A man eating ice cream

I Tranquilized Myself to Avoid Work

Yesterday was rough for me. It was one of those days where every little thing stacks up in the wrong direction so that, by the evening, you’re completely disheveled. I sat through several hours of administrative meetings at work (not my favorite), my son forgot about his dentist appointment, the gym was packed full of kids on Spring Break, etc. I had hoped to get in some quality reading and writing before going to book club, but instead of digging into my work, I tranquilized myself by watching videos on YouTube for an hour. Why did I take the easy way out rather than do work that matters to me?

In his book, The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker quotes the famous Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) on why we opt for self-medication during the hard days. Most men figure out how to live safely within the probabilities of a given set of social rules. He trusts that by keeping himself at a low level of personal intensity he can avoid being pulled off balance by experience. As Kierkegaard said, by “tranquilizing itself with the trivial.” (81).

When I feel out of balance, it’s easier to sedate myself with trivial distractions rather than live on the edge and do my work. Some of us tranquilize with television, some with food, and others with alcohol. How do you conveniently ignore your work? YouTube is my mistress.

We might also tranquilize by sleeping in. “At dawn, when you’re reluctant to get up, have this thought readily available: I have work to do as a human being, and that’s why I’m getting up. Do I still resent it if I’m on my way to do the work for which I was born and for the sake of which I was brought into the world? Or is this what I was made for, to lie in bed and keep myself warm?” (Aurelius, 96). It’s important to notice that Marcus Aurelius, one of the greatest leaders we’ve known, wanted to sleep in.

The trick is to know when you’re tranquilizing, and to instead get yourself to work, to transcend your possibilities, and to live for something you believe in.

For me, that’s writing this blog each day. It’s learning from “hard books” that push me to think beyond my bounds. I’m going back to school this fall for a degree in Philosophy and a Minor in English so that I can better understand the ideas of great thinkers like Arendt, Buddha, Aristotle, and Kant. I want to improve as a writer, and perhaps one day contribute to the literary world that I love.

I’m not suggesting that it’s bad to take a break and enjoy a bowl of ice cream or watch something funny online. I think purposeful rest and relaxation are necessary to doing good work and maintaining mental health. It’s when we continually sacrifice good work in the process of tranquilizing our senses that’s the problem.

What is your work of passion? If you don’t know, find it. If you do know, then do it. Avoid the tranquilizers that allow you to “live safely”. Avoid the “trivial” in favor trying. Here’s to a great day filled with meaningful work.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes -apply the ideas.



Works Cited

Aurelius, Marcus. Meditations: The Annotated Edition. Translated by Robin Waterfield, Basic Books, 2021.

Becker, Ernest. The Denial of Death. Free Press Paperbacks: A Division of Simon & Schuster Inc., 1997.

Published by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *