In our hyper-connected world where anyone can be reached anytime by email, text, social media, and a dizzying array of messaging apps, it can seem impossible to escape from work and social “obligations”. Living such a frenetic digital existence, one can’t be blamed for feeling pressure to always be active and productive. No one wants to be seen as lazy. But is that really such a bad thing?
Being bored and giving yourself time to be with your thoughts can have profound positive effects. A little bit of boredom can promote creativity and give you time to collect your thoughts, helping you resolve big life issues. It can act as a motivator, pushing you to find creative ways to not be bored or to recognize thought patterns that may be unhealthy.
Being bored and giving yourself time to be with your thoughts can have profound positive effects.
In a work environment where your attention is constantly being pulled back to tasks at hand, biology prevents self-reflection. No matter how boring and tedious your work may be, your brain constantly switches between its default mode network, where daydreams and internal thoughts come from, and the center-executive network that controls responses to external stimuli. Extend this to your life outside of the office, with the tsunami of texts, emails, and notifications we receive in our always-on culture, and it’s no wonder 18% of US adults experience an anxiety disorder.
It turns out that there is a long history of “laziness” as a positive social force. The French salon culture that greatly influenced the Enlightenment in the 18th century revolved around leisure and political discourse. Today, these gatherings are viewed as having been integral to the cultural and intellectual development of France and Western Europe, and they helped women become less marginalized in France because of their participation in them.
Lafargue believed that the only way workers could achieve independence would be to embrace laziness and reject social pressure to constantly work.
In the 19th century, lazy became a dirty word as the Industrial Revolution and Protestant work ethic took hold of the West, promoting work as salvation and encouraging 16 hours or more of work per day, six days per week. In response to this, critics of industrialism and capitalism, most notably the Marxist Paul Lafargue, called for a right to be lazy as a response to a culture he believed was detrimental to working class people. Unlike the aristocrats and businessmen who could take time for leisure, workers spent their waking hours in factories and tending to their families. Lafargue believed that the only way workers could achieve independence would be to embrace laziness and reject social pressure to constantly work. While Lafargue exclusively focused on laziness as a form of rebellion by workers, his treatise on the importance of laziness echoes modern research on the positive health benefits of boredom and daydreaming.
Of course, not all laziness is alike. A day-long binge of Netflix or video games likely won’t help you unpack difficult life questions, though it may help you unwind after a stressful day of work. But spending time disconnected from the distractions of modern life, be it for a few hours with a stroll through the park, over a weekend camping in the woods, or during a quiet stay at a Getaway Outpost, will give you room to breathe and get the most out of your leisure time. Best of all, you don’t have to feel guilty about doing it.