Idleness is not the same as laziness and experts are now looking at the importance of being idle as part of a healthy life and as an aid to recovery.
According to Psychology Today, the two main synonyms for laziness are indolence and sloth. The former is the tendency of avoiding trouble. The latter, referred to in the bible as a deadly sin, is said to undermine personal success and promote decadence.
There are also two subgroups of laziness, which differ quite significantly from each other – idleness and procrastination. Idleness per se is not negative, you might be idle because you are temporarily unable to do something or perhaps because you are resting or recuperating. However, modern psychology believes that our relationship with idleness is contradictory. Although idleness is often considered a desirable state of being, recent research demonstrates that most people would go to great lengths to keep busy even when they don’t have to (Hsee, 2010). What is more, people feel happier for being busy, even if it is imposed upon them.
In the context of rehab treatments and recovery, it is particularly insightful to mention the concerns that some experts have with people constantly seek to be busy. It is viewed as a distraction of the conscious mind from uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. This can become another form of addiction compensating for the original one. In recovery, we should be careful of filling our lives with a flurry of activity. While it may be seen as positive, it could detract from a well-balanced lifestyle. In other words, a long-term couch potato shouldn’t necessarily start training every day to overcome another addiction. It make a positive change to his/her health in the short term but could also lead to a different addiction.
Many famous people past and present have advocated the importance of being idle. For example, Winston Churchill’s favourite pastime was to sit on a rocking chair and Charles Darwin preferred fishing to any other sport. Bill Gates has often been quoted as saying, “I always choose a lazy person to do a hard job, because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.”
We should challenge the notion that busyness equals success. Idleness can help us find harmony with ourselves and experience life unhurriedly. By doing this we may see life as it unfolds and facilitate the much-referred-to mindfulness.
The book ‘Hide and Seek’ by Neel Burton (2012) provides an excellent explanation of how constant busyness is a powerful form of self-deception that we use to avoid facing painful truths. The book also suggests that many ‘goals’ that people pursue may be justifications to keep themselves busy. In recovering, anything that gets in the way of the quest to find our true nature should be avoided. We should identify the type of activities that are unnecessary for our well-being and cut them out of our daily lives. That way we might discover the importance of being idle.
We agree with Oscar Wilde’s famous quote “Doing nothing is the most difficult thing in the world.” but we should also grasp its importance. Idleness is about observing and enjoy life, find inspiration, maintaining perspective, avoiding pettiness and reducing inefficiency. It can preserve our health and energies for truly important tasks and problems.
How many times have you head friends humble-brag about how busy they are? Perhaps they need to think about whether they are just disorganised or even hiding some truths from themselves. Constantly doing activities that keep them from thinking about their lives too closely may not be a good thing. Maybe it should become enviable or at least acceptable to say ‘I was idle this morning’.
Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception – Neel Burton (2012)
Idleness aversion and the need for justifiable busyness – Christopher K Hsee (2010)