Optimal Busyness: Why Are The Busy People Happier?

Busy people find it easier to be happier.

When a person is entirely at rest, with nothing to do, no passions or diversions, they feel emptiness, loneliness, powerlessness, fretfulness, and hopelessness.

In contrast, people who are busy are actually happier. Busyness can be a process that makes us happy, but there are conditions attached. Let’s dive in to understand it better.

Are Busy People Happier?

Research points out that people who are busy, with no time to kill, but who do not feel rushed, are 12 to 25 percent happier than others. In fact, 53 percent of these called themselves “very happy.”

This is “optimal busyness”—an enjoyable flow of time during which one feels most productive, elated, and positively energized, while also being time-poor.


The secret of happy-busy people could be that they do not dwell on an issue for a long time. They do not let one problem control a large part of their life. Instead, they have learned to move on and work on a new project.

They understand that if they remain focused on the distressful negative outcome, they may succumb to ruminating or over-worrying.

When you are busy doing your job, even when you are forced to take it up, you often find yourself happy and satisfied after it is done. Moreover, when you do something that you like and love, it keeps you in a state of flow—the optimal state of happiness.

But if you do what you must do rather than what you are passionate about, you work under pressure, but you also tend to waste your time and energy.

Surprisingly, research suggests that people who are forced to be busy are happier than people who are idle.

Are those who keep busy for the sake of being busy, happier?

People hate being idle and tend to do anything to keep their minds occupied. The key lies in the reason to be busy. So, it is partly true that people who keep themselves busy for the sake of being, are happier.

  • First, not having something to do fills a mind with negative thoughts and worries, which they escape by keeping themselves busy, and therefore, happier.
  • Second, if the work they are busying themselves with is too easy, they are bored, and therefore, become unhappy.
  • Third, if the work they pick up is too hard, the stress makes them abandon it. Then they regret having wasted their time and having regrets is a good thing.

Busy people are happier most of the time when they are busy doing things that make them happy, that is something they love, and which is neither too easy nor too hard.

Are people who are always busy generally happy?

People who always feel they have too much to do and too little time are typically not happy. They behave rushed and inattentive in their social interactions. They are unhappy when not working, and hate to take even paid holidays.

These people are often addicted to work (workaholics). Like any addiction, they cannot stay away from their work.

In our modern times, being busy has become a bragging point and a powerful status symbol.

But often, the positive state of “optimal busyness” gives in to “excessive busyness,” which is a state of being overwhelmed and time-famine.

These people are self-driven to be busy at all times, even at the cost of neglecting their family and self-care. This workaholism (a term coined by psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971 to describe “the compulsion or the uncontrollable need to work incessantly”) is unhealthy and dysfunctional for the individual as well as the society.

They are fidgety when away from their work, and while at work, they tend to get irritated when asked to switch attention to a nonwork thing. They tend to forget their family obligations when on work trips.

Even when they take vacations, during those days they keep yearning to get back to work.

They do not disconnect from the people at work and keep interacting with them, trying to find out how is it going in their absence.

If something goes amiss or not as they planned while they are on holiday, they immediately start worrying and planning to get back to work.

For them, there is no such thing as sitting back and enjoying the stillness. Researchers found (Idleness Aversion and the Need for Justifiable Busyness) that people, even if they believe they should take things easy, generally prefer to remain busy.

“Life is what happens while you are making other plans.” — John Lennon

These excessively busy people race from year to year, nose deep in work, until they hit an existential crisis and are forced to question their whole past, think hard about their mortality, and what meaningful things they have accomplished.

Coming out of the crisis, they realize that work is not everything about human life. They stop being incredibly busy thereafter and tend to treat work as a source of happiness along with sustenance. 

Are Happy People Busier?

People who are already happy tend to laze around and be idle. This tendency to avoid being busy may have stemmed from our evolutionary history of conserving energy in between bouts of intense energy-consuming hunting. Happy people yearn to prolong their happiness by staying non-busy.

Final Words

Do not confuse keeping busy with being happy. Getting yourself busy with a useless task (like scrolling through your social media passively) just because you have nothing to do, will only make you unhappy.

“Network tools [social media, email, the Internet] are distracting us from work that requires unbroken concentration, while simultaneously degrading our capacity to remain focused.” — Cal Newport, Deep Work

Remember, work that is inspiring, productive, and meaningful makes you happy.

The secret of a happy life lies in balancing your time between work life and private life, between busyness and quiet time. Life is wholesome when you have time to spend with your loved ones, teach your kids the good things about life, feel thankful for everything you’re blessed with, and stop and smell the roses.

Finally, do you know what calls for unhappiness? It is when you tell yourself, “I’ll relax and be happy once I am through this.”

Before you go … find out how happiness lies in the present moment and not at the end of your busyness.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).

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