Work is not always required. There is such a thing as sacred idleness.

George MacDonald

Do you ever feel guilty for doing nothing?

Assuming you are not a hardcore couch potato, you probably shouldn’t.

There is such a thing as wasting time, but ultimately you only waste time when you engage in toxic habits or anything that’s harmful to your mental and physical health.

Doing nothing, daydreaming, having fun, being in a state of complete relaxation — not only are these things acceptable, they are an absolute necessity.

They are vital to your own health (and, surprisingly, to your personal growth as well).

So why do we feel guilty so often, and specifically when we don’t do anything in particular?

Guilt vs shame

  • Guilt is a negative feeling perceived after we’ve done something wrong (or something we perceive as wrong)
  • Shame is the feeling of being wrong — the feeling there’s something wrong with us, regardless of our behavior

And in reality, most of us feel bad when doing nothing simply because of shame, not guilt.

We feel shame, in general, and then think it’s related to what we do or don’t do. But the truth is at a deeper level.

If there’s nothing wrong with doing nothing in particular, and if we are aware of it, then the reason we feel guilty has to be found in the way we perceive ourselves, and our self-worth.

If we feel happiness, but (subconsciously) think we don’t deserve to be happy — that we are not worthy of it — then we might feel shame, and interpret it as guilt.

How to deal with guilt in life

The key is to look inside and learn to be perfectly comfortable when we do things that make us feel good. Whether it’s doing nothing, going for a walk, daydreaming, you name it.

Learn to do nothing and just be comfortable. Practice self-care and be proud of it.

Now, don’t expect to eliminate feelings of shame or guilt for good. These feelings are deeply rooted in our brain, and there will always be a part of us — that little voice — telling us we should feel guilty.

But the good news is that although guilt and shame can be very intense emotions, they don’t actually prevent you from doing anything.

Once you realize you shouldn’t feel guilty (for example, for doing nothing), but still feel uncomfortable, then just be uncomfortable.

A feeling of psychological discomfort isn’t that big of a deal, and again, it doesn’t automatically prevent you from doing (or not doing) things.

Why you shouldn’t feel guilty for doing nothing

1. Doing nothing is healthy

If you literally do nothing all day, then stop reading this post and work on that — there is nothing healthy about feeling lethargic all the time.

The right dose of idleness, on the other hand, is necessary for us human beings to function, and we should nurture and appreciate it.

We were not designed to perform at our best 24/7.

Just like we need sleep to recover physically and mentally, we need to do nothing to then be able to be productive and work efficiently.

A good analogy of this is the seasons of the year — one cannot exist without the other; it’s a natural cycle.

2. Doing nothing helps you perform

Athletes must take long breaks in order to reach peak performance.

And it turns out that the same is true for successful entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and anyone who has above-average goals or skills.

I’ll say it one more time: as humans, we cannot possibly be productive 24/7. It just doesn’t work.

What does work is being totally focused for a while, then doing nothing and having fun, then being focused again, and so on.

Try to constantly be productive, without breaks, and you’ll burn yourself out (and achieve good results at best).

Follow a more natural cycle where you alternate productivity and fun, and chances are you’ll achieve great results.

3. You can’t actually “do nothing”

Here’s an interesting way of looking at it: it’s virtually impossible to do nothing.

The closest thing would be to meditate, and we all know the benefits of meditation on our mental health.

But if you’re taking a walk, watching a documentary, getting a massage, going out with a friend, etc. that’s not doing nothing. Think of these activities as:

  • Recharging
  • Expressing yourself
  • Being social
  • Observing the world
  • Self-care
  • Fun

And no, this doesn’t justify spending the whole day in front of a screen because of social media addiction.

Nor does it justify unhealthy eating patterns, lack of physical exercise, or an overall uninteresting, unexciting existence.

But do know that what you call “nothing” might actually be… living life. And recharging. And having fun.

Nothing to feel guilty about.