What We’re Hiding When We Say We’re ‘Busy’

We need to address the underlying problem.

This Wall Street Journal piece makes an important point about we default to saying we’re ‘busy’ when we’re actually stressed and overwhelmed. What’s more, writer Elizabeth Bernstein notes that we brag about busyness more than actual achievements.

The piece highlights as-yet-unpublished research from Ann Burnett, a professor of communication at North Dakota State. Burnett analyzed 50 family holiday letters, penned between 2000 and 2016 (the type of letters detailing what the family did during the past year) to determine what people bragged about most. She found that people wrote more about how busy they were than what they actually accomplished. Busy-brags were the second most-common type of brag, following boasts about ownership, like welcoming a new grandchild to the family, Bernstein writes.

Image courtesy of Unsplash

As Bernstein writes, we’re busier than ever (especially as work seeps into our home life through smartphones) but one problem with the busy-brag is that it’s become a crutch — we say “I’m busy” to avoid getting into deeper conversations about how we’re actually doing. And using “I’m busy” as shorthand for “I’m overwhelmed” or “life is chaotic” actually removes us even further from social connections that could help us feel more balanced and calm. (Think about how many times you’ve canceled social plans by saying you’re “too busy” only to realize later that it would have been nice to unwind with family and friends.) It certainly doesn’t help that “our culture discourages people, especially men, from unloading their mood or troubles on others,” Bernstein writes.

The solution? Bernstein suggests scrapping the word “busy” altogether and trying to pinpoint what it is you’re actually grappling with instead. Doing so could help you get a better handle on the aspects of life that you find overwhelming and spur changes that lead to a healthier balance. Here’s a smart place to start: Open up to family and friends about what’s really going on in your life day to day. They might have ideas to improve your well-being, and at the very least, the social support can help you see that you’re not alone.

Read more on WSJ, and find out what people really think of your busy-brags here.