“The problem with being busy is that you’re never busy enough,” a rather frazzled friend once told me, not bothering to look up from her laptop. She made it sound like an addiction; something that she chose to engage in at first, maybe even enjoyed, but which eventually became an inescapable feature of life, for better or for worse. Although in this case, “for worse” might not come up in discussion. Busy, scheduled within an inch of your life… that’s sort of the thing to be, these days. Everyone is busy.
“I’m so busy” has become a common humblebrag, both in conversation and in the social media echo chamber. “Yeah, sorry I couldn’t reply to your message. I’ve just been sooo busy lately.” (Check out #sobusy on Twitter sometime, if mingled desperation and smugness is your bag.) It’s at once an excuse and an invitation for commendation. The implication is that if one is busy, they are in demand, and their skills have been recognized by others and are being utilized. They are useful, and really, what could be better than being useful?
Allow me to condense a few centuries of philosophy and ideology into a ruthlessly simplified argument with myself:
What’s so great about being busy?
Well, you get stuff done.
Why do you need to get stuff done?
So I can get other stuff done.
Why do you need to get that stuff done?
So I can get things.
Why do you need things?
So I can be happy.
There it is. Things = happy. Busy = getting stuff done, in order to acquire things. Busy = happy. Now, that’s an ism, folks. I’m sure you can guess which one, but I’m not going to mention it here because it’ll get distracting. We’re not talking about isms, we’re talking about people.
This whole busy = things = happy equation wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for busy’s constant companion: tired. It takes a hell of a lot of energy to be available for email 24/7, cutting into your sleep time to write a paper, skipping lunch to organize a group project. Sure, you’re being useful, but you’ll run yourself into the ground. Maybe what we need to do is divorce ‘useful’ from ‘busy.’ Useful can be getting enough sleep. Useful can be doing fewer things, better. Useful can be taking care of your relationships with friends. Useful can be relaxing.
Why is this a problem now? Maybe we can blame it on the internet, because we do that with everything else. Granted, it was a lot harder to take so much of your work home with you (sometimes to bed with you) before laptops and smartphones became so widespread, but it would be lazy to just blame the little devil-boxes we surround ourselves with. They’re just symptoms. We created them specifically for efficiency. They exist so that there would never have to be a time when work is not a possibility.
Instant gratification, we’re taught, is a bad thing. It appears everywhere we look in our fast-paced ‘I want it yesterday’ modern culture, yet it’s something to be avoided at all costs, if we want to reap the more virtuous, satisfying rewards that come with hard work and sacrifice. Big rewards, we’re told. Those rewards are, you guessed it, the aforementioned ‘things.’
But more important than any of these complaints that I’ve dragged out of my privileged ass is the effect our glorification of work has on the people who have no choice but to be busy. People who work multiple jobs and hardly rest because things like procuring shelter and having enough to eat are generally essential to human survival. If we see exhaustion as the norm, we see no reason to help each other out.
And there are the stupid little human things that we can’t ignore, much as we’d like to. ‘Busy’ can push people away. When a friend you haven’t seen in a while asks how you’ve been, and you reply that you’ve been really you-know-what lately, they hear that you don’t have time to miss them. You’ve been too busy one-upping their accomplishments. And you probably don’t have time to hang out with them.
So tell you what: let’s violently reject ‘busy.’ Let’s all be lumps. Clear your schedule, cancel your plans, come over to my house. We’ll watch movies. We’ll cook something. We’ll tell terrible jokes. And we’ll be of no use to anyone whatsoever. There will be zero forward or upward motion. And you are going to be happy as fuck. Which is happier than a clam, in case you’re wondering.
Alright, no, I give. Ambition and work ethic are not bad things. But let’s stop allowing ourselves to think that they’re the only things worth our time. The number of people who know how ‘busy’ you are is not going to have any effect on your quality of life. So turn off your phone, go order a pint, and find something new to talk about.
Hillary Pasternak is a U1 History major and a Daily Culture editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.