Being Busy Isn’t Always Bad — Harvard Found a Surprising Psychological Benefit

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Taylor Tobin1.84k
April 16, 2024 at 1:56PM UTC

As adult, professional Americans, we’re conditioned to believe that “busy” and “successful” are synonymous concepts. However, in recent years, the rise of the wellness movement led to a widespread re-think of that idea, thanks to its emphasis on downtime and the value of self-care without a productivity-related agenda. 

While we at Fairygodboss thoroughly believe in balancing our busy times with much-needed relaxation, the Harvard Business Review recently shed some new light on the mental state of “being busy”, suggesting that these thought processes can have unexpected benefits. Specifically, HBR claims that busy people often make healthier choices in terms of nutrition and exercise than those with fewer activities to occupy their time.

Wondering how busyness and healthy decision-making coexist? Consider the Marshmallow Experiment, a legendary psychological test administered by Stanford University in the early 1970s. In this study, scientists offered a group of children a choice: they could either receive one marshmallow and eat it immediately, or they could wait for a brief period and then receive two marshmallows. The scientists then followed up with the kids years later, and they discovered that the children who chose to delay gratification and receive a larger reward did better in school and ultimately pursued higher-paying jobs than the kids who ate their one marshmallow right away. The ability to resist a quick and easy form of pleasure in order to find something more fulfilling is a strong predictor of one’s capacity for success.

Harvard Business Review found a similar correlation between people with busy mindsets and the willingness to wield self-control. As HBR puts it, “much research has focused on what causes consumers to choose immediate gratification over long-term benefits, be it in the spheres of overeating or food waste. Lately, mindful eating as an intervention to enhance self-control has received a lot of attention; however, it requires training and continual practice. Our research suggests that activating a busy mindset may be an easier and more effective nudge to facilitate self-control.” 
Being busy requires you to prioritize, which leads to a more well-rounded perspective on all lifestyle elements. The psychological effects of a busy mindset suggest that “feeling busy — that is, perceiving oneself to be a busy person —makes individuals feel that they’re prized, important members of society.” The internal value implied by this perception results in healthier habits, which is a strong argument in favor of keeping busy. 

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