I’ve been told we’re in the middle of “the most important five day weekend of the year”, but for the millions of us that are back at work this morning that won’t ring very true. And for the millions more who, like me, don’t have an office to be in but rather just the omnipresent crush of work to be done, that will sound decidedly unfair. Life is busy. Crazy busy.
Tim Kreider, author of We Learn Nothing, had a great NYTimes Op-Ed on that subject earlier this week. “Busyness,” he wrote, “serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” And these hectic schedules are often self-imposed. We aren’t combat medics or case detectives; we’re students and consultants and coders and volunteers and athletes and a million other things, all voluntarily and often simultaneously. As a result, we’re busy. Crazy busy.
And the funny thing is, we don’t necessarily even want to be, but we see people around us working themselves to the bone so we assume that we should be too. We’re engaged in some sort of sisyphean arms race, keeping busy to stay busy. Who among us wasn’t a little bit jealous when France mandated a 35-hour work week? I find myself enjoying the occasional headcold, just because it forces me to slow down for a day.
And that’s admittedly pretty crazy. The effects of stress on the human body and mental health are well documented, running the gamut from headaches to heart problems to depression. At the same time, stress doesn’t do much for our creative lives either. As I discusssed in an earlier post, creativity takes time, focus, and freedom. We aren’t as creative under pressure, or in hectic, distracting environments. The space and quietness that idleness provide, as Kreider suggests, are a necessary condition for the “wild summer lightening stikes of inspiration.”
As we get busier, we get more done, even though we know that doing so may not make us any happier. I wonder how being so busy affects our ability to create, to creatively explore, and to find beauty in the world. Maybe today would be a good day to take the afternoon off.