Obsession With Constant “Doing” and the Guilt Associated with “Doing Nothing”


In the United States, it’s clear to be seen that it is deeply ingrained in our value system to be a hard worker. This hard work ethic has often been attributed to America’s Puritan roots.

I do not believe that there is anything wrong with maintaining a strong work ethic. In fact, I find a strong worth ethic to be a very virtuous quality to possess. Additionally, it seems as if prolonged human idleness is contrary to what is needed for our well-being, both physically and mentally. Such as said in the marvelous book, Life of Pi: “An idle mind tends to sink.”

However, what I’d like to discuss today is our obsession in this country with constant activity, or doing, as well as the discomfort and guilt that we have developed for what we perceive as idleness, laziness, or doing nothing. This idea that the act of simply doing nothing is inherently flawed is one that I find to be just as unhealthy to our well being as is prolonged physical idleness.

In America, many of us hold the idea that ‘relaxation’ is plopping ourselves in front of the television for hours on end, until we’ve become so fully immersed in the images upon the screen that we finally forget about our daily stressors and problems. We consider television an act of doing nothing. Yet to me, watching television certainly is still an active process of doing. Although this ‘doing’ may not be physical, our minds are actively involved in whatever plot is unfolding on the screen.

So, when do each of us actually take the time to mentally decompress from the day by doing nothing instead of using constant interaction with others and the world of stimuli in order to mentally avoid our own thoughts?

It seems like many people in this country have developed such a nervous energy, whereby they are unable to just silently be with themselves. They must constantly be surrounded by friends, their significant other, they must constantly be occupied by their work, schoolwork, tidying up, surfing the internet and Facebook for hours, or whatever it may be to avoid altogether the perceived dreaded state of ‘doing nothing.’

I was spending time with an old friend who was a very hard worker and was constantly balancing a million and one things in her life with seemingly no breaks in between. One day, we both had some down-time and weren’t doing much of anything. She turned and said to me, “I feel so guilty to be doing nothing. I feel like I should be doing something productive. I guess I don’t really know how to just allow myself to do nothing.” I have always remembered this statement because I found it so strange that someone who was constantly occupied both physically and mentally could simply not allow themselves the time to do nothing without feeling guilt.

So why do we fear doing nothing? My theory is that many of us fear truly looking at ourselves honestly. Perhaps we deeply fear what we may see within ourselves if we just stop our constant doing and start listening to what is within. So it could be that our collective guilt towards ‘doing nothing’ is simply fear in disguise.

What do you think?

Feel free to comment: I’d love to hear your own opinions and feedback.

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7 thoughts on “Obsession With Constant “Doing” and the Guilt Associated with “Doing Nothing”

  1. I agree, fear of dealing with one’s self causes all these distractions… which is really unfortunate because I believe that at the core our “selves” is where we all find our truest and richest happiness. Great post!

  2. Perhaps in societies not based on consumption of material things, constantly chasing after mind’s desires, there’s less need to feel guilt from getting off the treadmill. Growing up with 10 thousand advertisements per year that we need something, or need to be doing something. It’s difficult to swim against the stream. I’ve lived in Asia and Europe and experienced more acceptance for enjoying busylessness, than in America. Thanks for bringing it up. Now I’m getting close to my limit for computer time. Be well.

    • Hello smilecalm, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I agree with you, especially with this point: “Growing up with 10 thousand advertisements per year that we need something, or need to be doing something.” Unfortunately, we live in a culture which is obsessed with continual acquiring and doing; I agree with you that this is reinforced constantly in the media. Thank you for reading and best wishes to you.

  3. I totally agree with you – many people are afraid to be alone with their thoughts and just be because of what they might have to face. Most of us have shadows tucked away to some extent and its quiet times when we’re honest with ourselves that we have to face them and it’s very painful. I like time alone now to just be but I’m facing to face a lot of my own fears and inner loneliness and past history to do so. I love the background to your blog – very serene 🙂

    • Hi there starrystez, I appreciate your comment and your reflections– thank you. I agree with you, often times it is when we are alone, and quiet with only ourselves that we must face the conflict within us. This can be quite a turbulent and painful experience. However, it is the willingness to really be with these feelings and thoughts, without moving away, that allows for a lot of inner growth to occur. Thank you for your compliment on my background, I like it too 🙂 I hope that you continue reading and commenting as I have enjoyed your feedback.

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