The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’

The Hard Work of Being ‘Lazy’

From The School of Life, London comes this (welcome) perspective on so-called laziness.

You’re feeling resolutely “lazy”, unable or unwilling to do the things you “should” be doing. All you want to do is to loll on the sofa or spend an hour soaking in the bath. Maybe you just want to sit by the window and stare at the clouds – for a long time.

You’re likely to be stigmatised by your friends or, worse still, your own conscience for being profoundly (and incorrigibly) “lazy”. Laziness feels like a sin against the bustling activity of modernity; it seems to bar us from living successfully or from thinking in any way well of ourselves.

Now try looking at the matter from another perspective. Sometimes the real threat to our happiness and self-development may lie, not in our failure to be busy, but in the very opposite scenario: in our inability to be “lazy” enough.

Just because we seem to be physically idle and doing nothing doesn’t mean we’re not being fruitful. Below the surface, a lot may be going on that’s both important and, in its own way, hard work. When we’re busy with routines and administration, we’re focused on things that sit at the front of our minds: we’re executing plans rather than reflecting on their value and ultimate purpose.

We need to distinguish between emotional and practical hard work. Someone who looks extremely active and is always “busy” may appear the opposite of lazy. But secretly, there may be a lot of avoidance going on beneath the outward frenzy. Busy people are hives of activity, yet they don’t get round to working out their real feelings about their work or investigating their own direction. They are lazy when it comes to understanding particular emotions about loved ones, or thinking what their work means to them. Their busy-ness is in fact a subtle but powerful form of distraction.

Our lives might be a lot more balanced if we valued the wisdom and courage of daring to sit at home with one’s thoughts for a while, risking encounters with certain worrying or melancholy but also highly necessary ideas. Without the shield of busy-ness, we might bump into some realisations about our relationships, our work, our feelings. The heroically hard worker isn’t necessarily the one in the airport business lounge; it might be the person gazing out of the window, occasionally writing down an idea or two.

The point of ‘doing nothing’ is to clean up our inner lives. There is so much that happens to us every day, so many excitements, regrets, suggestions and emotions that we should – if we are living consciously – spend at least an hour a day processing events. Most of us manage – at best – a few minutes – and thereby let the marrow of life escape us. We do so not because we are forgetful or bad, but because our societies are activity-centric. We are granted every excuse not to undertake the truly difficult labour of leading more conscious, more searching and more intensely felt lives.

The next time you feel extremely lazy, imagine that perhaps a deep part of you is preparing to give birth to a big thought. As with a pregnancy, there is no point hurrying the process. Be still and let the idea gestate, sure that it may one day prove its worth. Far from being grossly lazy, you may one day put in motion some worthwhile projects and initiatives.

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