There are many ways one can tell that times have changed, and notice how today’s world is different from the past.Sometimes it’s in a single word – as with responses to the common greeting, “How are you?” More and more I hear this answer to that question: “Busy!”
In my time the most common response to “How are you?” was “Fine.” No matter whether you felt fine or not. Or more politely, “Fine, thank you – and you?” To which the reply was, of course: “Fine.”
Fine is an innocuous indication that there is nothing to report – or at least nothing you feel like reporting in a brief introductory exchange. Fine offers little information but neither does it aim to conceal anything.
The familiarity of Fine is in stark contrast to the mixed messages in the increasingly frequent reply to ”How are you?” of “Busy!”
Why people claim to be busy
Recent research offers some insight into why “Busy!” has become a common and acceptable response to the Howzit query. A new study has shown that people increasingly see their busy lives as proof that they are important and in demand.
“We uncovered an alternative type of conspicuous consumption that operated by shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals. People’s social-mobility beliefs are psychologically driven by the perception that busy individuals possess desirable characteristics, leading them to be viewed as scarce and in demand.”
– “Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol”, Journal of Consumer Research
Having little leisure time has become a status symbol among those who were the focus of this survey: “urbanites”. US urbanites, that is. In Italy, where the study was also conducted, being busy did not convey high status. Italians see La Dolce Vita (the sweet life) as leisurely rather than hectic.
A generation ago, high-status Americans were more likely to boast about their leisure activities – in the spa, at the sea or on the golf course. Now an image of wealth and success is linked to busyness rather than pleasure.
Studying Busy Brains
I saw another study showing that busy people may have better-functioning brains in old age than their less busy peers. However, I see that the 2016 “Dallas Lifespan Brain Study” examined those with “a healthily busy lifestyle”. I am not clear how healthy busyness is defined. The researchers could not tell whether heightened brain function is the result of being busy, or vice versa.
That was an online comment about the study on boasting about being busy:
“No time for family or friends – is that really is something to admire? Slavery to a system, designed to keep you that way”.
I agree that the this Busy Business continues to make us slaves to a system centred around work – sadly, even as we age and our working lives no take longer centre stage. Surely we should try to find new ways of appreciating a new – less busy – phase of life. Rather than making sure that everyone knows how busy we still are.
Are you humblebragging?
There is another important reason that I choose not to give the Busy reply when asked about my wellbeing. That relates to how it makes the questioner feel. “Busy!” is less of a response than a retort. The kind that has come to be known as a “humblebrag”.
Humblebrag [huhm-buh l-brag]
a statement intended as a boast or brag but disguised by a humble apology, complaint, etc.
verb (used without object)
to make such a disguised boast or brag:
He’s humblebragging about how tired he is from his world travels.
Humblebragging takes the concept of false modesty to a new low. It attempts to camouflage boasting with humility or self-deprecating humour. A further annoyance is that humblebrags are less often uttered than Tweeted. As in “Hashtag Humblebragging: I am so busy I have no life.”
Young people struggle with the digital era affliction known as FOMO, the Fear Of Missing Out. They are bombarded by messages on social media proclaiming how busy their friends are, which can cause feelings of anxiety and inadequacy.
Telling about how busy we are is obviously not a way of reaching out in the spirit of friendship. It can cause a kind of FOMO, even among our agemates. So maybe it is time to start pioneering the opposite of FOMO, to instead seek JOMO, the Joy Of Missing Out.
Let’s face it, the reality is that being seen around town at countless social events can have its down side. There’s planning to do and transport to arrange. The weather may not always cooperate. And when you get there, the event may not be as exciting as you had expected. The people you had anticipated seeing may not be there. The food may not be great. There may be queues. Your feet may ache.
This is not to say that we should become Stay@Homes as we age. But perhaps we can become more choosey as to what events we decide to attend and which to give a miss. Which does not necessarily mean less fun, just a lower number of activities. Meaning that we will be less busy, with no need to brag about it.