Stress Envy

Report From the Futurist


Martin Hayward, 39, director of consumer consultancy for The Henley Centre, a London-based consulting firm that advises European companies on consumer demographics, lifestyles, economics, trends, and behavior.



“Stress is a word whose meaning has completely changed. It used to be a medical condition. Now it’s often seen as something positive. For many people, it’s an aspiration. Our role models are all busy, busy, busy. The media portrays very important people as never having a spare moment. Our society has this belief that if you’re not busy, you’re not interesting.”

So What?

“Many people whose lives are not frantic suffer from ‘stress envy.’ They’ve accepted a new definition of the good life: It’s not the quality of life, it’s the quantity. Success is measured by how much you can squeeze in. Time has become a currency. People are converting what used to be dead time — sitting on the train reading the paper, for example — into other forms of time. Now you can sit on the train and talk to the office and read your email. The danger is that dead time used to be quite important punctuation marks during the day, and now we have far fewer of them.”

Futurology Decoder Key

“If people believe that they’re short of time, if they actually are short of time, or if they want to appear to be short of time, customer-service telephone messages that say, ‘We know you’re busy’ can be very effective. Flattering the customer will get you a long way. But we’re also going to have to learn to turn things off. Employers are going to have to help people step away occasionally — to demand that people take a holiday or go on a sabbatical. Without punctuation marks, life can become jumbled and incoherent.”

Contact Martin Hayward by email (, or visit the Henley Centre on the Web (