There has been much research conducted about the roll of work and ultimate happiness. It is generally true that people who are busier are happier than people who are not busy. But something has happened to what it means to say, "I'm too busy."
Most of us are, in fact, busy. We work more hours, even when we are at home. We have families and relationships to tend to. We're involved in things. But the truth is, for the most part, most of us aren't too busy to make time for the people we love, or to send a text. Nonetheless, it's very easy to give the impression that we are.
Time was, when you said "I'm busy," it meant "I'm feeling overwhelmed," or "my life is nothing but chaos." Our culture has always discouraged people from unloading their troubles on others (that's why there are Psychiatrists), so we claim that we are busy to avoid a conversation.
But now, we spend our time being busy by talking about how busy we are on social media. And when we tell someone that we are too busy to give them any attention, what they hear is, "I am too busy for you. You aren't that important to me."
Ann Bennett is a Professor of Communication at North Dakota State. She analyzed 50 family holiday letters from 2000 to 2016, cards people send out at the end of the year. She found that bragging about business was the second most common type of thing to brag about. A typical statement she found was, "Once again, this year has been busier than ever." People bragged about being busier more than they bragged about their achievements. The most common kind of bragging was pride of ownership. "We have a new grandchild and she is adorable."
Why are we so proud of being busy? Could it be that we want people to think we are successful, important and interesting? Researchers at Columbia Business School, Georgetown University and Harvard Business School conducted studies in December 2016. They found that busier people are perceived as having higher status.
Woody Woodward is an organizational psychologist in New York City. He said, "We place a high value on hard work and rewarding effort, which is really rewarding activity and not necessarily achievement."
Being too busy is also something that gets used when a person drops a ball or just doesn't want to be bothered. So what can we do about all this?
"Never use 'busy' as a positive," says William J. Doherty, a marriage and family therapist and Professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota. He also says that "busy" has taken on a connotation of virtue, which is false and misleading.
Instead of saying you're too busy, he suggests being more specific. "My life is intense." "I'm behind in my work." "I'm feeling frustrated at the moment."
So if you're overwhelmed, say, "I'm overwhelmed." If you are not comfortable talking about what's going on with you right now, say it. By doing this, the other person will understand that it isn't he or she who isn't important or doesn't matter, but that you're in a tough place at that particular moment.
Dr. Doherty also suggests that you schedule less, knowing that unexpected things will come up. "It's the events and tasks on our schedules that squeeze out time for our families and friends." He suggests pruning your commitments.
Professor Bennett says, "we tend to believe that busy is the opposite of lazy, which we see as bad. That is a myth. Drop the shame."
Unless you're too busy.