Do you catch yourself complaining to your friends about how totally overworked you are? Joking that maybe you’ll have time to hang out some time in the next century? Making sure they know that you eat “sad desk salad” for lunch because you are just so swamped? Turns out you may be, consciously or not, trying to signal your social status—just as surely as if you showed off a new designer bag or bragged about going backstage at a super hip show over the weekend. Yes, apparently being a workaholic is yet another signifier of the social hierarchy that we’re hardwired to try to climb, and being busy makes you look important and high-status, in the eyes of Americans, at least.
It used to be that leisure time was a sign of wealth and status: only the well-off could afford regular vacations, “ladies who lunch” showed off by socializing and relaxing during the day, when the rest of us poor saps were working.
But over the past few decades, something has changed. Americans now see busyness and overwork as a sign of someone important. We admire the executive chained to her desk, the workaholic who doesn’t have time to eat right, and we not only understand when our friends are too busy to hang out, it actually improves our perception of them. And to reach this high rung on the social ladder ourselves, no matter how miserable it may be once we’re there, we either cram our own schedules full until they’re ready to burst, or we at least pretend to.