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Lazy days - but why feel guilty?
WHEN did you last do nothing?
When did you actually spend a day off, while the kids were at school, on your own just lazing around while the dishes went unwashed and the bed remained unmade – if indeed you bothered getting out of it in the first place?
I ask this question because I recently found myself with the prospect of such a day. I had 24 hours with nothing planned, no pressing housework and nobody making demands on my time and I was determined to do very little indeed.
Now, there are, of course, varying degrees of doing nothing, the extreme being spending the day in bed staring up at the ceiling – which would be a bit odd.
The “nothing” I’m talking about is perhaps reading on the sofa, or watching a few films, moving only to make a cup of tea or boiling an egg.
I thought such a blank canvass of a day would be an ideal opportunity to finally finish the somewhat turgid HP Lovecraft novella I have been reading, and then getting around to watching my latest Lovefilm DVD.
Yet, I was restless. I walked from room to room, often just looking around as if searching for some sign or the answer to an un-asked question.
The problem was that I felt guilty about doing nothing. I simply could not justify having a day where I didn’t do anything to better myself or humankind. Why?
I remember a few weeks ago watching that television show where guest-house owners sample a night of hospitality at each other’s establishments and then decide how much they want to pay.
One hard-working businessman was shocked to learn that a fellow B&B owner didn’t want to advertise his business in case he “got too many customers”’. He said he had the balance just right between the amount of guests he had, the living he was making and the time he and his wife had to themselves.
The other B&B owner’s reaction to that attitude said a lot about the way society thinks. He said he not only couldn’t understand that attitude, but that people who didn’t bust a gut all day every day actually made him angry.
What the hell was this bloke’s problem?
His less proactive counterpart wasn’t claiming benefits, he wasn’t a burden on society, he just wanted a good balance between his work and whatever he did once the last of the English breakfasts had been served and the guest rooms tidied up. I admired the chap for realising he was happy with his lot in life and was actively doing (or not doing) whatever he could to maintain things as they were.
The problem is that people have lost sight of the simple pleasures which make life worth living. They cannot understand when they have enough in life. That’s partly because of the culture of near- impossible aspiration which keeps a capitalist society consuming, and the belief that to be idle is a sin.
I say it’s time to redefine “idle” and “doing nothing”.
The next time somebody asks you what you plan to do with your weekend, just try this little experiment, tell them you’re going to spend Saturday in bed resting while on Sunday you plan to watch the Godfather trilogy or read a book in one go or, if it’s nice, you might sit in the garden marvelling at the wonder of snails.
Look at the expression on their face as they try to process what you have just told them. It’s a strange mixture of disbelief and pity. Are you depressed? Are you a slob? Have you finally lost the plot?
If, on the other hand, you were to say “‘I’m going to cycle to Whitby”, or having a go at hang-gliding or building a dry-stone wall in a field near Otley, you can be assured of admiration and even, perhaps, a little envy at your get-up-and-go.
But none of the above examples are going to do anything to better society. They are all about personal development and self-satisfaction. And who has the right to say we don’t grow more as a person and be happier by lounging in the garden listening to the birds and your kids playing, than we do filling every second with toil?
When did it become wrong to do nothing and, more importantly, who decides what doing nothing is?