The worship of busyness


I’ve been noticing lately that when I see people and say ‘ How are you ?’ the stock response is “I’m just so busy”.  I don’t know if that’s how they are actually feeling – its a knee jerk kinda thing. What ever happened to feeling great, a bit under the weather, a little bit blue, excited, pensive, nervous, happy ?….. I am wondering how and when this new religion of relentlessly full days, never ending to-do lists and the glorification of not a minutes peace came to be. When did busy replace all the possibilities of how we feel and move through the world ?

No doubt we all want to feel like we are leading full, meaningful and valuable lives. Sometimes the frantic kick of adrenalin we feel can be mistaken for a sense of purpose – like a validation that anyone who feels this overwhelmed must surely be doing important stuff.

When I look at the people I admire – the ones who smile a lot, lead meaningful lives, who contribute, who chose what they do while still considering the people around them, who have time for their friends and family, who make you feel that you matter, who have their values and priorities sorted – they are the ones who have opted out of the culture of busy. They are actually quite busy people but its not something they complain or tell you about with a withering sigh. They just enjoy the things they have chosen to engage in so its not busyness to them – its just having a good life.

I am definitely a list person. I love a list to keep me on track, to declutter my head and to give me that giddy little thrill when you tick things off. It’s instant gratification and helps me remember what I have chosen to do. With alarming regularity I rewrite my list. I go through it and look at whether or not those things really need to be there and if I am just filling my days with blah instead of meaning. More often than not that list can be cut down to size without any loss of quality of life or sense of self. I don’t always recognise ‘busy’ and the overwhelmed feelings come but I’m trying hard to not let it gather too much steam.

There’s a lot of status these days which accompanies the frantic ones amongst us. It seems that if you’re not ambitious, driven, networking, always on to the next thing before this one has finished, booked up till next year, crazily running from one project ( which seems to also include our children, partners, friends, family) then you’re just not really trying.


Over the years I have seen lots of people in my clinic for lots of different reasons. When I ask about peoples levels of stress one common response is “Well, yeah I’m crazy stressed but that’s just life”. My question is ” Is it really ? Is that what you signed up for ? When you were little did you just long to be a time poor, stress head ?”

You don’t need me to tell you again the effects of stress on your body, mind, relationships, life expectancy, sleep patterns. You know its not good news  –  so why do we keep worshipping at the alter of busyness ?

I expect the answer lies somewhere in feeling validated, successful, important. I wonder if we are looking for some kind of cure for our existential questions of why we are here, why me and not someone else, what is my purpose ?

My son, who is 17, has taken to meditation in the last couple of years. He did this off his own back with no particular aim in mind other than to calm his thoughts. He comes up with some pearls of wisdom that have taken many others decades to understand. The only difference is that he is willingly, happily and productively carving out an hour or so a day to sit still, be quiet and think or maybe not think. I am so impressed by his commitment and the obvious benefits he gets from this practice. He has wisdom, kindness, light heartedness and compassion to spare. That may just be him but I think the stillness has allowed it to sit more easily and with less stress about what other people think than it does for most young men his age.

I’ve never been ambitious. I like space and time and options. I like quiet days and opportunities. That’s not to say that I don’t have a valuable life. I have raised three beautiful children, have a great marriage, a home and garden and chooks. I grow food, read books, go to the gym, cook, read, see friends …… I also work at a job I really like. It hasn’t always been this way and its not always as perfect as it sounds, in fact, sometimes it goes wildly out of shape. Sometimes the balance goes out the window and I find myself feeling stressed and worried and not at all myself. Sometimes I’d like to earn a bit more money, have a few more holidays, do other things. Sometimes I wonder if I should be a bit more giddy up but then I remember that I’m running my own race here and I don’t have to be caught up in the competition of it all. We can all decide on our own idea of success and aim for that.

The thing I have gained from not worshipping busyness is time and space. I am around when my kids want to talk. I am open to a change of plans. I have been to all the soccer games. I have rarely had to say to anyone in my family that I don’t have time for them. That’s real success to me.

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