When Did Busyness Get a Bad Rep?

Lately I have been reading several articles that seem to give being busy a bad reputation. See for example this interesting article in The New York Times “The Busy Trap.” I, like the author of this piece, become irritable when people complain about their busyness and use it as an excuse for everything from being a bad friend to the cause of a recent illness (although that one might be legitimate).

Recently, I have been in a position where I am not busy and I it is slowly driving me insane. No one quite seems to understand why this is such a big deal, which I understand as there is nothing an overly busy person must dislike as much as hearing someone complain about being bored.

This led me to question whether there is something wrong with me or if there is some perfect balance between busyness and boredom. To address the first part of the question I would have drawn the optimistic conclusion that the problem is not with me, but is a simply a character trait. I get my fulfillment from using my brain, accomplishing tasks, and overall feeling like I earned my time to relax. I recently received my graduate education and want to put that money and time to use.

The second part of the question is trickier. Is this busyness/boredom balance equivalent to “the grass is always greener?” I imagine that if I was too busy I would probably join in the complaining bandwagon and say how badly I felt that I did not have enough time to work out or get groceries. I have certainly been in that situation. When I worked on a political campaign I worked seven days a week and I remember often being too exhausted to eat dinner when I got home (for me this is a REALLY big deal) and crying to my parents because I was just so exhausted. While I still remember those unhappy moments that experience was one of the best professional experiences in my life and was worth those tears. In contrast, I can barely stand to remember the hours I spent in my first job after college staring at a blank computer screen just looking for any article or website to make the time go faster. For me, this was wasted time whereas my time during the campaign might have been equally challenging, but was rewarding.  

Perhaps the solution lies in another B word – balance. It is important to have time to yourself, but I have decided there is nothing wrong with seeking a little business in your life. Some people can be truly happy with not being busy and enjoy having lots of downtime. I wish these people could tell me their trick to do this because I am jealous that they do not experience the guilt and anxiety I do. But rather than beat myself up about it I can simply acknowledge who I am and what makes me happiest. Psychologists believe that being engrossed in what you are doing (or “flow”) is the key to happiness . Some people might find their flow in outside hobbies, but I am looking for flow in my daily life.

Right now I have serious “busyness” envy and feel jealous when I think of Shaun who is too busy to text me during the day. I try to be a sympathetic busy addict when my friends have complained about being bored at work I understand that it can be the worst position to be in. Although at this point if anyone complains to be about their busyness I might snap at them and then offer to trade places. Perhaps my situation might be ideal for them and maybe we all are happiest on a different place on the “busyness spectrum.” In the meantime, I will try to calm my envy and will do my best to create my own busyness and flow. 


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