The “busy trap”: How we get into it?

I can’t agree more on how a recent New York Times article describes my life:

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

Notice it isn’t generally people pulling back-to-back shifts in the I.C.U. or commuting by bus to three minimum-wage jobs  who tell you how busy they are; what those people are is not busy but tired. Exhausted. Dead on their feet. It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily, classes and activities they’ve “encouraged” their kids to participate in. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

But the question is why people would become so busy and enjoy so little leisure? It is totally opposite of what economists predict: as people become richer, the marginal utility of extra income decreases, and people would work less. That is why we get a backward-sloping labor supply curve.

One key point to note is that people nowsdays seem to choose to be busy voluntarily. In theory, people who are more efficient should get his/her work done more quickly and they should then have more time to enjoy life, yet these are the very people who appears to be the busiest. Many of them who have a 9-6 job would fill their remaining hours of the day with lots of social activities, second job, classes, etc… If people are happy to be so busy, that is not an issue. Yet the question is, why people choose to be so busy when they have a choice to be less busy and live a happier life? Is it a inter-temporal choice to work harder now and relax in the future? Is it insecurity in a competitive world to feel you aren’t working? Are these highly-efficient people just more determined to go an extra mile and are more willing to push themselves to the limit (so much like running a marathon is a disutility, but people still love it)? they can So are these people irrational? Or, are we just irrational?

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