Why We Can’t Stop Rushing

By John Mercury March 2, 2024

Racing to catch a subway train recently, I tripped on the stairs leading to the platform, steadying myself only barely by grabbing the arm of an unsuspecting and rightfully alarmed fellow passenger. I sustained no major damage — a scraped knee, a bruise on my thigh I’d discover a week later. These injuries were, I told myself in the aftermath, well deserved. I’d disregarded one of my precepts for personal happiness, the one that stipulates, “Most misery is caused by rushing.”

My fall was the most basic evidence of this, a frying-pan-over-the-head reminder that running late and reckless from one place to the next puts one at risk of a spill. But there was also all the incidental unhappiness I’d incurred and inflicted in the lead-up: I’d been rushing to get out of the house, which put me in a foul mood. I’d been impatient with everyone I encountered on the way to the subway, adding some measure of unpleasantness to their mornings.

We rush because we’re late. We also rush because we want to move quickly away from discomfort. We rush to come up with solutions to problems that would benefit from more sustained consideration. We rush into obligations or decisions or relationships because we want things settled.

Worrying is a kind of rushing: It’s uncomfortable to sit in a state of uncertainty, so we fast-forward the tape, accelerating our lives past the present moment into fearsome imagined scenarios.

A friend and I remind each other regularly of a radio news segment she heard years ago. The reporter concluded the story, about a mess of delays on the Long Island Rail Road, with the line, “These commuters are ready for this day to be over, once and for all.” Of course the message was the commuters wanted to get home and have dinner and go to bed already. But the finality of “once and for all” made it sound as though the commuters were so fed up that they wanted to end that day and all days. Or, as my friend wrote: “Certainly at one point the day will definitely be over once and for all for each of us. Is that what we’re rushing toward?”

This obsession with being done with things, of living life like an endless to-do list, is ridiculous. I find myself sometimes having a lovely time, out to dinner with friends, say, and I’ll notice an insistent hankering for the dinner to be over. Why? So I can get to the next thing, who cares what the next thing is, just keep going. Keep rushing, even through the good parts.


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