The Busy Culture of America

The Busy Culture is one of many possible manifestations of a lack of integrity, equal respect, and collaboration. Is my hypothesis correct?

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“I’m busy”

By being busy, you cannot keep your word. Lack of integrity is forgiven.

By being busy, you’re at least busier than others, and not expected to pay equal respect to everyone.

By being busy, your time is too expensive. Collaboration goes to only those who can afford your time a.k.a. higher status.

Here is a list of some reading materials about the busy culture of America, from the newest to the oldest article:

Americans brag about being busy

Being busy is not a badge of honor and we must reverse this dangerous cultural phenomenon by resisting the urge to brag about how busy we are. The busy brag is pervasive and you can be a role model for others and share what gives you meaning and fulfillment instead of defaulting to telling others how busy you are. Start by actively listening since when you hear a busy bragger, it will help you avoid the urge to chime in.

American college students are competitively busy

As students, there seems to be a socially constructed pressure to overload on courses, extracurricular activities, jobs, internships, etc. A lot of students have the mentality that if they join 12 clubs, get 2 on-campus jobs, study abroad, and take 18-credit course loads each semester, then they will be successful in the future.

Busyness is a status symbol (Harvard research)

So in one experiment, we presented participants with a person that’s posting status updates on social media that really speak to her busyness at work, compared to another person whose posts speak to a more leisurely lifestyle. We wondered: What would participants make of these people? Would they think that they are wealthy? That their status is high, or not? What we found is that in the U.S., people think that the busier person must be of higher status.

What has changed so dramatically in one century? We think that the shift from leisure-as-status to busyness-as-status may be linked to the development of knowledge-intensive economies. In such economies, individuals who possess the human capital characteristics that employers or clients value (e.g., competence and ambition) are expected to be in high demand and short supply on the job market. Thus, by telling others that we are busy and working all the time, we are implicitly suggesting that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.

Busyness is influenced by materialistic culture

Tim Kasser, a psychologist and professor at Knox College in Illinois, researches how Americans spend their time, and he’s been studying the inverse of our busyness epidemic: time affluence. In the 1990s, Kasser conducted research that found a correlation between financial pursuits and wellness. When people said that pursuing financial success was important to them, they also reported lower well-being.

Today, there have been many additional studies on this phenomenon, and the relationship between materialism and negative well-being is well-established, including studies that show the more people care about material things, the more they smoke and overconsume alcohol.

Busyness as status is used to disguise the real being

So the question is what are we hiding from behind our over busy-fied lives? Usually it’s the things we don’t want to look at in real life:

Being in a flailing marriage.
Being a lack there of any marriage.
Being away from our kids.
Being alone.
Being bored.
Being ordinary.
Being perfect.
Being away from our parents.
Being a good friend.
Being a bad friend.
Being restless.
Being confronted with who I am, what I want, and what I do.

That’s a lot of being only to be replaced with too much doing. And of that doing, one of the things not being done is facing these fears and vulnerabilities head on.

After reading 6 articles above, I connected the themes in order to answer whether my hypothesis is correct.

  1. Negative well-being — having denied fears and vulnerabilities
  2. Material pursuit — to hide the negative well-being
  3. Constant competition — to succeed in material pursuit
  4. Status symbol — to win the competition
  5. Busyness — to exert higher status

So indeed, instead of integrity, there is negative well-being hidden. Instead of collaboration, there is competition. Instead of equal respect, there is status symbol. This can happen to anyone in any culture, but I see certain themes for Americans.

Trace backward 5, 4, 3, 2, 1. See the five arrows of causes:

Busyness → Status Symbol → Constant Competition → Materialistic Pursue → Negative Well-being → Denying fears and vulnerabilities

If you try to address busyness as status symbol, you may still have all the other four arrows. However, if you try addressing negative well-being as a result of denying fears and vulnerabilities, then you can dissolve all of the other arrows.

My effort of not participating in the busy culture looks like this:

  • My schedule may look difficult, but I’m transparent with you. Things like “anytime from this AM to this PM” or “I can’t do evenings and weekends, because it’s when I’m with my family.” I do have a clear priority for them and update you accordingly. You can keep my words, because that’s safely outside the space that I’ve given to myself and my loved ones.
  • I’d rather talk about our well-being than our busyness, because I want all of us to be equally well. I tell you when I’m not in a healthy situation, my family needs to be taken care right now, having more time to work in the evenings, etc. I ask you the same thing. How are you? Are you healthy? How’s your mom doing? Did you get enough sleep? These are important questions, because we have different thresholds for wellness, e.g. some people can have as little as 4 hours of sleep per night while others need at least 7. Yet sometimes these questions don’t get answered because they get lost in the busy talk.
  • I don’t associate leisure or busyness with any status. We’re not about low and high status but limits and possibilities. I share my limits and possibilities because it’s more relevant for our collaboration. Yes, you do need a vacation. Take more time to spend with yourself or loved ones. Let’s talk when you’re back. Don’t worry. I don’t see you as being slow or lowering your status. You don’t need to create excuses because limitations are there to be understood. Knowing your limitations help me look for possibilities. Let’s create that possibility together.

Your call to try. Thank you, because you’ll contribute to a culture of integrity, equal respect, and collaboration.



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