associate busyness with success: At a social function not too long ago, it took a full minute for someone to reel off to me all the clubs and classes her daughter attends. There’s an after school activity every day, there’s tutoring for science, there’s the weekend clubs, the foreign language lessons and the piano and violin lessons. She said it’s essential for her daughter to be as well-rounded as possible to give her the best chance to succeed when she’s older and trying to make her way in the world. OK, but she’s 6. How can she be 6 and have no spare time to just be? She has no time for imaginary play. No time to just explore and discover, not only the world around her but to explore and discover herself. To figure out life. And if you’re telling her from age 6, that all this busyness is to ensure future success, what message is that sending? She’ll grow up thinking she needs to be busy, otherwise she’ll be a failure.

I’m sure some people like being busy. Maybe they feel the same sadness I feel about busyness, about idleness. Maybe they’d look at me and feel sorry for me and my empty weekend, filled with no other plans than my housework and spending time with my husband.

That’s OK.

I truly feel though, that modern society has placed far too much emphasis on busyness being a good thing, rather than something that could be a cause for concern. I never expected my decision to try and become financially independent, would spill over into so many other aspects of my life. But working towards the goal of not needing a 9-5 to live, has really opened my eyes to the way society operates and the fake constructs it creates, that keep people on a metaphorical treadmill, always running, but to nothing.

Can we just take 5? To have a cup of tea, sit on the sofa and do nothing? Is that too much to ask?

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