Laziness or Depression: What’s the Difference?

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By Dr. Hurd

Most psychiatrists and psychologists insist there’s no such thing as laziness. Everything is depression, they claim. Others say there’s no such thing as depression, and that it’s all laziness. What’s the truth?

Is there such a thing as being lazy? Or is it always depression, low motivation or stress?

First, we have to define “lazy”. Most people do not have a definition for lazy. When they say the word, they generally mean a refusal to take action. Laziness is generally viewed as a choice not to act.

The psychology and psychiatric industries take issue. For the most part, they maintain there’s no such thing as “laziness.” For psychiatrists, it’s all “depression”, and medication is the only answer. It’s easy for them to say so. They see a patient for 5 minutes and then send him or her on the way. It’s left to the therapist, assuming the patient even goes to one, to figure out what the bigger and deeper problems are.

My own view is that there’s such a thing as laziness. Laziness comes from erroneous thinking. One example of erroneous thinking is the false belief that things should be easier than they are. Example: Cleaning your room or house, especially if you don’t like cleaning. Most people assume it’s easy, but cleaning is hard. Example: Succeeding in your job. Most people assume it’s a given. Actually, it’s very hard. Example: Doing something noteworthy, or standing out in some way. That’s really hard. Most people who attempt will not succeed, because effort alone does not guarantee success. Standing out and excelling are really, really hard.

I have noticed a type of person who gets angry or irritated when he learns it’s harder to write a novel, open up a business, or finish school than he originally thought it would be. This isn’t depression. Depression refers to a sense of lethargy or even despair. Laziness does not involve despair. More often, it involves anger, frustration and chronic confusion.

Depression is different. Depression, like laziness, is based on faulty thinking. But the errors in thinking are different. A depressed person does not necessarily expect things to be easy. Quite the opposite is often true, in fact. A depressed person usually thinks things will be harder than they really are. A severely depressed person sees getting up and going out to run an errand as difficult. A depressed person lacks confidence. Usually, a depressed person believes he or she is less worthwhile than he or she really is. Often, a depressed person underestimates the power of reasoning and persistence. Take Thomas Edison. He did hundreds and hundreds of experiments over the years. Most of them led nowhere. Some of them led to the life-altering discovery of electricity, the once-in-a-millennium discovery. Whatever Thomas Edison was, he wasn’t depressed. Thank goodness!

People get into heated battles with themselves, or each other, about depression versus laziness. A truly depressed person says, “I don’t choose to feel this way. I really want to be able to get up and go. I wish I could. But it’s hard. It’s like my body is covered in molasses.” The lazy person is different. The lazy person is annoyed, entitled and angry. “It shouldn’t be so hard. Why is it?”

Might a lazy person lie and pretend he or she’s depressed, when it’s really laziness? Sure. It’s complicated, and lying makes things even more complicated. But none of this changes the fact that depression and laziness are two different things. And none of it means laziness is nonexistent, because laziness does exist, probably in millions of people. In fact, I’d wager a guess that more people are lazy than depressed. Also, for some, laziness is a chronic condition while for others it’s rare or occasional. A person who honestly acknowledges, “I’m lazy today” might not be lazy on most other days.

On the surface, laziness and depression can look the same. But it’s hard to be sure unless you know a person (or yourself) really, really well. Laziness refers to generally willful inactivity. A lazy person feels like getting a certain result, but doesn’t want to put the effort into it, and even believes he should not have to do so. So he chooses to do nothing, instead. A depressed person admires the effort others make, and wishes he could do so himself, but believes (falsely or not) that he’s unable to do so. False beliefs such as, “I’m not meant to be happy” or “Success is not in the cards for me” plague the depressed person. Lazy persons, on the other hand, simply don’t like all the effort involved. It’s a subtle yet profound difference.

Many professionals, especially in the field of psychiatry, would have us believe that there’s no such thing as laziness. Wrong. But laziness is different from depression. It’s best to look carefully so you can learn the difference.

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