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Laziness Is a Virtue

·3 mins

Young people are often fed some variation of the belief that hard work will be rewarded; therefore, it’s good and virtuous to work hard. While I do agree with this sentiment, I think the same is also true of laziness. Unlike hard work, laziness is generally regarded as a negative attribute for any person, but this is just a misunderstanding about what laziness is.

If we think for a moment about what it means to be lazy, we might visualize someone lying on the couch watching TV, playing video games, or maybe hurkle-durkling long after it’s time to get up and out of bed. Another way we often think about laziness is that it’s the opposite of being productive, where to be “productive” implies doing some work, chores, exercise, or self-improvement.

Laziness is–in my humble opinion–widely misunderstood and underappreciated. Laziness is not simply about doing nothing; rather, it’s about avoiding excess energy expenditure. That includes both physical and mental energy.

Anyone who’s worked in any sort of creative profession (or simply been to school) is likely fully aware of how much energy it takes to do creative work. Creative work can be energizing, but it also requires a great deal of energy, and you need ample downtime to recover. I find physical work easier than mental work because it’s easier to understand your limits and get the right amount of rest (for me, at least). The brain accounts for about 20% of your caloric needs, which is quite remarkable considering the brain is only about 2% of your body mass1 2.

There’s also an essential biological imperative for why laziness is virtuous: we evolved to conserve energy because, historically, food was scarce. If you can accomplish the same amount of work (or merely an adequate amount) while expending less energy, that’s a win. Work isn’t a contest to see who can look the busiest or burn the most calories–although, in some organizations, that’s exactly what management believes.

I think of laziness as an important skill: if you can accomplish a task quickly with minimal effort, you are succeeding. The only downside to being this skilled is that the reward for good work done quickly is more work, so to work smart (as opposed to working hard), you should develop your laziness skills discreetly.

The polar opposite of laziness is busywork, which is more harmful than laziness, because you’re wasting calories and brain energy for no good reason.

And to be clear, hard work is great too, but working hard just for the sake of working hard is theatric wheel spinning in most cases. This is perhaps one reason why exceptionally talented people are often remarked as “making it look easy” when demonstrating their talents.