Lying Flatism is a term that comes from the Chinese word ‘tǎng píng,’ which literally translates to lying flat. Lying flatism refers to a growing trend to reject the pressures and expectations of a fast-paced, competitive society, and instead embrace a more relaxed and passive approach to life. Basically, lying flatism is giving up on the capitalistic rat race.
The term “Lying Flat” originates from the concept of lying down and doing nothing, symbolizing a deliberate choice to detach oneself from societal pressures. It is seen as a form of protest against the notion that one’s worth is determined solely by their job, income, or social status.
Lying flatism refers to a growing trend to reject the pressures and expectations of a fast-paced, competitive society, and instead embrace a more relaxed and passive approach to life.
The term first appeared around February 2020, at the beginning of the pandemic, on a Chinese website. The tǎng píng movement began a little over a year later. Perhaps, similar to the hippie movement of the 60’s or the growing number of Gen Z’s quitting jobs and school to vagabond around the country in a beat up camping van with no plans for the future, faced with only the small choice of going north or south, and constrained by the miniscule cash flowing from occasional small side jobs to fund gas and food along the journey.
While the term is new, and, perhaps, the movement is new. Lying flatism chosen as a way of life is as old as human existence. There have always been some that reject modern society, puritan work ethics, and strictly pursue the moment. Some may even argue that some religious pilgrimages and communes may foster a similar style of escape from modern capitalistic pressures.
Jesus in the bible exhorted his admires to “forsake the world” and be his disciple. Of course, lying flatism seems a little more self motivated than forsaking capitalistic dreams in service to god. The forsaking of the world in lying flatism is a protest against the anxiety of the underlying drive necessary in a capitalistic society.
Perhaps, lying flatism represents a rejection of deeply embedded Calvinistic traits of self-denial, judgement, and guilt, freeing the wanderer from the drive of guilt to constantly work and be productive. According to historian Roy M. Anker, “old-style Calvinism depressed people, its morality constricted their lives and bestowed on them large burdens of debilitating, disease-producing, guilt” (Ehrenreich, 2010, Kindle location: 1,296).
Benefits of Lying Flatism
Supporters of lying flatism argue that modern society places excessive emphasis on productivity, success, and relentless pursuit of material possessions, leading to widespread stress, anxiety, and burnout. They believe that by opting out of this insanity, individuals can find contentment and peace of mind.
The drive to accumulate, amassing great storages of wealth, certainly has an emotional cost. Unfortunately, many of us get caught in this pursuit of success without amassing the riches. We dream of materialistic glories but find our salaries barely cover rent, transportation and food. We stress over survival.
Jack Kornfield, cofounder of the Insight Meditation Society, wrote that “the impoverished myths and songs of our culture are sold everywhere: the myth of materialism and possessiveness that says worldly goods lead to happiness” (Kornfield, 1993, page 323). T. Franklin Murphy expands on this concept. he wrote, “We chase the illusion of fulfillment constantly stimulated to pursue something shinier with the next commercial, the hunt never ends, and fulfillment always eludes” (Murphy, 2019).
Motivation for Lying Flatism
Perhaps, lying flatism is a defensive response to overwhelm. We look at the steep hills and deep valleys necessary to transverse for a successful life in a competitive society and give up. Karen Horney identified this dilemma of choice. She wrote, “a last and most insidious self-frustration is the taboo on any aspiration—not simply on any grandiose fantasy, but on any striving that means using one’s own resources or becoming a better and stronger person.” She continues to describe those that give up hope. Horney explains, “they resign, do not dare to venture into something new, expect nothing from life, put their goals too low, and hence live beneath their abilities and psychic means” (Horney, 1991, Kindle Location: 2,318).
Many followers and supporters of the lying flat movement would argue that it is not a giving up, just a choice to pursue a different way to life. “Lying flatism is recognized as a non-violent way of resisting the capital system and exploitation by capitalists” (Heng, Chin, Tan, 2023).
Concerns of Lying Flatism
Critics of Lying Flatism argue that it promotes laziness and an unproductive mindset, hindering personal growth and contributing to a lack of ambition. They believe that societal progress relies on individuals’ willingness to contribute and work towards improvement. The survival of human societies has always required a large percentage of people to work and contribute. Any society that shifts, losing large numbers of those willing to contribute to continued stability, will eventually crumble.
Those enjoying divergence from constructive living, often leech upon the goods of others. Adult children live at home, playing video games, and social media while being fed and housed by working parents. The vagabonds drive on roads built and upkept by workers and taxes.
Basically, lying flatism is not unobtrusively living off the land but typically, involves living off the sweat from the brow of others. The workers keep society a float, by producing and transporting food to local stores, by building places and networks of entertainment, by providing protection and laws to assure opportunities for continued survival and flourishing.
Lying Flatism Not an All-or-Nothing State
It’s important to note that lying flatism is not a universally embraced philosophy. It is not a practical solution for most. Nonetheless, it has sparked discussions about work-life balance, societal expectations, and the pursuit of happiness in a fast-paced world.
We can benefit from some of the concepts of lying flatism without resorting to leaching off the work of others. Nineteenth century economists predicted that the abundance made possible by technological advance and the modern organization of work would result in the emergence of `post-materialist’ humans-people existing on a higher plane, where their cultural, intellectual and spiritual powers are refined. In such a world the importance of economic considerations would naturally diminish” (Hamilton & Denniss, 2005).
Of course, such a world never materialized. Capitalism continues to provide more ‘necessities.’ As soon as we reach the hill in front of us, we see the next mountain to climb. Reoccurring charges instead of one time purchases is now the norm. We watch our wages grow slowly against climbing prices and rising debt.
Many pseudo lying flatism protestors want to give up the capitalistic demands for work while still feasting on the benefits of a capitalistic society. They still desire the materialistic benefits but expect them without the accompanying sacrifices. We hear the chorus of workers singing, “I shouldn’t have to do this.” Shortly after the relieving of COVID-19 restrictions, there was a great wave of resignations. Predictably, as government handouts begun to dry out, so did the conviction to the lying flatism cause. Protestors have begrudgingly returned to work.
A Few Words by Psychology Fanatic
In conclusion, Lying Flatism is a social phenomenon that challenges conventional notions of success and productivity. Whether it is a sustainable solution or merely a temporary escape from societal pressures remains a subject of debate. Work has always been necessary for survival. Food, shelter, and safety from predators are not gifts without costs but prized possessions obtained through somebody’s effort.
On the other hand, anyone willing to work should be able to comfortably survive with a roof over their heads, and food on their table without having to work a 996 week. The 996 life style refers to 12 hour shifts (9am to 9pm and 6 days a week). The ridiculous 996 is a far cry from many recent worker union demands for 6 hour days, 3 days a week served along with higher pay. We need some balance.
For the present, for most of us, work is a necessity. How much we work and how much we spend are part of the equation. We can structure our lives in a more balanced fashion. We should give more time to the things that matter most, and less time to the relentless pursuit of materialistic happiness.
Ehrenreich, Barbara. (2010) Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Henry Holt and Co.
Hamilton, Clive; Denniss, Richard (2005). Affluenza: When too much is never enough. Allen & Unwin.
Heng, Z., Chin, J., & Tan, C. (2023). Feelings toward lying flatism and attitudes toward singlehood: the mediating role of happiness belief. BMC Psychology, 11(1). DOI: 10.1186/s40359-023-01187-2
Horney, Karen (1950/1991). Neurosis and Human Growth: The struggle toward self-realization. W. W. Norton & Company; 2nd edition.
Kornfield, Jack (1993). A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life. Bantam. Read on Kindle Books.
Murphy, T. Franklin (2019). Materialism and Happiness. Psychology Fanatic. Published 4-5-2019. Accessed 10-3-2023.