Busyness Signals Higher Social Class, Desirability

“Work, not leisure, is now the signifier of dominant social class.” – Jonathan Gershuny

As laid out by time researcher Jonathan Gershuny in “Busyness as the badge of honour for the new superordinate working class”, leisure no longer signals high social status or class. Busyness does. Gershuny sees this as one of the justifications for the “busyness paradox” – the rise in reported busy feelings that has happened concurrently with a decline in average hours spent working. People tend towards over-reporting their own busyness because it’s seen as a positive trait, leading to a perceived rise in busy feelings without a rise in working hours.1 This over-reporting would not be as prevalent without the ever-pervasive and increasingly common pressure of social comparison.

Gershuny also relates the rise in busy feelings to a broader definition of busyness which includes activities outside of work. Non-work activities can contribute to feelings of busyness, especially certain types of activities which are scheduled and not leisurely. Or, Gershuny says, the justification for the paradox could be a polarization in the distribution of work hours – some people are genuinely working much more and feeling much busier, while others are not, which skews the results.

Against the backdrop of hero-worship of entrepreneurs, a highly educated and secular populace, and the technology-driven hustle and bustle of daily life, busyness as a badge of honor comes with little surprise. Work has become central to many of our identities and senses of importance. People like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are busy – and important – and they won’t let you forget it. The new trend is that work is fashionable, and leisure time means you’re… undesired.2

As written in The New York Times “Why Don’t Rich People Just Stop Working?”, “Studies over the years have indicated that the rich, unlike the leisured gentry of old, tend to work longer hours and spend less time socializing… Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla and SpaceX, is worth some $23 billion but nevertheless considers it a victory that he dialed back his ‘bonkers’ 120-hour work week to a more ‘manageable’ 80 or 90.”3 The wealthiest people in our society boast of work schedules that would put medieval serfs to shame. And they’re proud of it.

Where does this pride come from, and how did it flip in just a few short centuries? Perhaps the attitude now is if we’re busy, our life has a purpose; our life matters, and if we’re not busy… it doesn’t. Social value is becoming more and more tied to the value of finding a life purpose, especially one that is “useful” to society, and constantly generates work. What are humans but machines built to progress forward?

And what happened to leisure? Why is leisure time no longer as socially valued? It’s as though busyness itself has become an integral aspect of culture.

Time As A Social Construction: Bragging About Busyness in Holiday Cards

“Tell me what to think of time, and I shall know what to think of you.” – JT Fraser

How do we use and practice time in busy culture? Ann Burnett and her colleagues note in their article “Earning the Badge of Honor: The Social Construction of Time and Pace of Life,” time is a social construction “‘that is both uniquely but intersubjectively experienced.’” In other words, we all experience time uniquely and subjectively, but those experiences are interrelated based on our social environment.

Burnett is well-known for her work studying family holiday cards, and tracking how over time, cards have become more and more a competition of busyness, and “a fast-paced lifestyle.”1 She began taking an interest in the cards once she noticed an increasing use of phrases involving a lack of time, such as “time strapped,” “time poor,” or “time famine” while reading through her annual holiday letters.4 Reaching out to colleagues and friends, she asked that they all send her redacted copies of their holiday cards so that she could study them, eventually amassing a collection numbering in the thousands, and dating as far back as the 1960s.5 As the decades passed, holiday cards became less and less of an

authentic reflection on the year gone by, and more and more like laundry lists of activities done, events attended, and achievements attained. People spoke of their busy lives, the bewildering speed of events, and time escaping them more and more. One writer spoke about her year as an out-of-balance game of blindfolded spinning.

“Remember the game you used to play as a child where someone would blindfold you and spin you around until you were incredibly dizzy? Then the blindfold would come off and you would stumble around the room trying to regain your balance.

Well, that’s the way I have felt all year – confused, dazed and stumbling from one day to the next. I don’t know where the time goes, but it seems that I work hard all the time and never seem to accomplish anything. I guess this is the product of a full-time plus job and three kids in school.”

— Holiday letter, 1999

This holiday card author describes her year as a confusing, fumblesome daze, of which she couldn’t make much sense, which might all seem like negative aspects of a year; however, this is the image she puts forward to the dozens of families on her holiday card list. This would suggest that she actually takes pride in her crazy busy year, or at least finds it worthy of satire for her readers.

Other card-writers followed suit, filling entire single-spaced pages with catalogs of activities in which the families partook at breakneck speed. After some study, Burnett realized these holiday cards had become more of a competition on busyness than anything else, and people spoke as though they were busier than ever before. Burnett continued collecting the cards, and made plans to write a book about how our society “celebrates bragging and is increasingly inauthentic.”5

It’s likely we can relate to this sentiment – that life is busy, and perhaps even busier than ever before. Or, do we reflexively speak about our busyness because everyone else is doing it? How much truth is in all of this? These constructions of time are largely influenced by the contemporary social milieu, and as other people talk about time in a certain way, we begin to experience time in this way as well. Especially in a culture where our thoughts and lives are so accessible to one another through social media and the internet, we’re tipping the balance towards viewing time in a certain way. “Through such roles, each individual forms the world in which he or she exists, constructing norms that are reconstructed to become the subjective reality in which the individual exists. A particular culture’s view of time is one of the norms reconstructed through frequent re-engagement.”1


 Try writing a new holiday card that doesn’t mention busyness!

Symptoms of Busy Culture

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness: Obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” -Tim Krieder

Time Macho

Employees and managers compete in a masochistic cycle of something unique to busy culture – time macho – “a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world, and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you.”6 One-up-manship on sacrificing one’s personal life or health is a constant topic of conversation. At elite universities and in high-stress business environments, these measures can be a way to not only show dedication to the job but simultaneously signal one’s status and importance.

Anne-Marie Slaughter broke ground with her The Atlantic piece, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” a statement many women had avoided saying publicly as they cut their teeth and became incorporated in the working world during the feminist movement of the 1960s. Slaughter’s piece, written in 2012, caused controversy because some women were certain she was perpetuating a stereotype that would be harmful to women in the job market. Other women, however, were relieved the article voiced what they had been feeling all along – the workplace still wasn’t built for the realities of their lives and roles in their families.

Slaughter later extended her claim to include men (and we could assume the statement is true for all genders), saying “no one” could have it all,7 when she realized the statement didn’t only apply to women, but to working fathers and, frankly, everyone in the workforce. Workplace standards simply didn’t allow for anyone to “have it all.”

In terms of career and family life in today’s busyness culture, sacrifices had to be made regardless of any gender.

Working in an environment where facetime is valued most means sacrificing other values, such as flexibility, which can make the work inaccessible to anyone who isn’t “The Ideal Worker.” It leads to competition, or “time macho,” where employees compete to simply show their face the most, be the first one to volunteer for a job, or be quick to jump on a plane across the country. Though these qualities may be valuable for the company in the moment, overall, this sends the message that primary caretakers or anyone with extra responsibilities outside of work are not as useful. Talented people may find other places to work. But many employees and managers still perpetuate the culture – likely making immense personal sacrifices (or asking their families to do so) along the way.

Types of Workers and Types of Work 


Traditional Work Environment

Blorgy is the “ideal worker” for their company, UFO Inc. They are young – only 200 years old in a species used to living for 1,000 – and energetic because of it. They have no alien younglings or responsibilities outside of work other than trying to get some sleep and staying healthy. Blorgy gets to work early every day and stays late, making sure to hit the company gym on the way out. They take advantage of all of the company-provided meals so they can put in as many hours at the office as possible. Blorgy can often be seen drinking energy drinks and telling everyone how late they stayed the night before. The boss, Parpy Minkelson, believes Blorgy deserves a raise the next time one is available – their life is the office. When Blorgy becomes a manager, they plan on hiring more aliens like them – ones who show their dedication by putting in maximum hours.


Flexible Work Environment

Plipply puts in as many hours as they possibly can while juggling some other concerns outside of work. First of all, Plipply is the single parent of two younglings named Dorf and Belka. Plipply spends all morning getting Dorf and Belka ready for school, making them breakfast, packing their lunches, and dropping them off at the bus stop. Plipply can’t come in early to work or stay late. As soon as the clock strikes 9 million, Plipply closes their computer and races to the bus stop to receive Dorf and Belka. Belka has a rare medical condition which renders their eye sensors unable to detect depth. Every month, Plipply has to miss some work to get Belka treatment. Plipply had to leave UFO Inc. last month because the time-off required to take Belka to their treatments combined with an inability to stay late was seen as not being a team player. UFO’s inflexible schedule policies soon made it impossible for them to keep working there. Plipply is now the “ideal worker” at a new experimental company called Spaceship Co., where there is unlimited PTO, and a culture of putting family first. Plipply is a hard worker, so as soon as they had some understanding and flexibility in their schedule, they excelled. Plipply is able to complete their missed work time at other hours of the day.


Work Environment with Different Values

Binky-Dink has a serious sense for adventure. Their employment at UFO Inc. didn’t work out because they planned so many awesome bonding activities for other employees that they were considered a “distraction to company goals.” Everyone at the company really misses them. However, Binky-Dink is now the “ideal worker” at Among the Stars, an outdoor company on planet Bleef. Every other Friday, they are in charge of planning an outdoor bonding activity for the whole company. Company morale is high, many of the employees have strong friendships, and the bonding trips contribute to the quality of trips they take clients on, the quality of outdoor products they make (due to all of the ideas they get), and their company loyalty overall. Binky-Dink is considered a boon to Among the Stars, and recruitment has been more successful than ever.

Now, the reality is in many places in the world, an employee’s ability to find work that is ideal for them is a privilege.

However, in our ever-shifting world, knowing what to look for and what to advocate for is the first step in the right direction to changing the perceived utility of time macho culture in the workplace. Regardless of our own work preferences, are there ways we can show solidarity with the Plipplys and Binkey-Dinks of our workplaces?


In what environment do you think you’d be the ideal worker?

Social Comparison

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

But how can one be happy about their own success unless they compare it to others? Globalization and the fast-tracking of social media to the center of our society has made it incredibly easy and common to compare ourselves to others. We are addicted to the dopamine rush that comes with getting another “like” or relevant notification. And since our society is less stratified than societies throughout history, envy is commonplace as well. Social media can be a way to gain informational “proof” of popularity and success, and we engage with it at a rapid speed, making Facebook one of the richest companies in the world.

Social comparison is central to busy culture because this constant barrage of others’ successes on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram leads to stress that may propel us into more and more pursuits of… something – whatever they have!

We wish to conform to the friends on our news feed that appear to live glamorous and fruitful lives, and we chase the feeling that comes with posting about our own. And as these rewards become more and more externalized, it is more and more difficult to follow one’s own internal compass while remaining plugged in: “maintaining the purity of internal motivations is harder in a world where social media and mass media are so adamant about externalizing all markers of success. There’s Forbes’ list of this and Fortune’s list of that; and every Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn profile is conspicuously marked with the metrics of accomplishment—followers, friends, viewers, retweets—

-that inject all communication with the features of competition. It may be getting harder each year for purely motivated and sincerely happy workers to opt-out of the tournament of labor swirling around them.”8 And, when everyone is over-reporting how busy they actually are, the competition may feel stiffer than ever, to the extreme of unrealistic standards.


“We may own the wealth of continents; but it has been ten years at least since we last had the chance to do nothing for a day.”
– In Praise of the Quiet Life

If we’re not buying leisure time with our work, then what are we buying? In busy culture, material wealth takes the place of other forms of comfort, like leisure time, because this wealth is more conducive to status.

Cadillac ELR Coupe 2014 Commercial

In a 2014 Cadillac commercial for the ELR Coupe, a “wealthy man” speaks about all of the ways in which Americans are simply more motivated to work hard compared with other countries. Rather than having the extra free time, Americans “opt” to work harder, achieve more, and avoid boredom. The commercial lauds the sacrifice of certain joys in life, such as taking a stroll, going to the café, or, resting. The commercial especially takes shots at France, and displays America’s achievements in a laundry list of impressive people and historical events, such as the moon landing. “That’s right, we went up there. And you know what we got? Bored,” says the man, then changing into a tailored suit. “Other countries think we’re nuts,” he says with a shrug,-

-as though the secret to all of America’s successes is this “crazy idea” of spending all of one’s waking hours at work. The man says he doesn’t live his life at this fast pace for all of this material wealth, but it’s a nice byproduct of that so-called internal drive to work more. His wealth and material goods are simply proof he didn’t take extra vacation days in August.

This commercial inadvertently points to the mythical tradeoff of busy culture – material wealth in exchange for less measurable aspects of a good life, like meaning, quality time, humility, and an appreciation for history and culture.

Appreciating others, culture, and history takes time and effort, and in a busy culture, appreciation may be one of the first skills to lose ground. Especially because appreciating what one has and who one is suggests getting “more” simply for the sake of it isn’t necessary at all. A rather conflicting idea in a capitalist society like the United States.

Unfortunately for Cadillac, the commercial comes off as arrogant and tone-deaf, and even prompted a satirical response from a competing company, Ford (the “Upside: Anything is Possible” commercial to the right). However, Cadillac probably knew their specific wealthier audience would be more likely to buy into the concept of the “success narrative,” and see an ELR Coupe as yet another material trophy to assure themselves they should be rewarded for their commitment to busy culture. This sort of material measure of success is easy to calculate compared with other types of life’s joys.

Upside: Anything is Possible

The McDonaldization of Society

“In a rapidly changing, unfamiliar, and seemingly hostile world … a McDonaldized system offers comfort.”

– George Ritzer

Calculability of achievement is part of the popular fast-food chain McDonalds’ business model and has dire consequences for individuation and diverse culture. In his 1993 book, The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer explores the implications of busy culture on society, or as he refers to it, “The McDonaldization of Society.” In a busy, results-oriented society, we may start to shift towards seeing our lives as simply opportunities to efficiently create predictable, quantifiable results (money, material wealth, amount of social media likes), rather than as expressions of individuality, love, meaning, emotion… or any of the other qualities that make us human.

Like a McDonald’s meal at any location in the world, our culture’s focus on becoming efficient, predictable, calculable, and highly controlled – the 4 McDonalds business principles–puts us at risk for becoming like Mcdonald’s – monetarily successful but with no individuation, quality, or human touch.

Within a McDonaldized society, we barely value ourselves.

Resulting in taking extreme lengths to pack in as much work and activity as possible, taking predictable paths forward, and making social comparisons based on quantity rather than quality. Our human labor is not important, only outcomes. Social media provides quantities for us to compare to other people, in the forms of “likes” and “follows.”9

The following video elaborates on the four business principles of McDonald’s and applies them to higher education, where quantifiable outcomes (grades) are often the only judge of the quality of an education, rather than the experience of learning itself.

Sociology for Thought – McDonaldization

We can all relate to this concept – the desire to be comfortable in the knowledge our efforts are based on the most rational form of management; that simply by putting in a certain amount of work each day, we will be guaranteed a quantifiable outcome, and we can almost predict how our lives will turn out. Wouldn’t it be nice to know everything you do each day leads to a predictable measure of success? We can go to great lengths to attempt as much efficiency, predictability, control, and calculability as possible, but not without other costs.

These principles come at the expense of quality, individuality, serendipity, and discovery, some of the great meaning-makers of life, and forces for human ingenuity.

Busyness in Our Beliefs-Meritocracy

“We live in a system that espouses merit, equality, and a level playing field, but exalts those with wealth, power, and celebrity, however gained.” – Derrick Bell, Ethical Ambition

If we buy into the idea of a meritocracy, a system of success wherein how much work one puts into something equals the rewards one will receive, then the only thing stopping us from our highest potential is ourselves. But if in reality, the obstacles are greater and meritocracy is not the law of the land, who is there to stop us from working ourselves to death?

Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg: what do these people have in common? They are all the wealthiest men in the world, amassing fortunes that collectively amount to over 700 Billion Dollars. Kings and royalty no longer top the food chain – these business mavens serve as the new picture of nobility, and as busy culture’s image of success.

In a meritocracy, we all supposedly have the ability to be just like them.

With the right ideas and enough hard work, nothing should technically be stopping us from becoming the next Jeff Bezos. Since these men weren’t born with the birthright of kings and queens, their success suggests a system based on hard work.

A Kinder, Gentler Philosophy of Success

In this talk, de Botton breaks down why our careers plague us with anxiety, how the meritocracy myth breeds unrealistic expectations and describes a new philosophy of success.

The idea of a meritocracy is a beautiful one – if we have talent and energy and we work hard, nothing should stop us from reaching the top of society. However, as Alain de Botton explains in his TED talk, to every nice idea like this, there is a flip side. “If you really believe in a society where those who merit to get to the top get to the top, you’ll also by implication, and in a far more nasty way, believe in a society where those who deserve to get to the bottom also get to the bottom and stay there.” This, de Botton says, makes failure feel much more crushing, and the world of work much more nerve-wracking. If we don’t reach a certain station in life, it is because of something wrong with us.

 “The nightmare thought is that frightening people is the best way to get work out of them. And that somehow the crueler the environment, the more people would rise to the challenge.” – Alaine de Botton10

How Does Our View Of Ourselves Change When Everything is “Up To Us”?

In the Middle Ages, members of the society with low stature were often referred to as “unfortunates.” Or in other words, fortune had not smiled upon them – a fact out of their control. This sentiment is much different from the idea they earned their station in life. If we believe in meritocracy, we don’t believe those at the bottom were simply unlucky. We believe they didn’t try hard enough.

Believing in the ideal that our society is a meritocracy leads to a strong sense of personal responsibility. Failure is taken very personally. If each person is solely responsible for their own fate, then they are wholly responsible when they fail. This sort of thought pattern produces an anxious state in which excessive busyness thrives, seen as a way to avoid failure. Not only can busyness be a distraction from our scary thoughts, but also a path to achieve the status to prove one’s worth.

De Botton suggests we become aware our idea of success often comes from outside ourselves, and we are highly open to suggestion. Our idea of success shifts with the headlines, as certain careers fall in and out of favor. But getting in tune with our own personal idea of success, and realizing our assumptions about meritocracy can be ways to cut ourselves some slack, reduce career anxiety, and achieve a type of success that will actually give us what we desire.

“Do What You Love” Culture Tells Us We’re Reaching the Death of Work

“If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” -Unknown

Common career advice in our society: “Do what you love.” Or, even better: “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” This is an idea that’s sold to inspire youngsters to go forth and follow their dreams, in pursuit of this mythical space beyond work. We’ve created a belief in this concept – that with enough hard work, or unyielding faith, we will be able to do what we love. This belief is also a great way to propel people to work more, for no cost – since it’s in the name of love.

“Do What You Love” has become the catchphrase of the modern worker, masking the unglamorous forms of labor that the majority of our population (and primarily women) do to keep our society functioning, says Miya Tokomitsu in her Jacobin Magazine piece “In the Name of Love”. Workers buying into the DWYL mantra allow for easy exploitation, since, if they are doing what they love, why should they not do it all the time, for little compensation? And does this mantra allow space for one to challenge what they love? Is there an unspoken agreement to stay committed to work if it is your source of “love”? Can you fall out of love with work?

Tokomitsu says that when Steve Jobs delivered a commencement address to the Stanford Class of 2005, he effectively erased the unglamorous and underpaid labor that went into his company, without which his company could not run, by equating great work with work that you love. “You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” Tokomitsu wonders if Jobs’ factory workers love putting together iPhones for a few cents an hour. If you don’t love your work, does that make it not great? 12

Most people are not able to ‘Do What They Love,’ and are then either erased or condescended for doing so. Being able to follow the DWYL motto is a very clear distinction of class, as socially desirable jobs often pay less, or have unpaid internships to even begin in a career path. This makes these fields inaccessible to even the most passionate of dreamers – if they don’t start off with money. This concept has also pushed mothers to quit — when women have DWYL instilled at a young age, if they are not doing what they love by the time they reach parenting age, they are more likely to feel guilty for not staying home with their children, and to subsequently quit their jobs. This contrasts with mothers that feel their work is a good source of self-esteem and a way to support their families, but not necessarily their number one passion. These women are more likely to stick with and enjoy their careers.13

DWYL is the perfect ideological tool of capitalism, making work an inward-focused pursuit, and convincing many to turn a blind eye to the plight of others, since if you “Do What You Love”, there’s no such thing as work.

And are the lines blurring between love and work? If we turn everything we love into work, will we love it as much? There is certainly something to be said for pursuing enjoyable hobbies without making them the central work of one’s life, and the activity one relies on for income or sustenance. What happens to the things we love when we make them our work?

God of Progress: Religious Fervor Has Been Replaced with Fervor for Hire

“What is workism? It is the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”
– Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

As religious belief has become less central to modern society, what has taken its place? In what systems of thought are we putting our trust and faith? How do we transcend beyond ourselves? Is there a new sort of God that has replaced the old ones?

Derek Thompson of The Atlantic believes that religious fervor has found its new place in work. “For the college-educated elite, work has morphed into a religious identity – promising transcendence and community, but failing to deliver.”14 The Disneyland-esque campuses of tech giants Facebook and Google easily come to mind: everything an employee could ever need in work and life, packaged into one space. Employees enjoy benefits such as free exercise and art classes, free haircuts, and free food from numerous on-campus restaurants. And the companies have even begun talks to build employee housing.15 The lines between work and life are blurring.

Thompson discusses a series of “new atheisms” that have arisen as modern society abandons religion – beauty, politics, work. “And workism is among the most potent of the new religions competing for congregants.”14

Millennials are particularly concerned that their work provides an identity. And they are socially and physically exhausted, working to show how great their work is on social media, since white-collar work itself may not provide physical signs of fulfillment. Gen Z is following suit: “95 percent of teens said ‘having a job or career they enjoy’ would be ‘extremely or very important’ to them as an adult. This ranked higher than any other priority, including ‘helping other people who are in need’ (81 percent) or getting married (47 percent).” Thompson says young people see work as “a means of identity production,” rather than simply a way to make money. The younger generation are told to find a job they love, and not yield until they do so. They believe that work will provide community, love, support — everything needed in life (and in past generations, everything found within religion).15

Although economists of the early 20th century, like John Maynard Keynes, may have predicted16 we’d have a 15-hour workweek by 2030, they perhaps didn’t expect that future generations would value work more than leisure, and that work would evolve “from a means of material production to a means of identity production,” propelling our populace to put the pedal to the metal, even for those who don’t need to do so. “One of the benefits of being an observant Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrian is that these God-fearing worshippers put their faith in an intangible and unfalsifiable force of goodness. But work is tangible, and success is often falsified. To make either the centerpiece of one’s life is to place one’s esteem in the mercurial hands of the market. To be a workist is to worship a god with firing power.”

Be More by Doing Less: Taking Each Accomplishment As An Opportunity to Feel Accomplished

At the end of the day, many of our notions of success are socially constructed. If every one of us sets our aims too high by constantly comparing ourselves to the most successful people in our social media feed, we may be left with a constant feeling that what we are doing is not enough. One Finnish writer hypothesizes that the reason Finland and other Nordic countries keep winning “World’s Happiest Nation” is not that they have some secret to hygge that other nations do not know about, but actually that Finnish people do not set their expectations too high. In his article, “The Grim Secret of Nordic Happiness,” Jukka Savoleinan explains that the World Happiness Report relies on Gallup polls that ask respondents to imagine a ladder. Rung 10 of the ladder is the best life outcome they can imagine for themselves, while rung zero represents the worst. The question asks which rung of the ladder respondents think they are currently standing on. And then… “you are deemed happy if your actual life circumstances approximate your highest expectations.” Simply put, if you expect less for your life, and you are able to achieve that, you end up being happier on this particular scale.33

Though Savoleinan doesn’t like this way of scoring happiness, because he finds it rather robotic and emotionless, there is something to be said for having more life satisfaction by not constantly downgrading our own achievements as “not as good as they could be.” Having realistic goals and appreciating it when we achieve them can be a good way of feeling more successful overall.

In his video “Be More by Doing Less,” Forrest Hanson, co-author of Resilient, explores this concept further, adding that we can actually change our brains to feel more successful if we simply notice when we accomplish something. Rather than getting trapped in a mindless cycle of doing, if we stop to notice when we have done something to be proud of, we can build long term confidence and diminish that needling feeling of lack.

Be More By Doing Less

Video Summary:

– We might keep on doing, but we don’t get around to feeling good about any of it.

– We can change our brain through neuroplasticity: (the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganization.) One of the best ways to do this is by internalizing positive experiences.

– If you want to become more productive, have more experiences of productivity that you feel GOOD about.

– Every time that you accomplish something is an opportunity to feel accomplishment.

– Every little goal is an opportunity to experience successful goal attainment.

– Many small experiences of feeling successful can actually have a bigger impact on people than seeing one big trophy on their shelf.

– When we don’t meet our goals over and over again, internal alarms go off inside of the brain, dopamine activity drops, we start to feel anxious, and we feel bad.

– A lot of these factors are socially constructed. Our western society’s heavy emphasis on doing leads to a kind of movement from action to action to action without a lot of time for appreciation for the actions we’ve already accomplished.

– The goal posts keep getting moved back, especially if you’re actually good at doing. Good doers tend to get rewarded with more complicated doing.

– We are left with a feeling of lack. Greed simply brings us more suffering.

– Fight that greed by feeling like you have enough already.

– Slow down and remind yourself to enjoy the experience you’re already having.

If we set our expectations realistically for ourselves, base our idea of success on factors that make sense for us personally, and don’t allow ourselves to feel constantly dissatisfied by comparing our success to others, we may actually be able to take a moment to appreciate it each time we DO accomplish something, and that could lead to more happiness, confidence, and success overall.


In this section…

  • We learned about the paradigm shift in which work, rather than leisure, has come to signify high social class, with modern day royalty being billionaire entrepreneurs who boast of long hours. We dove into the ways in which people indicate their busy lifestyles through holiday cards, and started to ask the question — are people really busier than ever, or just talking about it more?
  • We looked at symptoms of busy culture in the workplace and beyond, including “time macho,” a competition of hours put in at the office; comparisons of success (especially thanks to social media); the centralization of materialism particularly in American society; and what happens when we prioritize definable quantity over quality or effort.
  • We investigated how busyness plays into our belief systems – how meritocracy, though an admirable ideal, often leaves us with more personal guilt when we aren’t able to achieve our goals. We saw the darker side of meritocracy: the converse idea that a place at the bottom of society is earned as equally as a place at the top, and how that ideology impacts our judgements of others. And those that can’t “Do What They Love” at work are also brushed aside, with their labor written off.
  • We questioned how loss of religion over centuries has been replaced in the modern era – do we now worship work? And finally, we looked at how appreciating our own accomplishments helps us feel accomplished, and potentially contribute to our overall happiness.

How do we un-busy ourselves when powerful social structures tell us that being busy equals success, material wealth, and high social standing? Recognizing how our culture differs in historical context can provide perspective and help us set our expectations in a way that makes us appreciate what we have already done.

Busyness What is Busyness Impacts of Busyness Why are we so Busy? Busyness Culture Becoming Busy Alternatives to Busyness Busyness Practice & Exercises Busyness Resources


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