Notes philosophy Psychology

“The Busiest People Harbor The Greatest Weariness” Meaning

The busiest people harbor the greatest weariness, their restlessness is weakness – they no longer have the capacity for waiting and idleness.”


With Nietzsche, as with any great contrarian, we find quotes that point us towards a truth that is at once counter-intuitive and provocative. Of course, when asked to imagine what it would feel like to be depressed, one gets the image of inactivity and resignation. After-all, depression is only an anomaly because it results in behavior that runs counter to the normal pace of life.

But what about the person who never rests? Is their behavior not antithetical to the normal ebb and flow of life?

Our intuition tells us that the opposite of business is depression. So it is not a good idea to be completely idle, but on the mad extreme of activity, there exists a concealed depression.

The hyper-active person is, in a way, compensating for something that is dead within them, something that they have killed. Imagine, for example, the restless entrepreneur, who is constantly in a state of chasing after the next big thing. On the surface, this person is the model of success for anyone in society, as he has achieved, to the maximum, the ideal of the collective. He has accumulated enough money and power, and has made such a dent in the fate of civilization, that he is the closest thing to a god. I use this example, because it is an extreme case of the restless (and successful) individual, who would lack any of the typical symptoms or preconditions of someone who is depressed.

There is a book by Szasz, The Myth of Mental Illness, which makes the point that mental illness is nothing but problems in living. The mentally ill are merely those who cannot keep up with the pace and demands of society, and they are designated by some fashionable diagnosis that is contingent on historical context (mental disorders appear and disappear, depending on the age). Another book that discusses this idea at length is Foucault’s Madness and Civilization.

Taking into consideration these ideas, and granting that it may be that depression is merely a result of socioeconomic or interpersonal circumstance, we must conclude that the person who is highly active, and has no socioeconomic or interpersonal problems, cannot in any person’s eyes, exhibit the behavior or the appearance of someone who is depressed. If depression did not exist, then we would not expect to see it in the hyper-successful, and if it was, we would not expect to see it in the hyper-active (Yet there is a diagnosis that is called “bipolar depression” in which the person’s behavior is characterized by mania or depression, at different times).

But the successful serial entrepreneur, who obsessively searches for new opportunities to exploit, breathless and unceasing in his efforts, is avoiding a primary impulse, and that is to stop. The ceasing of activity is not necessarily the ending of a career, but it is more something that makes way for rethinking, doubt, reflection. If you refuse the impulse to stop, you may find yourself going on and on, with no end in sight, until some kind of catastrophe, social or personal, forces you to stop. Such was the experience for many after the Covid-19 pandemic.

In summary, the hyper-successful and hyper-active is, in theory, the furthest thing away from someone who can either be considered depressed (according to the psychoanalyst) or someone who merely feigns the invented idea of depression, according to the anti-psychoanalyst (Szasz-Foucault).

And yet, if Nietzsche is right, then such cases do exist. Those who seem to be joyful and exuberant, are beneath this exterior, depressed. This brings to mind the image of the clown in The Joker, as someone who tries to bring joy to children, and on the exterior is cheerful and amiable, but internally, is brimming with anger and resentment. The idea also is similar to Jung’s idea of the persona and the shadow, where the social mask that we wear in public, is usually in direct opposition with our internal state.

So what are we to make of all this? At the very least, weariness and business are not opposites. You can be busy, but mentally tired and depressed. This is definitely a possibility, but can this idea be of use in social relations?

A rule of thumb is to look for signs of overcompensation. That is where someone is acting too energetically, too joyfully, too enthusiastically, that there is something hidden. If someone is too quiet, they may have too much to say, or are possessed by too much of an urge to be socially accepted. If someone is too noisy and boisterous, they may harbor deep feelings of insecurity and reservation.

Where bad eyesight can no longer see the evil impulse as such, on account of its refinement,-there man sets up the kingdom of goodness ; and the feeling of having now gone over into the kingdom of goodness brings all those impulses (such as the feelings of security, of comfortableness, of benevolence) into simultaneous activity, which were threatened and confined by the evil impulses. Consequently, the duller the eye so much the further does goodness extend ! Hence the eternal cheerfulness of the populace and of children ! Hence the gloominess and grief (allied to the bad conscience) of great thinkers.

Nietzsche, The Gay Science 

"A gilded No is more satisfactory than a dry yes" - Gracian

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