Too busy to enjoy life?

Busyness is getting the better of us all. I had a chat with a friend recently that went something like this…“How are you going?” my close friend asked me. “Crazy busy,” I said with a deep sigh, “What about you?” “Yeah, busy.” she replied. Sound familiar? We all know those conversations. We’ve all initiated those exchanges with family members, work colleagues and neighbours. It seems everyone is busy…busy being busy.

“It seems everyone is busy …busy being busy.”

In fact, I think it’s pretty common to wear busyness as a badge of honour and a medal of importance in our society. We use it to measure ourselves against others. But what does ‘being busy’ really mean? And more importantly, how is our society faring in the face of all this busyness?

To gauge how society is going it is important to note that it is only in the last 200 years that society has existed as it is. Prior to the industrial revolution in the mid-1700s (just over 200 years ago), human beings lived close to the land in aggregated groups, hunting for meat and gathering plant-based foods from the land. Fast forward 200+ years and things have really shifted. Our hyper-connected, global information society lives close to screens, primarily in towns and cities, consuming processed food (though this is changing) and working an average of 39.7 hours per week in Australia (ABS, 2009).

Now don’t get me wrong, our modern world it pretty damn amazing! Together we’re alleviating poverty in developing countries, living longer and growing taller than our fore-fathers (Hogrefe & Huber, 2005) and exploring the cosmos (trip to Mars anyone?!). Plus, the majority of poor countries became less poor over the last decade and to top it off, life expectancy is also rising in most countries (UNDP, 2002, 2004).

“But it’s pretty clear that our modern lifestyle pace comes at a cost.”

But it’s pretty clear that our modern lifestyle pace comes at a cost. A growing body of literature identifies that the acceleration of life affects just about everything including fashion, production, food consumption and communication styles. We try to complete activities faster and faster by multi-tasking and then wonder why we feel more tired, lonely and purposeless than ever (Gershuny and Sullivan, 2001).

Many sociologists, like Riesman (1950), Ritzer (1993) and Putnam (2000), have highlighted over the last 65+ years that increasing reports of loneliness and feelings of meaninglessness indicate our society is decaying. To me this highlights that not all of the by-products our increased lifestyle pace (and our subsequent busyness) are positive. Freud’s theory of repression, in his book Das Unbehagen in der Kultur, echos that modern society can make us unhappy. Freud hypothesised that the more developed a society becomes, the more repression of natural instinct is required by the humans living in that society, thus leading to dissatisfaction.

So if busyness is making us tired, increasing feelings of meaninglessness and just generally getting us down, how can we escape it to embrace a new reality? How can we slow down and avoid the busyness trap? It’s clear that our current pace of life is unsustainable but what other alternatives exist? James and I are searching for the answer to these exact questions. We want to know how individuals, couples and families can adjust their pace of life to increase their wellbeing and happiness. We haven’t found the solution (yet) but talk more in part 2 of this series about how we practically go about fighting the busyness.

For now, here are two ways we slow down of life to curb the ‘busy being busy’ culture:

Steal a week and stay in a cabin

Go away to a cabin off-the-grid for a minimum of a week to unwind, read, do nothing, watch cows, take photos and just be. We stayed in this cabin recently and loved how refreshed we felt afterwards.

Aeroplane mode is bliss

Turn on aeroplane mode after dinner each night and only turn it off in the morning when you step out of the house. Our end goal? Live device-free from 6.00pm to 8.00am each and every day. We’re not there yet, but we’re on the way. We currently live device-free from about 9.00pm to 7.45am most days.

Putnam, R.D. (2000). Bowling alone: The collapse and revival of American community. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Ritzer, G. (1993). The McDonaldization of society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Pine Forge Press.
Riesman, D. (1950). Lonely crowd: A study of the changing American character. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.
Freud, S. (1930). Das Unbehagen in der Kultur. Abriss der Psychoanalyse. Frankfurt am Main: Fisher. (Engl. Civilization and its discontents. 1961, New York: Norton.)
UNPD. (1990, 2000, 2004). Human development report. United Nations Development Program (UNDP). New York: Oxford University Press.
Moore, S., & Simon, J.L. (2000). It’s getting better all the time. Greatest trends of the last 100 years. Washington: Cato Institute.
Garhammer, M. (2002). Pace of life and enjoyment of life. Journal of Happiness Studies, 3(3), 217-256. doi: