Every day when Lancelot comes home from work, I ask him how his day was. I’m a good little suburban housewife, and that question is simply part of the script. And every day, he responds dutifully with something along the lines of, “Great! We had some great meetings this morning and this afternoon was really productive!” or “It was rough. I really wanted to get a lot more done than I did.” Regardless of what happened, he always mentions the volume of work he did or did not accomplish, as if that alone is the measure of a good day.
Granted, he’s talking about his actual job, so it makes sense to comment on his workload. But why do I feel the need to do the same? I will always respond to his work talk about what I did that day. “I did the boys’ laundry and we did some grocery shopping and hit the museum. I made muffins if you want some!” If I don’t have something to report, I feel lazy. I feel worthless. I feel like a waste of space.
Is there anything our society despises more than laziness? Hard work is the key to everything in life, or so we have been taught. It doesn’t matter what privilege we are or are not born with – we seem to buy into the idea that all we have to do is “pull ourselves up from our bootstraps” and “work hard” to get ahead. The American Dream itself is built on hard work. The self-made millionaire is our ideal.
“Work hard, play hard!” we shout. The most enthusiastic of the bunch will add, “Work hard, play harder!” (I’ve said that myself more than a few times.) “No pain, no gain!” is another popular idiom, found on bumper stickers, cross-stitched pillows and heard from virtually every personal trainer on earth. We look up to anyone that puts their “blood, sweat and tears” into a project.
Hard work is so revered that we no longer simply value the fruits of our labor. We value the act of work itself. It doesn’t matter if there is a legitimate outcome of our toils. Just to be busy is enough to gain the approval of our peers.
There’s such shame attached to laziness that we, as a society, think it’s okay to publicly embarrass those that embody the trait. If we see an overweight person, we automatically stigmatize them as lazy. “Fat shaming” is a thing we feel okay with because we see it as lazy-shaming. Nevermind whether the person in question works 80-hour weeks or has a dozen children – if they appear overweight, we label them as lazy and move on. We feel justified in saying very unkind things because they embody the most despised of all traits – laziness.
It’s the same concept that makes me cringe when I define myself as a stay-at-home parent – underneath the declaration is this inherent insinuation that I must be a lazy person to consider staying at home with my kids. What am I doing all day? Eating bon-bons and watching soap operas?
I’ve never actually seen a bon-bon. I’m not even sure if I’m spelling it right. But what would it hurt, honestly, if I sat down for five minutes a day to eat one? What would be the harm?
Who does our current model of society and its insistence on hard work help? Does it help those on the bottom, working their butts off, or those at the top, enjoying the fruits of their workers’ labor?
It’s been said that “religion is the opium of the masses,” and perhaps that is true, but couldn’t we just as easily say that “hard work is the opium of the masses?” We have glorified sacrifice and endeavor to such a degree that even hinting that we want to take a break is looked at with distain. When a guy decides to cut back their hours at work, others wonder what could possibly be wrong. Is he going through a mid-life crisis? Is he sick? Something must be wrong.
Our society does have a few ways to reward people for their hard work – nights, weekends and vacations. These are guilt-free and justifiable times to let loose and be crazy. We all look forward to our breaks and vacations. And then, when they are done, we sink into despair. Every Sunday night my Facebook feed is flooded with people bemoaning the end of the weekend. Sunday Night Depression is a real thing. The clock is ticking. You’ve had enough fun. Work starts tomorrow!
Does life have to be so hard?
Now listen, I’m not saying hard work is a bad thing. We are entitled enough as a society for me to even hint that we need more laziness. Hard work is beneficial both for society and the laborers, who enjoy the fruits of their labor and the satisfaction of a job well done. My question isn’t whether we should work hard. My question is – why do we value hard work, suffering and pain more than we value pleasure?
Is our obsession with hard work impeding our happiness?
We all want to win the PowerBall or own our own company. We want to enjoy the pleasures of life, and we want to do it in a guilt-free manner. If we have all the money in the world then no one will judge us for enjoying ourselves. But if we aren’t millionaires (like 99% of us aren’t), then we don’t feel justified in taking time to enjoy the pleasures of life.
We shouldn’t have to justify the happiness, joy and pleasure we get out of our days. We shouldn’t have to defend the time we spend relaxing. We should be aiming for that time and enjoying it, not feeling guilty about it.
Chances are that most of us will not actually win the PowerBall or become overnight millionaires. That doesn’t mean we should spend our lives working until we are near our breaking points and squeezing our enjoyment into the vacation we have ear-marked for fun. Fun should happen every day. Fun should be a priority. Fun shouldn’t have to be justified, downplayed or covered up.
It’s not lazy to enjoy the pleasures of life. It’s neglectful and careless if we don’t.
So let’s make life more fun.