Why Doing Nothing Could Be The Change You Need
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Health and Wellness

Why Doing Nothing Could Be The Change You Need

How a culture of busyness is harmful to everyone.

Why Doing Nothing Could Be The Change You Need

In today’s culture of productivity and fast-paced day-to-day life, the Americanized idea of busyness has become a status symbol. On college campuses or in the adult world of 9-to-5’s and mortgages, a relatively new popular response to the conversational “How are you?” is an emphatic “Busy!”

It is important to emphasize the American aspect of these cultural norms because it tells us two things: that other parts of the world don’t always function like this and that this isn’t an inherent condition of life but something we have, instead, created. In just the last couple of centuries, the cultural perception of labor has entirely flipped on its head. Being busy used to suggest that a person had to do long hours of physical labor to survive while those who had ample amounts of leisure time didn’t have to work as much to sustain themselves. In an interview he did for The Atlantic, Silvia Bellezza, a professor of marketing at Columbia Business School, discusses why he thinks this shift has occurred and how this differs from how other parts of the world function.

Because jobs in the 21st-century tent to require more of an intellectual capital, having long work hours suggest that a person has these desirable traits. “It’s just that, compared to farming and manufacturing, there’s now a more competitive market for talent and human capital, such that the more you work, it must mean that you’re very sought after in the market.” In other countries such as Italy, Spain, and Greece, what you do in your leisure time is just as important as what you do for work. Attitudes surrounding part-time work vary drastically between cultures. Whereas part-time work in America is viewed as unskilled, temporary labor, in other countries it is assumed that if someone is working part-time, they must be wealthy enough to be doing so.

So it’s no wonder that people often feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t doing something; every second not spent working or being active is a second wasted. This results in an inability to be present and to focus on enjoying moments of leisure or stillness. On the opposite end of the spectrum, some people suffer anxiety or feelings of inadequacy when they can’t meet cultural standards of productivity. Studies have shown that many people in the West are depressed because they’re expected to be happy.

Advertisements and social media tell us that happiness is an indicator of success, so when we experience negative emotions, we feel like we’re not truly successful. The guilt of having these negative feelings in the first place often amplifies them and results in a downward spiral of low self-esteem and depression. Based on the same principle, people who can’t meet cultural standards of productivity and busyness are left feeling like there’s something wrong with them.

So what can we do about this?

Meditating is one of the ways we can fight our inability to just be and learn to better appreciate our free time. One of the purposes of meditation is learning to sit with yourself and any feelings of boredom, or anxiety, or fear that may arise from not doing anything, and to let them pass without judgment. Learning how to be still and how to be comfortable with simply being is difficult and sometimes uncomfortable. But where is our compulsion to constantly do actually taking us? What are we avoiding and is our current lifestyle really bringing us true happiness? We as a culture need to learn the value of just sitting and reflecting, of properly cherishing friends and family, and of being able to be still without anxiety or judgment.

*I would like to add that I am a fairly privileged 20 year-old woman who has never had to worry about paying bills or where my next meal would come from. For some people, being busy is not a choice but a necessity. This is an entirely separate issue and does not represent the culture I am criticizing in this article.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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