In defense of Laziness

by Stephen Mills on September 4, 2010

Hammock

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” — Lao Tzu

I dream of being lazy, of having all day to just do whatever I feel like at any moment.  I dream of being able to do only a few things that don’t take a lot of time, but that matter a great deal – or not.  I don’t see anything wrong with wanting to do less.  The world is full of energetic and ambitious people being busy but not doing a whole lot that matters.  The world is full of active people trying to force their ideas on others.  How I wish they would get lazy and shut up.

I don’t like chores and I choose to avoid them to whatever degree possible.  When I have free time and free days, I don’t often exert myself; a lot of people viewing me sitting around reading a book might call me lazy. That’s OK, I’m not going to spend my precious minutes doing things I don’t want to do and I don’t think anyone else should either.  Today I was sitting on a bench in my back yard reading a book while the hummingbirds buzzed around.  It was glorious.  My lazy butt wasn’t bothering anyone, but some ambitious hard-working neighbor was outside blasting his 1,000 decibel leaf blower.  Please neighbor, be lazy on Saturday afternoon!

The word “lazy” carries a negative connotation and is mostly used in a pejorative manner.  Something similar to “Get your lazy butt off the couch and do something around here” has probably been uttered billions of times and most of us have said or heard it.  People who lack the drive to work hard and succeed in the manner the culture defines as proper are also frequently considered lazy.

Despite working extremely hard through a lot of my life, I’ve been called lazy at times.  I’ve called other people lazy when I probably shouldn’t have.  Most of the time people are simply projecting their values on someone else.  We throw the word “lazy” around far too often when we are judging other people’s free choice to live their lives as they see fit.  If you are taking care of yourself and are not a burden on others, as far as I’m concerned you can be as lazy as you want.

Imagine a young man who gets home from work, changes clothes and throws his dirty outfit on the floor of his bedroom, invites some of his buddies over and they order pizza and beer and settle in to watch a football game.  They leave pizza cartons and empty beer bottles lying around.  His apartment is a mess with junk piled everywhere.

This young man has a new girlfriend with a “better” job (i.e. makes more money) and she moves into his apartment.  She is a very neat, hard-working, ambitious young woman.  We all know what happens.  Slowly over time she starts demanding that he conform to her lifestyle.  She’s always on his back about getting a better job.  She calls him lazy for not doing more household chores.  She’s always mad about his mess and she tells her friends he just sits on his lazy butt watching TV.

But why are her lifestyle choices better than his?  Why does his choosing to live by a different set of values make him lazy?  What makes her right and him wrong?  She simply has a different set of values than him and wants him to change to conform to hers.  We have to be very careful about thinking we are superior to someone else because we choose to work “harder” or live differently than they do.  They are not lazy because they make different choices than we do.  They may be lazy by the technical definition of the word, but that shouldn’t carry a negative connotation; it’s simply a different choice.

Imagine another young man who chooses to live simply.  He doesn’t want or need much.  He has a part-time job in a bookstore to pay his meager bills and he spends his much valued free time reading and being in nature.  His small apartment is very neat and minimalist.  It’s not that he works hard at keeping things neat, he just doesn’t do or buy things to make much of a mess.   He’s a nice quiet guy whom people like despite thinking he is a little bit strange.  His new girlfriend dreams of a house in the suburbs raising soccer-playing kids and driving an SUV.  They are in trouble.

I think most of us would think the second young man is superior to the first, even though he actually works less than the pizza-eating beer drinker (BTW, I drink beer).  The soccer mom, the ambitious career woman, the beer drinker, and the simple man are all different people with different values. This article is not about picking more compatible mates, even though that is important.  Even in much less extreme cases, people expect their partners to have the same values as themselves.  Your partner is not lazy because he or she chooses to be different than you.  Your choices are not intrinsically better, they are just different.

There are times however, when I think it is appropriate to call someone lazy and to judge them harshly.  Anyone who forces someone else to take care of them is in my mind a lazy bum.  I’m not talking about people who are physically or mentally incapable of taking care of themselves, but those who can but don’t.  The word “force” is key here.  When you vote the taxpayers money into your pockets so you don’t have to support yourself, you are a lazy bum.  When you force someone to wait on you, you are a lazy bum.  As long as people are freely choosing to take care of others, I have no problem with it.  Remember Tom Sawyer who recruited people to whitewash the fence?  Was he lazy or smart?

Those who choose to take it easy are just fine in my book.  The fact that they choose to do something different than what you think they should do, only means that they choose differently than you.

What do YOU think?  Leave a comment and join the conversation.

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beckyblanton » Blog Archive » How Can You Live Like That?
September 5, 2010 at 2:23 pm
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September 6, 2010 at 1:34 am
Weekend Reading Material: Week of October 4 « Lisa's Foods on the Move
October 8, 2010 at 4:04 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

edision September 5, 2010 at 2:28 am

pretty unique conception .but it is appropriate for few people ,most people enjoy laziness but they have responsibilities ,like me .i’m a student from china .
social reality tell me that if you are lazy you will behind ,we have to responsible for our families ,our future . thinks

Reply

Stephen Mills September 5, 2010 at 7:29 am

Hello edision and thank you for commenting. First of all, I’m not saying being lazy is better, I’m just saying it is OK. Frankly, I’m glad there are ambitious people who produce a lot. You talk about “social reality”. Therein lies a key to the problem. You are buying into the socialization that says you are bad if you are not driven to be successful in the sense that society defines. In the past I have worked 100 hour weeks and I suspect that puts me in a pretty good minority of “hard workers”. You are buying into a mindset that I think is just wrong. I think you should do what you want. If you want to work hard for some future that you think is going to make you happy then go for it. If you want to do something different that’s fine too.

Reply

Tracy Todd September 5, 2010 at 3:56 am

There was a time in my life when I was always busy doing something. By nature, I am physical and active. I preferred to do meaningful stuff as opposed to busy myself doing nothing. Then I had an accident which left me paralyzed from the neck down. I suffer from guilt and frustration. I feel lazy. I feel like a burden. But, I have no other choice. I strive to continue to live a full meaningful life by making a positive contribution to this world in my own unique way.

I would give anything to swap places with those people that endlessly complain about how busy they are.
Tracy Todd´s last [type] ..Casual Day

Reply

Stephen Mills September 5, 2010 at 7:34 am

Hi Tracy, as I pointed out in a recent article we must accept that we don’t control the universe. That’s something of which you are painfully aware. I know people who are extremely active. It’s their way and they enjoy it. But everyone is different and some people don’t get off on being active. What if the people who want to constantly be busy and doing stuff were forced to sit still? It would be torture to them. Why don’t they understand that those who like to be still are tortured by being busy? Thank you for leaving your thoughts.

Reply

Sudan Gautam September 5, 2010 at 6:56 am

Wao! I don’t think i am lazy now. It’s that my way of doing things are different than yours. Now and onwards i shall minimize to use this word “Lazy” and will give a good reply to the one who calls me a lazy bone.

I really need to thank you for changing my perception about this word.
Sudan Gautam´s last [type] ..Enjoy life outside your inbox…

Reply

Stephen Mills September 5, 2010 at 7:38 am

Hey Sudan, I’m glad I could help! :-) It’s great you left your message.

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John D. Buerger, CFP® September 5, 2010 at 10:48 am

Great post for a holiday weekend. Once again, Stephen, it all comes down to values – doing the things in life that are most important to you. In this post, each character’s value system is different. One is not better or worse – just different. Whether you are finding a mate or an advisor – you are best served spending the bulk of your time with a person who is in support of your values.
John D. Buerger, CFP®´s last [type] ..Be-Have vs Behave

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Becky Blanton September 5, 2010 at 2:26 pm

This was a great post and inspired me in many ways. As a student I carried a full course load and worked 2-3 jobs. Now that I’m older I take entire days off (I work for myself) and feel guilty for “being lazy” even though I’m paying my bills and taking care of myself. It wasn’t until reading this that it hit me that I’m miserable – not because of my lifestyle – but because I’m tired of having to tweak it and defend it from people who disapprove it. They’re saying, in essence, “You’re lazy,” but more by implying I could “do better,” or that it’s not normal to live in a van and RV and travel. So I’ve decided to think about what it is I really enjoy and just do that rather than think about how to defend myself from criticism. Thanks!
Becky Blanton´s last [type] ..Love- Shadows and Mirrors

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Nea | Self Improvement Saga September 5, 2010 at 5:39 pm

Hi Stephen. I don’t consider what you’ve described as lazy at all. I think it’s wonderful that you allow yourself to rest and relax. In fact, relaxing is another way we should all take care of ourselves. As long as we’re not neglecting anything important such as our work and health, it’s awesome to take a break. I love this post!!
Nea | Self Improvement Saga´s last [type] ..101 Positive Affirmations That Kick Your Inner Critic’s Ass

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Earl September 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm

It seems that we tend to value ‘busyness’ over laziness, but often times without ever actually looking at what that busyness consists of. It’s a blind respect as there is no guarantee that being busy and ambitious equals ‘success’ or a better life.

I’m quite certain that your experience on the bench listening to the hummingbirds is infinitely more rewarding than much of what keeps most people busy on a daily basis.
Earl´s last [type] ..How To Turn Severe Weather Into A Travel Memory

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Mike King September 6, 2010 at 11:34 pm

Greats thoughts and discussion here Stephen. Here is my take. Busy-ness is simply used as an excuse by people who are afraid to choose what they really want in life. It’s true. When you don’t have the guts to make your choice, you suddenly get really busy. Life eats you up and you don’t enjoy things. Yes, you can be busy doing what you love, but that is not the same thing I mean here, I’m sure you understand. And choosing to do nothing, or simplify, or to simply NOT be busy all the time. A wise choice I say.
Mike King´s last [type] ..Book Review- Naked in Eden

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Philippus June 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

I don’t long to be lazy I just long for more leisure time. I try to pack too many activities into the little time I have. I end up stressed lacking enough sleep and impatient with my wife feeling like she dawdles and wastes too much time. She is not wrong in taking her time we Americans work too much!

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