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I wrote this sentence:

Living a busy life, full of stress, sweat and sacrifice, can make us think that we are actually doing something worthy with our lives.

Which is actually saying is that being busy can give us the illusion of doing something worthy with our lives.

Is it clear enough or ambiguous (is it possible for the reader to misunderstand this sentence as "being busy really makes our lives worthy"?)?

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Two nits: the comma after sacrifice is unnecessary, and it's more idiomatic to use the word worthwhile rather than worthy in this sentence. – JSBձոգչ May 4 '11 at 17:05
@JSBangs Thanks! I really need this kind of critics. – janoChen May 4 '11 at 17:38
The comma (in England) is called an 'Oxford comma' and furious argument rages about whether it's right, wrong or unnecessary. – TimLymington May 4 '11 at 22:34
up vote 2 down vote accepted

The average reader will have no problem understanding this. It's a common construct.

That said, relying on implication is not a good way to ensure clarity. If you want to make it 100% clear that it's an illusion, say so directly; don't make the reader do the work.

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Well, actually I placed this text in a webcomic. I think art shouldn't be so direct. I just wanted to make sure that the expression is a 'negative one' to the average reader. – janoChen May 4 '11 at 16:54

Living a busy life, full of stress, sweat and sacrifice, can make us think that we are actually doing something worthy with our lives.

A couple of stylistic differences aside, I don't see anything wrong with this sentence. I believe it's clear enough as it stands, for any thinking reader. It isn't necessary to hit the reader over the head with the "illusion" aspect. Understatement is often more powerful than overstatement.

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Thanks for making it clear. What do you mean by "stylistic differences aside"? – janoChen May 4 '11 at 17:37
@janoChen: I probably would have cast the sentence differently. But I don't see anything I would blue-pencil. I'm just saying that for myself I favor a different writing style, which is like saying I prefer coffee to tea. This doesn't make tea drinkers wrong, just different. – Robusto May 4 '11 at 17:42
Can you please give me an example of how you would write it please? I want to see as many styles as possible so that I can polish mine. – janoChen May 4 '11 at 18:05
@janoChen: All right, since you asked, here is one of the ways I might write this: "The petty details of a busy life can lull us into feeling we are doing something worthwhile: surely all that activity must add up to accomplishment." This is not better than what you wrote, just different. – Robusto May 4 '11 at 19:24

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