By Alex Ogle—Staff Writer

Stop on the street to ask anyone how they are doing and most likely, they will answer with something about how busy they’ve been. Students of all ages will complain that they are drowning in homework and tests with barely any time to sleep. My Psychology teacher once observed, “If you all are not so busy to the point that you cannot function, then you feel like you’re not doing enough.” This hit home to me. That’s exactly how I had been feeling. If I’m not doing enough productive activities, not only do I feel like I’m not doing enough, I feel like I’m not enough. This led me to analyze the current state of our culture and how our bad habits and a search for meaning drive our constant busyness, and leave us restless and unsatisfied. 

We have tied our value and purpose into how busy we are. Even when complaining, busyness is something we announce with pride. It’s become its own bragging right. But why is this? In “The Cult of Busy,” a 2016 article published in John Hopkins Health Review by Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, she writes that not too long ago, being busy was a sign of poverty – the rich had all the leisure time in the world. But since then, attitudes have shifted. When you’re working, you’re making money. So it goes to reason that if you’re a workaholic, then you’re making a lot of it. To use a cliché, time is money and because of this, busyness has become a symbol of status. This status is another way in which we feel a sense of purpose in our busyness. In the same article, she references an example given by Erik Helzer: “Imagine if a colleague at work asks how you’re doing, and you tell them that you’re great because you’ve cut back on your workload to take more time for yourself. They might think you didn’t care.” An attitude like this goes against the cultural norm of busyness. It is a culture where we are expected to do everything and to do it well, so we divide our time and worry about whatever we are not doing. Dickinson points to how this creates a vicious cycle that makes it hard to be mentally present.

“We worry about what we should be doing for our kids while at work, or we worry about work while out on a date. We may want to exercise, or to stay late at work to complete a particularly fulfilling project, but we feel guilt over what else we should be doing. Time slips away in an unrelenting concern that we should be someplace else doing something more, or that we’re just not able to get to all of the things we hoped to.”

This is exhausting and causes that feeling of I’m not enough if you aren’t being productive in the way you’d like. However, it’s not bad to feel pride in our accomplishments and the things that we do. We are intrinsically made to feel good about things that we are good at, but when overcommitted and mixed with bad habits, it can create what Dickinson references as “toxic time.” These bad habits boil down to spending what free time we have poorly, such as watching a lot of TV, scrolling through social media for hours, and not making time for self betterment.

Technology is made to be addictive and it succeeds, Casey Schwartz points out in her 2018 New York Times article “Finding It Hard to Focus? Maybe It’s Not Your Fault.” I asked several friends of mine what their average screen time on their phone was. Their answers were anywhere between three and six hours a day. All of them expressed dismay at wasted time when they looked at this. But wasted time is not the only consequence. Schwartz goes as far to say, “The constant pull on our attention from technology is no longer just about losing too many hours of our so-called real lives to the diversions of the web. Now, they are telling us, we are at risk of fundamentally losing our moral purpose.” The way we spend our time shows what we value most, and if we spend the time we have doing things that we don’t care for, then that brings up some big philosophical questions. What am I doing with my life? Who am I? What is the purpose of life? How do I feel fulfillment? We have a deep hunger for meaning that our busy schedules and social media feeds cannot fill. But why answer these questions if I can continue to mindlessly entertain myself through technology? “We’re simply frittering it away with mindless versions of passive leisure that don’t register as restorative,” Dickinson writes. It doesn’t have to be like this, though. Identifying the problem is the first step in changing it.

We are busy, and when we do have free time, we use that poorly. This causes us to miscalculate how much free time we actually have. Our habits, especially pertaining to our overuse of technology, and a search for meaning in our culture of busyness, aid in creating dissatisfaction and exhaustion in our schedule and mental state. This busyness is a status symbol and a way in which we search for purpose, while neglecting many values that matter to us individually. This is the unfulfilling way of life in America right now. But if we begin to view our time differently and use it better, then we might just find actual satisfaction in being present, even if we are busy.   

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