A busy woman is holding up her hand.

Ditch The “I’m Busy” Bit

It’s something we all say – almost without thinking. “I’m busy.” Why shouldn’t we say this? It’s a fact, right?

The truth is, our “I’m busy” statement may not be an honest one and there is research from the University of Rochester and the Journal of Psychological Science to support the probability that we would be happier if we never uttered this statement at all.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
-Henry David Thoreau

A Washington Post article published recently lists six reasons that eliminating “I’m busy” from our vocabularies would make us happier. This information is supported by studies from Stanford University and the Stanford University of Medicine.

  1. It keeps you from being present.
  2. It disconnects you from other people.
  3. It can easily be re-framed.
  4. It is a cover-up.
  5. Busy is not a feeling.
  6. It is a choice.

Can you relate to these?

While all are valid reasons, I’d like to focus on the first three as those impacting our lives the most. After all, deep down inside, we know this is a cover-up: a cop out for actually saying that we don’t want to be involved in what is being requested of us. Busy is a state, not a feeling. When we use “busy” when answering the “How are you?” question, we’re really just glossing over how we really are. Or we’re simply putting that person off. And above all, using this statement is a choice we make. And we can just as easily choose not to use it to resolve the real issues produced by the first three reasons in this list.

Let’s get more detailed about the first three reasons.

It keeps you from being present.  Being busy implies that you are preoccupied. Right when the word “busy” comes out of your mouth, life becomes more hectic. Instead of enjoying the present moment and your surroundings, the only thing you are doing is running through your to-do list in your head. In other words, “busy” is a state of mind that we force on ourselves.

It disconnects you from other people.  “I’m too busy.” Saying the word seems to build a wall around us and a don’t bother me sign is on the door. It also builds stressed and disconnects us from those around us. In fact, it even demeans others, intimates that they have too much time on their hands, and presents self-centeredness, regardless of what we’re “busy” doing. In addition to improving how others perceive us, eliminating the “I’m busy” statement has a significant impact the social connections with make with people – which is critical to our health and happiness.

It can easily be re-framed.  Summing up our lives as “busy” can mean anything. It’s a vague statement that doesn’t acknowledge all the good things we may be doing.  If we really feel like we must use one word to sum up our lives, we should try more descriptive ones like “active,” “eventful,” “involved” or “lively.” These words also have more positive connotations and can influence outlook and attitude.

It’s amazing that one phrase can have such an impact on our health and happiness. With stress’ impact on the frequency and severity of heart disease and high blood pressure, eliminating one thing we say from our vocabulary is a no brainer. The referenced and linked studies take a deeper dive into the whys around this and may be worth your time as a quick read.

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