Deep Laziness — Sarah Perry

Last updated 2019-10-09

Laziness is usually frowned upon. We get paid, thanked, and admired for producing: for transforming chaos into order, for giving more than we take, for creating value rather than consuming it. Society doesn’t reward us for slacking off.

But not all laziness is bad. The kind of laziness we frown upon is shallow—guilt-ridden and opportunistic, like when we take a too-long break from work while scrolling through social media. Shallow laziness is the kind that you can’t quite settle into. But there is another flavor of laziness that is worth aspiring to—a kind that is wholesome, even exquisite. I’ve started referring to it as deep laziness, after reading Sarah Perry’s post on the subject.

To be deeply lazy is to be truly settled. Mainly, it is to eliminate the distance between your ideal and your actual self. It is not so much about relaxation or effort as it is about the absence of internal conflict. Where shallow laziness is failing to check the time and showing up late, deep laziness is walking exactly as slowly as you want to because you know you’re on time. Where shallow laziness is ordering pizza for the third night in a row, deep laziness is knowing how to make an easy and healthy meal that you love. Where shallow laziness is aimlessly browsing the internet all weekend, deep laziness is cozying up and watching the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy because you know that nothing else would make you happier.

These examples may suggest that deep laziness is a simple matter of getting your shit together enough that you can be self-assured in your indulgences. But it involves more than that. Perry recommends that we start by identifying the handful of behaviors that come to us most naturally, and then slowly elaborate on those behaviors in ways that preserve and reinforce the desirable feelings that the behaviors elicit.

For example, last year I started playing online blitz chess. The feeling that chess elicits for me is that of flow, a state of immersive focus on a problem. Flow is one of the feelings I enjoy the most, so in pursuit of deep laziness, I have slowly made a series of modifications to my chess-playing habits, both in my style of play and in the sub-variants of blitz that I play most often. Each of these modifications has made chess a better source of flow for me. As a result I feel more like my true self, more deeply lazy for chess’s presence in my life.

The point is not to do more things that elicit flow, per se, although I expect that many of you readers are like me in that flow is one of the feelings you pursue the most. The point is to reflect on the things you do when you’re bored, and ask, “what feeling am I chasing when I do this thing?” Having answered that question, you can let your behaviors evolve toward a richer, more resonant eliciting of that feeling.

Deep laziness is not deciding abstractly what sort of person to be, and then imposing your behaviors from the top down. Deep laziness is constructing yourself from the bottom up; it’s taking the self-enriching behaviors that are already present, and gradually deepening the grooves that they carve through your days.

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