You’re Not Busy, You’re Unhappy

What did you do today? Was there anything you wanted to get done, but didn’t find the time for? Is this an anomaly, or has it happened before? Is it, in fact, something of a regular occurrence?

I recently had a conversation with a woman in the locker room about the benefits of working on our push-ups. They’re something I used to be good at, she admitted. When pressed to explain why good in the past tense, she explained she had stopped doing them after an injury, and it had been many years since and she was too afraid to start again because now they would prove to be too difficult. I suggested the old adage of one push-up a day to keep the doctor away, a simple practice to slowly build up her strength and confidence. Maybe when I’m ninety years old, she responded, and will have time every day to practice my push-ups then. 

Sorry, what?

Her offhand remark may be intended to be just humorous, but it is also revealing to an epidemic of thought that we all, to some degree, suffer from. It is the deeply ingrained, and deeply false, belief that we are all too busy.

What does that even mean? Before we jump in and try to unpack the clusterfuck of false belief and fuckery that society has dumped upon our unsuspecting heads, let’s start by just examining the word busy. If words were organized into a stereotypical high school lunchroom, “Busy” would be sitting in the queen bee seat, followed closely by her sidekick, “Never mind.” No other word could possibly rival Busy’s popularity and power, except for maybe her arch nemesis, the transfer student and mysterious new girl: “I’m fine.” We won’t even talk about “Lit” – trust me, soon enough, hopefully we won’t be.

Why are we so obsessed with this word, heard so commonly from both the mouths of strangers to our very own? Ask anyone – a friend, a family member, a stranger off the street – they will easily tell you when asked about their lives: Oh yeah it’s been good, busy though, but good. There it is, again and again: I’m so busy, you’re so busy, we’re all so busy, busy, busy. 

To be busy is defined as: having a great deal to do, or simply: keeping occupied. In a society which values growth and expansion, and scale scale scale! it doesn’t really leave a lot of room for dawdling. Speed is of the essence, and a need for speed is implied into every nook and cranny of the modern day success story. Forty Under Forty, Thirty Under Thirty, and very soon likely Ten Under Ten these kinds of headlines and articles are so prevalent, and they are bombarding us all the time with the subliminal pressure to Get Things Done!

And you can bet that it is working. Young adults in their mid twenties are going through quarter life crisis, levels of anxiety and depression are increasingly on the rise in those younger and younger, and if we even stop to question those who are apparently doing all the things, and getting all the things done, are they, in fact, that much happier?

Because we live with busyness (yes, it’s a word) as our societal baseline, we have gone so far away from its opposite – meaningfulness. We do not care so much about why we do what we do, only that we are doing something, and in most cases, that we are doing a lot of somethings. Quantity over quality. Why? Because we do not even know ourselves what quality is anymore.

Why do we do the things we do? Is it necessary? Is it important? Is it because you have to? And what dictates this “have to”? Is it because someone else delegated it to you? Is it just because it is written in your calendar? Who put it there then? Is it you?

When asking why we do the things we suspect we must, most of the reasons will come from an extrinsic motivation – because we have a job, we have a responsibility, or we have an agreement etc. But in rarer and rarer instances do we immediately jump to our intrinsic reasoning – because it is something we love doing, we get great pleasure from it, doing it makes us happy. This inner feeling of doing something for the pure joy of doing has been so far buried into our consciousness, that in those rare instances when we do run into it we act as if we are seeing a ghost – unsure if we should react to a miracle or run away screaming in terror.

When was the last time you did something because you love it? Not because it was the means to an end, not because you were chasing societal standards for fame, beauty, or material things, but because you really, truly love it. Did you cook a meal? Kick a ball around a field? Read a book? Write one? Have really, really good sex, the slow kind where time stretches on and you are both in the moment and nowhere else? When was the next time you did any of these things, the things you love? How far and in between are the time points between these two events? If it is not at most one day in between, then what are you living your life for, if you are giving up most of your time to things that are not making you happy?

Remember, Time is not a friend and Time is not an enemy. Time only moves on, but before it goes, it gives you a present. This present from Time is like an empty box, and inside you can fill it with anything you like. From the moment you were young, the things that filled your box were probably chosen for you. And this indoctrination to having your box filled by others is hard to shake off. As you get older, you get more and more autonomy to choose the things inside for yourself, but there will always be outside voices and opinions who like to suggest, to scare, to control you into putting in the things they want you to put. But it is, after all, your box. It is your present, your time, that is being occupied. It is your busy. Whether that is having a lot to do, or keeping occupied doing the things you love to do, well that is up to you.

“If you make too many things, even if they are good things, they become garbage.”                                                                                                                                                                                                 – Gufu Watanabe                      




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