Simply Doing Nothing

When was the last time you felt good about doing nothing?

The great emphasis on efficiency and productivity in this modern age prevents us from simply doing “nothing” as it appears a waste of time. And sometimes it is. In the same amount of time we could submit a cover letter or two for jobs or internships that would allow us to be even more productive. We procrastinate, yet cannot enjoy the present state of relaxation, of doing nothing. As a recent New Yorker book review says:

The essence of procrastination lies in not doing what you think you should be doing, a mental contortion that surely accounts for the great psychic toll the habit takes on people. This is the perplexing thing about procrastination: although it seems to involve avoiding unpleasant tasks, indulging in it generally doesn’t make people happy.

We watch a movie, we fool around, we chat either in person or online, but always there’s the urge that tells you you should be doing something more meaningful, such as improving yourself by reading or practicing that language you’ve always wanted to learn. Yet at some point even the satisfaction of “being productive” can wear itself out. Reading becomes boring. Writing becomes boring. And still your mind seeks incessantly for something “productive” to do. But suddenly you’re tired — of everything.

We weren’t tired or bored of anything when we were young. The sad part of growing up is that we lose the ability to sit there and do nothing without feeling guilty. As we grow older we lose fascination for objects and experiences. Taking greater responsibility for ourselves prevents us from losing ourselves. No longer can we let ourselves go into a blissful nothingness for fear that you aren’t using your time wisely. It is harder and harder to be lost in a book. Even movies sometimes lose their power, for our minds have been trained to analyze to the point of overanalyzing, thereby stripping an imaginative story of all its beauty. This constant desire to be productive and analytical may be a personal trait that only some people have, but I think it inevitably comes to us all as we grow up and enter a world of facts and figures.

“Grown-ups love figures. When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters. They never say to you, “What does his voice sound like? What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?” Instead, they demand: “How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh? How much money does his father make?” Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him.

But certainly, for us who understand life, figures are a matter of indifference.

– The Little Prince


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