By Amy Hackworth. Image by Fifth and Hazel.

In my early years of motherhood I remember hearing a lot about how busy life was. I often heard advice about cutting back, saying no, and the necessity of prioritizing. The discussion was interesting, but somehow didn’t feel very applicable to me. I guess I just wasn’t busy enough back then.

In recent years, though, I feel like the pace of life has increased, like I’ve gradually turned up the treadmill, because I knew I could handle a little more speed. But now I find myself panting for breath, hurrying faster than I’d thought possible. In my head, I hear echoes of those conversations about busyness, and finally, I’m nodding in agreement.

There’s no doubt that our days are filled with worthy work — we have so many ways to spend our time, and so many demands for it. But are there un-necessities, too, that keep us running just for the sake of being busy? This is what Tim Kreider suggests in “The Busy Trap,” an opinion piece for the New York Times last summer. For me, this is a powerful idea:

“Busyness 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.” 

Do we take pride in being busy as if it lends meaning to our lives? The part of me that wants to write a completed item on my to do list just so I can cross it off is definitely susceptible to this way of thinking. But I am drawn to Kreider’s indictment of our cultural obsession with busyness because when I think about my most fulfilling, satisfying days, they are never the overbooked, hectically busy sort. On my best days, I have enjoyed a good amount of meaningful work as a mother, writer, friend, or wife. I have taken care of my family and myself. I have remembered to breathe and enjoy what I’ve been given. When I fall into the busy trap of over-scheduling and overcommitting, I fall into bed exhausted, and despite a fully checked to-do list, unfulfilled.

Kreider suggests a solution in idleness — making essential time for “space and quiet,” for perspective, inspiration, and possibly my favorite, remembering. He trimmed away distractions and chose a slower pace. His reward? “I’ve remembered about buttercups, stink bugs and the stars.”

I’m curious, do you notice the kind of cultural honor in being busy that Kreider writes about? And what fills your most fulfilling days? What are the things you’d rediscover if you slowed down a bit?

P.S. For more of Tim Kreider’s great writing, you might enjoy this essay, an excerpt from his book. Thinking about this topic has reminded me of Wordsworth’s “getting and spending,” always a thoughtful read. And finally, Danielle LaPorte’s approach to being super busy: just own it.