Having No Life Is the New Aspirational Lifestyle

By Michael Blanding

Americans are working longer hours than ever before, with the office increasingly stealing our leisure time. But according to new research by Anat Keinan, this hectic way of life is, for many of us, far from an unmitigated negative.

In fact, some boast the lack of spare time as a status symbol — even an aspirational lifestyle.

“The new conspicuous consumption is about saying , I am the scarce resource, and therefore I am valuable”

The finding suggests a new way for marketers to sell their products and services to consumers by flattering them with messages that recognize how valuable their time is. But such an approach is risky, too. Do you really want to position your brand on the side of telling people to work too much?

Image courtesy of Unsplash

Keinan, an associate professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School, explores the phenomenon in a paper forthcoming in the Journal of Consumer Research, “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol,” co-written with Columbia marketing professor Silvia Bellezza and Georgetown marketing professor Neeru Paharia.

What happened to the good life?

This finding that “busyness” conveys status flies in the face of decades of social history, where enjoyment of nonproductive leisure time was seen as a mark of a successful life.

The ability to fritter away your hours was considered the apex of success as evidenced in books from sociologist Thorstein Veblen’s 1899 classic The Theory of the Leisure Class (he coined the term “conspicuous consumption”) to television shows such as Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. And if you didn’t actually have a life of leisure, you could pretend you did by buying increasingly affordable luxury brands like Cadillac or Rolex. “People used to spend their time in ostentatiously unproductive ways to show their status,” says Keinan.

But something in our culture has changed about how status is achieved. In the past decade, conspicuous ostentatious consumption has become less socially acceptable. Those wishing to flaunt their status have had to find more subtle ways to show their value. At the same time, our go-go workplaces are emphasizing and rewarding 24x7 productivity.


Read the rest of the article in Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.


Originally posted in HBR on Feb. 20, 2017.