“I HATE PRODUCTIVE PEOPLE.” That was the title of a recent video by Emma Blackery, in which she talks about how awful it is to be around productive people when you are a “lazy” person, a video she starts by saying that secretly, she’s actually just jealous. It’s an issue that I see around me all the time, and one that often leads to (usually friendly and unserious) sarcastic comments or discussions. This doesn’t exactly sound like a sophisticated topic, but as it turns out, it actually is. So let’s have a look at what is better: being productive, or being lazy?
To answer that question, I’m going to use a rather unlikely source, one who probably didn’t know much about the pressures of modern life, and who certainly didn’t spend much of his time cleaning up after himself or doing most of the things we would these days consider “productive.” Then again, Aristotle didn’t do a lot of sleeping in until noon or watching cat-videos either, so let’s just call him a neutral source.
So yes… Aristotle. I’m sure you’ve heard of him: he’s that Greek philosopher who in some interpretations of his work thought that slavery was natural and that women were far inferior to men. A reliable source, you’ll certainly agree. Either way, Aristotle believed that he had found out how to live the perfect life. He figured out that while almost every goal we set for ourselves is just a means to an end, there is one single goal that is just a goal (or an end) in itself, and that is happiness (or in more conservative translations, “living well”). Everything we do, we do to become happy. However, for some reason, we do different things and have different goals to achieve this happiness, which according to Aristotle was just due to ignorance: he knew the true path to happiness, and anyone who did anything else was just too ignorant to realise it.
Now, to oversimplify his stance a bit, Aristotle was on the side of the productive people. His true path towards happiness was one paved with discipline and virtue, in which moderation and “courage” are key. Frequent exercise, constant challenging of the mind and virtuous habits were all things which according to Aristotle would lead to true happiness, while vices such as laziness and a refusal to learn were the main sources of unhappiness. Oh, and if you thought of people shooting guns when I said “courage”, Aristotle (and myself, by the way) wouldn’t agree: courage for Aristotle was to do something that causes temporary pain or effort, but which achieved a higher good. Eating chocolate while watching tv shows doesn’t qualify for that, I’m afraid. So… that’s settled then? Aristotle says productive people win?
Well, yes, in fact, he would, but as brilliant as he might have been, he is now mainly known for being the-guy-who-was-wrong-about-everything. Sure, judging from the “jealousy” comment by Emma Blackery, the majority of the current world population seem to agree with him on this one, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. See, Aristotle argues from the point of view that there is a single way to happiness, one that applies to everyone regardless of individual differences, but that isn’t exactly something we’d usually agree with. People are different, and that means they have different goals.
There’s a second problem, though: Aristotle was a person. A single man with opinions. The same applies to me, but while Aristotle claims that our own happiness is our final goal in life, I believe that it is the happiness of other people that truly matters. Yet we can’t ever find out who is right, because we’re both just people with differing opinions. And so is someone who believes the ultimate goal in life is to have the most fun possible before dying at the age of 30 due to an alcohol-induced coma.
Living a healthy, productive lifestyle is great, but there is no way of knowing whether or not it’s superior. If a 20 year old who exercises regularly, who doesn’t eat any sugary or fatty food and who works hard on his or her future gets hit by a bus at the age of 25, it seems obvious that they made the wrong choice. For that person, at least assuming that the goal in life is personal happiness, the right choice would have been to live an unhealthy and excessive lifestyle with lots of cat-videos, rather than one of “moderation and courage”. But we cannot know that in advance, so there will never be a way to decide which lifestyle is better.
Ultimately, it is a personal choice that everyone can make and that everyone can adjust whenever they want to. If you want to be healthy and active, then be so, but if you don’t, then don’t. It is a choice that you, as an individual, are allowed to make yourself, based on your own beliefs. But neither choice is ever any better than the other.
The nice part about Aristotle having been dead for over 2000 years is that he can’t argue against this. And silence is agreement, right? 🙂
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