Not Busier Than Thou

I read an intriguing article in the latest New Yorker titled “No Time: How Did We Get So Busy?” by Elizabeth Kolbert in which the phrase “busier than thou” is used to describe the warped attitude of many people today, thus the title of this post. Kolbert quotes several researchers who have endeavored to get to the bottom of busyness, including one Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University.

As Kolbert highlights, “Stiglitz argues that people’s choices are molded by society and, over time, become self-reinforcing. We ‘learn how to consume by consuming,’ he writes, and how to ‘enjoy leisure by enjoying leisure.’ In support of this position, Stiglitz cites the contrasting experiences of Europeans and Americans. In the 1970s, the British and the French put in just as many hours at work as Americans. But then the Europeans began trading income for leisure” [emphasis mine].

And she continues: “The average employed American now works roughly 140 hours more per year than the average Englishman and 300 hours more than the average Frenchman. Current French law mandates that workers get 30 paid vacation days per year, British law 28; the corresponding figure in the U.S. is zero. Stiglitz predicts that Europeans will further reduce their working hours and become even more skilled at taking time off, while Americans, having become such masterful consumers, will continue to work long hours and to buy more stuff.”

I love the lesson here of trading income for leisure. Personally, my wife and I make it a point to live more like Europeans by consciously limiting our consumption in favor of enriching experiences. It doesn’t hurt that my wife happens to work for a progressive-minded organization where she gets five weeks of vacation but we embraced such a lifestyle long before she got a job with them. We believe the key is to not own much stuff that needs financing and maintaining so we are free to live on our terms instead of some lenders’. And we prefer being “not busier than thou,” thank you very much.