Why Laziness Can Be a Virtue

Indolence is an underrated virtue. In small doses it can fortify us for our demanding lives. I totally recommend it as an occasional tonic, like a juice fast or a massage. This early 1900s painting is by Frank Markham Skipworth and totally summed up my mood yesterday.

The happiest people, I’ve been told, have a sense of purpose: a mission they are passionate about, children to care for, a class to teach, a milestone to reach. They are energetic and industrious, unable or unwilling to stay still. They have things to accomplish every day, and a brightly burning drive to fill their plate with things that have to get done.

Inertia has always been my greatest enemy. Once I overcome it I can keep going like the Energizer Bunny. That’s why each morning, after finishing my third mug of coffee, my comfy fleece robe starts to feel like chain mail, protecting me from the needling tasks ahead yet weighing me down. So fearlessly I cast it off, dress for the day and keep going…until mid-evening when my battery runs out the second I sink into the couch and disturb its throw pillows for the first time in 21 hours.

But yesterday I tried an experiment: a full day of being a total load.

The idea was hard for me, because my entire adult life I’ve always had a job and/or small children to give me a reason to get out of bed and keep moving. Even our vacation days were usually spent going someplace or getting ready for a holiday or guests. The idea of a day of indolence conjured up images of frowsy, depressed women in Snuggies or shirtless, unemployed men in drawstring sweatpants, drinking Mountain Dew and watching As The World Turns, Beavis & Butthead, and commercials for tech schools and personal injury lawyers.

Yet on the occasions when I’ve been sick, or when a storm forced us to cancel plans and handed us a windfall of time, I secretly relished having an excuse to do nothing. So yesterday, after a morning walk with my friend Jane, I decided that I would live the rest of the day like a total load, by choice.

After some time reading the New York Times online and playing Words With Friends, I fortified myself for an undemanding afternoon by making tomato soup and a Panini of sourdough bread and cheese. With my insides sedated under a blanket of carbs, and dressed in my fleece shirt and loose jeans with an extra few percentages of lycra, I sank into the couch and reached for the television clicker. Hundreds of channels but nothing I really wanted to watch. So I powered up the laptop and found the web site for PBS, and spent more than four hours catching up with “Downton Abbey.”

While the first episode demanded some attention, by the next one I had caught onto the story line and let the characters, the scenery, the plotting and back-stabbing carry me away. I even went to the PBS page to get a synopsis of season 1 and to rate the characters – how likable or despicable they were. (O’Brien, Thomas and Vera got the lowest grades.)

“Shouldn’t you be blogging or something?” asked my husband, up for a break from his normal 10-hour day.

The phone rang a few times, flashing familiar numbers on the caller ID, but I didn’t bother to answer. Even interacting with humans was more effort than I wanted to make right now. The only time I rose was to brew some tea and to look in the refrigerator. I found some homemade peanut butter cups, made by a friend who came to our SuperBowl get-together, and ate one, a little bit at a time. I kept the sharp knife at the ready so I could carve off a little piece whenever the mood struck. By an hour later I had consumed the hockey-puck sized treat.

John came home from school and I barely asked him about his day, so deep was my chocolate coma and my absorption into the World War I-era romances and scandals of Downton Abbey. I took a break from my indolence to quiz him in social studies for a test, to drive him to wrestling practice, sip a glass of wine and warm up some meatballs for dinner. The rest of the evening I lay on the couch, talked on the phone and watched more Downton Abbey. It went so fast and before you know it, it was time for bed.

Today I am looking at a list of jobs to do, things I need to accomplish before the end of the day. But I look back at yesterday without a shred of regret, although I doubt I could live that that all the time. Sometimes the best way to power up is to power down, to push “control/alt/delete” and forcibly shut down all those simultaneously-running tasks. My energies thus re-booted, I am ready for whatever the day brings.