Some Thoughts on Laziness

There is always something that needs doing. There are constellations of tasks, meals, pastimes, excursions, social engagements, and sex. How could we ever possibly find the time to be bored? The answer is laziness, laziness born of apathy.

Laziness might be defined as having the will to work only to satisfy one’s own basic appetites and no more. A lazy person does not want to be in a position of responsibility and is uninterested in supporting others in their endeavours. There can be many reasons for one to exhibit such behaviour. One may suffer from a physical or mental illness or disorder, be developmentally challenged, or be constitutionally misanthropic, have a history of abuse, have a drug or alcohol addiction, or be a slave. Or one may be just plain bored.

The topic of laziness is by no means straightforward. By the measures of the non-materialist, for instance, the materialist displays a laziness toward himself by substituting ephemeral trinkets, grandiose toys, and hours-clocked-per-week in place of inner achievement. Similarly the humanist, religious or otherwise non-materialist often fools himself by being satisfied with the outer trappings of his or her philosophy, ideology, or theology (such as ritual, discipline, law, and quotable rote knowledge) and then mistakenly using these as leverage-points for self-glorification and self-righteousness. Such an error breeds an especially heartless and pernicious kind of non- or anti-materialism which materialists rightfully fight against, but which is in fact just another form of materialism known as piety, whereby a display of knowledge, ritual, etc. comes to obscure the actual achievement of inner well roundedness, equanimity, responsibility, sensitivity, and alertness to one’s surroundings, as well as the ability to make moral choices from the heart rather than from a rule book. One might characterise non-materialists who fail to achieve the inner qualities of empathy and compassion as lazy in their domain. Given this situation between materialists and their equally misguided opponents, it is no wonder one cannot convince the other of the superiority of his or her world view.

A lazy person by the normative measures of our commercial economy is a person who does not work a minimum of 40 hours per week toward some greater corporate or other institutionalised endeavour. Sound boring? More often than not it is. The reason is that it is rare and difficult to find oneself pursuing one’s own happiness via service to another’s mission. Add the notion of financial credit to the mix and a type of sanctioned slave system arises. In the best case scenario, one doesn’t become indebted to a loan shark, but to a professionalized, legally responsible debtor — i.e. a bank. Since credit commits us to years of payment, we fear for our jobs: we become enslaved. (I do not mean to demonise banks or credit, but only to demonstrate the trap of the current social contract that leads to apathy and boredom amidst so much ado.)

“Working for the Man” is an expression our twenty-first century culture uses to signify the work we do for others that we may subsist, scrape by, survive. It is work we do that we find unfulfilling but must do nonetheless. It is work that only participates toward our pursuit of happiness indirectly and at the price of unhappiness: i.e. stress (that is, the feeling one should be elsewhere and is therefore frustrated in the present). Our culture presents us with a soft paradox whereby we make ourselves unhappy in the pursuit of happiness. The paradox is soft because it resolves itself when one realizes that it all depends on one’s definition of happiness. When the flaunting of material wealth replaces inner qualities as the signifiers of happiness, one needn’t pursue fulfilment in other areas such as the emotional, psychological, and spiritual. When one equates the pursuit of happiness with conspicuous consumption and the theatre of being successful, the issue at stake is not happiness but success (even if only moderate success in one’s own station or perceived economic or professional class). There is no paradox in the idea of being successful and miserable at the same time. The conflation of success and happiness probably has much to do with the Puritan notion of divine election, whereby material success is a sign of one’s happy place in the divine plan. What a miserable legacy! And one that harbours an irresponsible relationship toward the pursuit of happiness as well as toward the means by which one achieves success, since it is God who blesses, who giveth and taketh away. This is lazy materialism masquerading as spiritualism. It is amazing how clever and snaky the mind can be and how chameleon its laziness.

Boredom is the best thing that can happen because it is a symptom of a deep apathy that can force one to dig down and root out the laziness before one is enslaved by it. We are faced with endless options and we are overwhelmed. If we fail to bring order to our options, we experience stress because we do not know what to do with ourselves. We don’t know where we ought to be or what we ought to be doing and our minds are full of options and what-ifs instead of happily appreciating the awesomeness, beauty, terror, and solemnity of the present and its circumstances. When there is no viable measure by which to determine our actions, we find ourselves disenchanted, demoralised, and listless. We feel alienated from a sense of greater purpose and have no wherewithal to prioritise. People desperately need an ideological trellis to help train their impulses and to guide them toward a compassionate, responsible, and meaningful existence. Boredom is the spur to greater self-realisation, or it can be. The problem is laziness. People want a quick fix, a short cut, a fast food, fast lane, drive thru answer to happiness. Still having no desire to do the work and take responsibility, we turn to religions and ideologies to be told what to do. Novelty and superstition enslave the seeker after happiness and entangle him in a narrative that may pacify the boredom but fail to teach him to find his own way. In fact religion often alienates the person from his body, his mind, and his psyche, promising magical or divine intervention to effect his or her salvation — in exchange for devotion, that is, spiritual enslavement.

I do not mean to dismiss religion or ideology or even devotion out of hand. They have their place. As noted above, something must guide us, and there are a few elements in religion, mystical systems, and humanism that can be useful in the pursuit of happiness. When systems purporting to be universal demand complete and lifelong devotion, they are asking you essentially to sell or give up your soul to a collective cause, a phenomenon resembling the idea of working for the Man. That is not to say that serving one’s life as a monk or pastor or priest or shaman cannot be fulfilling, or that dedicating one’s life to a greater cause or corporation is necessarily a lazy approach to life. That certainly needn’t be the case so long as one isn’t lazy about it. Ultimately one submits to something.

If one makes it to the point of asking what his or her happiness might entail, of what it might consist, there is at least a sign of life. To actually pursue happiness is life, and to seize it is the great gift and boon our impermanently present culture and society has to offer a potential individual.

Asa Boxer