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November 17, 2021

What Even is Laziness?

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It took me about a month to write this. Not to finish, but just to start. I’m not exactly sure why, but part of the problem is that this semester has been exhausting. It’s like everyone’s trying to make up for lost time, and I’ve overcommitted. By a lot. So much so that I had to drop a class, spend a week questioning my life’s goals (a week that’s persisted for a couple months) and started sleeping through morning classes. I’ve been lazy. Unproductive. Tired. There have been days where I’ve told myself “just take a break” or “this doesn’t matter right now, come back to it later.” Later. Tomorrow. Over the weekend. 

But for all of the time that I’ve been lazy, I started wondering if I can still consider my routine “lazy” or if it’s just my new normal. After all, what is laziness to begin with? How do we define it? Is it when someone is productive for less time than they are unproductive? What are the triggers for laziness? Is it something inherent to who we are? Or are there specific reasons for why we are more productive at certain moments than others? 

For anyone who’s felt the occasional wave of laziness, that last question might seem like an obvious one. Sometimes it’s difficult to get into the work-mentality. Dr. Devon Price, Professor of Social Psychology at Loyola University, writes about this exact phenomenon in their recent book, Laziness Does Not Exist. You might be thinking: “No, I know for a fact that being lazy is a thing, it definitely happens,” and I agree. But as Dr. Price explains, laziness isn’t a condition of being, it’s a result of underlying issues. And these underlying issues can encompass anything from serious mental health concerns to your most basic feelings of anxiety and/or exhaustion. 

In Dr. Price’s words, “situational constraints typically predict behavior far better than personality, intelligence or other individual-level traits.” Dr. Price goes on to discuss numerous examples of students they encountered — students that struggled between personal issues and the demand for productivity — and how those students were affected by the different pressures they faced. 

More specifically, Dr. Price notes one example of a student they had who frequently missed class. When the student did show up to class, she often kept to herself and did not contribute to group discussions. Other educators began to see her as “lazy” and “unproductive,” but the student eventually revealed to Dr. Price that she had been undergoing treatment for a mental illness for a long time. Once Dr. Price recognized the difficulties she had been facing, they worked to respect her boundaries. And in an environment where this student had her personal matters legitimized, she was able to become a happier and more active member of the classroom. 

The same can be said for all of us. Sometimes, a week is just tough. It’s not always clear why, sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes there isn’t — but it just feels near-impossible to maintain the same schedule that’s worked for the past month. For some, this happens once a semester. For others, this happens everyday. And it’s easy to get caught up in the guilt that comes with feeling “lazy.” After all, modern culture rewards productivity and a mindset of achievement. But it’s important to remember that hard work isn’t actually everything — health and happiness is. 

In fact, the down time that comes with being lazy allows us to not only recharge, but reevaluate our current goals and commitments. If something isn’t working, listen to what your brain is saying. Chances are it’s not something you should ignore. 

But Dr. Price’s book doesn’t just tell us that we should be more attentive to our needs and less concerned with the demands for productivity we face on a daily basis. That’s all true, sure, but have you ever thought about how nice it would be if you were a pet dog or cat? No responsibilities, but all the love and attention in the world? This might seem out of left field, but the way we think about our pets highlights something poignant about the way we view productivity. 

Often, we see it as a rite of passage that gives us purpose, and a reason to exist. But is this true? Dr. Price uses the example of Dumptruck, their pet chinchilla, to narrate how differently we look at our animals, and even our loved ones, from the way we view ourselves. Even though we feel pressured to work long and arduously, we don’t put that same kind of pressure on the people and the pets we love. We just love them. So why pressure ourselves?

Ultimately, I’m not going to stop trying to be productive altogether, and I doubt you will either. But these questions are important to ask. Questions concerning how we view self-worth and the importance we place on achievement. And even how we might evaluate others based on their own work ethic. When we think about these questions, and how they impact our current mindset, the answers might impress upon a different perspective.

But, really. Just take a break. It’s not that hard. So treat yourself. You’re the boss of your downtime. 

 Matthew Kassorla is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]