Should I accomplish nothing today?

‘To think that the one who is smart and can look out
for himself is exceptional, and that it is better to be
exceptional, is to follow “adult” values. The one who goes
about his own business, eats and sleeps well, the one with
nothing to worry about, would seem to me to be living in
the most satisfactory manner. There is no one so great as

the one who does not try to accomplish anything.’

Would society be better if we stopped trying to accomplish? Fukuoka argues that “progress” and “accomplishment” has not driven much positive change in the modern world. Although GDP has grown, happiness hasn’t necessarily (or so he says).

I think I agree to a carefully qualified version of this argument. I don’t think accomplishments are always bad. The end of Jim Crow is an undeniable “accomplishment” for civil rights advocates. The end of Polio in many countries seems to be a pretty undeniable accomplishment for world health. But I do think that people driven solely by a desire to achieve a particular, pre-determined result often wreak unintentional havoc. The problem is not really with accomplishments themselves, but the act of trying to rack them up. Perhaps a better way to live is being driven by values, not things you want to accomplish?

4 thoughts on “Should I accomplish nothing today?

  1. I loved that comment too! But how does one do nothing, without being apathetic? The Gita says that work should be done for its own sake, and not in anticipation of the result.

    1. I’ve read very similar advice from Zen teachers. To avoid “accomplishment,” focus on the process of doing work, not for the result you’re trying to achieve.

      A related and also interesting question: if you’re not aiming for a particular accomplishment, how do you choose what to do? Leo Babauta on zenhabits suggests being guided by values or principles, instead of goals:

  2. Mostly yes. There are definitely benefits to not working. In particular during periods in which I have not worked I have become more attuned, more perceptive of everything around me. I feel like we miss so much when we’re constantly busy, as if our eyes are not completely open to what’s in front of us.

    There are limits of course. After too long not working we stop appreciating it, apathy sets in and our increased perception wanes. Finding that balance is key, and in my experience, incredibly difficult.

    1. I totally agree — taking breaks is important!

      But I think that Fukukoua wasn’t saying we shouldn’t work, but rather that our work shouldn’t be done with particular “accomplishments” in mind. And without accomplishments in mind, we may rest more often. 🙂

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