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.