Does “laziness” exist? Research says it’s complicated

Lazy is an adjective of disdain. Lazy employees are wrong employees; lazy people are without ambition; lazy friendship does not deserve; lazy love is a red herring. Anything and anyone lazy is instantly doomed to take on the role of the indulgent, idle figure who deserves to be judged for their choice to choose languor over productivity. Laziness is a sin, we are told.

But somewhere between “I feel lazy to work” and “lazy Sundays” we lost sight of what laziness really is. iswhy we demonize him, and whether there is beyond being a manifestation of our anxieties. Ask yourself what it means to be lazy. Do you think of someone who does almost nothing? Or who does things albeit slowly? Maybe the one that does nothing? Maybe, someone who doesn’t want to do anything at all? Each question leads down a different and deep rabbit hole, forcing people to further examine ideas of work culture, capitalism, social forces, human fallibility, and fatigue.

Sloth intrigues the human mind because we have been warned of its dark charm. A more interesting question to ponder here is whether laziness existand if anyone can be inherently lazy.

This helps draw attention to the literature on laziness. Laziness can figure as a concept if we understand it as someone who does nothing or who is slow. Psychiatrist Neel Burton interprets evolutionary reasoning: “Today, mere survival is no longer the order of the day, and with ever-increasing life expectancies, it is long-term strategy and effort that lead to the best results. Yet our instinct, which hasn’t caught up, is still to conserve energy, which makes us reluctant to devote effort to abstract projects with distant and uncertain payoffs,” he said. declared. wrote. This idea creates two categories of people and disrupts our way of thinking about laziness: those who are ambitious and have a future perspective, and those who are “instinctively” programmed to focus on self-preservation.

This theory also served as the basis for a 2018 study youdie, showing how people can simply be wired to prefer relaxation over physical activity. “Conservation of energy has been essential to human survival, as it has allowed us to be more efficient at foraging for food and shelter, competing for mates, and avoiding predators” , the authors said. Their research aimed to explain why people would choose not to exercise even when they were aware of the health risks; the answer they found was that brain activity itself pushes people towards a sedentary lifestyle.

By juxtaposing “activity” and “ambition” with “energy saving”, laziness in the popular imagination then refers to inertia, both physical and mental. This feeds the idea that laziness is for the weak and unsuccessful; an excuse for not being competent or talented enough.


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It is useful to demystify this imagination. What if we just don’t want to adhere to the dominant ideas of competence, talent or success? Does that mean they do nothing? For one thing, people are also wired to hate doing “nothing.” In theory, we understand that all mental and physical effort is tedious; opting for the fruits at hand is convenient and comforting, so the next logical step is to take the path of least resistance. This is what Zipf’s law – also called the “principle of least effort” — also dictates. Take John Atanasoff, who built the first electronic digital computer; he did it because it was too much work and too time consuming to perform calculations manually.

But in practice, one study found how often people do things they don’t really need, even things that are more work-intensive and painful. “Sometimes we take the easy route and do as little as possible, but at other times we appreciate situations more if we have to put in a lot of effort. The intrinsic joy of effort gives us so much pleasure that we don’t take the shortcut. We could spend hours brainstorming cryptic crossword puzzles instead of using a search engine to find the solution,” Explain Claudia Hammond at the BBC. This is what some experts also call the paradox of effort. Even behavioral economist George Loewenstein has argued that people will do all kinds of things to get things done and achieve goals, even when they don’t need to.

What this tells us is that every moment people are recalibrating which decisions require effort and which do not. Which are valuable and which are not. Tenacity is learned and then spent every moment, so laziness as a catch-all term for the things capitalism imposes may not quite apply.

In their book, social psychologist Devon Price calls for a re-examination of the “sloth lie” – which falsely tells us that we are not working or learning hard enough. Others have also called it a myth. A study in 2015 showed that less physically active people tend to be smarter than physically active people. They wear a “need for knowledgeand would instead pursue activities that speak to the mind and brain more than anyone’s ideas of effort. What’s more, what we perceive as laziness may be that the other person takes time to reflect and innovate, a 2018 study argued.


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Second, laziness cannot be understood without contextualizing people’s actions with dominant factors, such as their socioeconomic status, behavior, personality, and upbringing. Think of laziness as a black hole – It swirls around ideas of productivity and expectations, absorbing people’s assumptions about what someone should be doing and how fast. But the black hole rarely truly reveals the cultural and social particles that compel people to be lazy. There is an intimate association between perceptions of laziness and failure, which fuels the apathy of socio-economically vulnerable sections of society. People are poor because they just don’t do enough. Some call it a “choice mindset”; that if people want, they can do anything, and thus come out glorious. This reading of laziness then also results in people justifying social inequality.

But this mute belief ignores the structural inequalities of poverty, disease and caste that shape much of economic injustice. Some people cannot choose effort and work due to neurodivergence or various health issues; some people are systematically excluded from the approach to work and economic benefits; Some people’s effort may not fit into the narrow definition of “productivity” and could easily be dismissed as laziness. Yet some people may not want to work as a natural response to an extremely busy world. It’s just human fatigue. Do you call that laziness?

Arguably, laziness exists in other ways outside of work culture. One exists in terms of gendered divisions of labor in the home, when men step out of the fair distribution of domestic labor on the grounds of their incompetence. Called ‘strategic incompetence’, it means that ‘men don’t just pretend they can’t do something, they deliberately mess up the job – As ‘destroy laundry, leave grease on dishes or ignore children’ – so they’ll never be asked to do this again,” wrote Devrupa Rakshita for The Swaddle.

It’s not just about rethinking how we understand laziness and using that lens to critique its existence. Instead, we must make peace knowing that laziness will forever continue to sit somewhat uncomfortably with capitalist expectations and human nature. Some may still vehemently claim that people are lazy and plead for success; others may not make the effort to justify their perceived stasis. Better yet, we can radically reinvent our ideas around effort and work – how we measure them, how we interpret them, and if there is a mistake in how we see them.

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