Boredom is the root of all evil—the despairing refusal to be oneself.
There’s no excuse to be bored. Sad, yes. Angry, yes. Depressed, yes. Crazy, yes. But there’s no excuse for boredom, ever.
I’m soooo bored. . .
What a weird thing to say.
With such an interesting world to live in and so many avenues to capture our attention, how can any of us be bored?
Some might say that boredom is not high up on the list of issues we have to address as a society. But consider that boredom can be related to obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, smoking, laziness, bad posture, and, worst of all, failure to be in the moment.
Society expends a huge amount of time, energy, and money to alleviate boredom. Whole industries exist to assist people with never having to be bored. Yet, as a society, we’re more bored than ever. Activities like web surfing, flipping channels, reading celebrity magazines, or watching YouTube videos is rampant.
“But wait!” you say. “You’re questioning the worthiness of certain activities, while presumably saying that others are worthwhile.”
Yes I am, but it’s a bit more complicated than that. These are some examples of activities that I engage in when I’m bored, that I don’t (always) consider to be worthwhile. So when is something worthwhile?
To me, an activity is worthwhile if it engages us somehow—if it makes demands on our attention, our creativity, our emotions, or our intellect. So when are the aforementioned activities “worthy” and when are they just killing time?
To me, it all comes down to the potential for us to be a participant in what we are doing. When we watch a good show on TV, we might get caught up in the plot, we might become emotionally invested in certain characters, and we might appreciate the subtleties of the dialogue. If these elements are present, then watching TV can be worthwhile. We’ve made an emotional or intellectual investment in it.
But of course, sometimes we aren’t looking for an art form when we turn on the TV or a computer. Sometimes we are just looking to kill time. If you think about it, this is an insane idea. People endure tremendous amounts of pain and spend enormous amounts of money to extend their lives—even for just a short time. But at the same time, people somehow become hard-pressed to find ways to fill time?
The nature of this contradiction is fascinating. It’s related to boredom, but boredom is only a symptom.
Boredom can be a symptom of laziness. Considering the limitations of mortality, it is virtually impossible to see all there is to see and experience the full range of emotions, sensations, and conditions that are available to us. There will always be something new, interesting, and exciting to experience if we open our minds and are on the lookout for it. We just have to take the initiative and find those things.
Sometimes we’re bored because we’re afraid. We might have a fear of being alone with our thoughts, so we engage in activities that occupy our brain. We have the TV on or are flipping through a magazine so we don’t have to face ourselves. We may feel that our own company isn’t adequate, but we will never know until we spend some quality time with ourselves. This can lead to an exciting relationship (with ourselves) that is as fulfilling and rewarding as any other relationships we might have.
Boredom not only results in lost opportunities, it can be detrimental in other ways. A constant need for mental stimulation can lead to mental laziness and diminish our ability to observe our surroundings or our feelings, even our physical state.
All this being said, there is nothing wrong with down time. We all need it. There will always be times when we are physically or mentally spent and we just need to veg (see Nothing). But this is not the same thing as occupying our time because we’re bored or because we feel that there’s nothing else to do.
If we ever catch ourselves being bored, we should ask ourselves why that is. The only people who can do something about our boredom is ourselves. Is there anything more we can do to engage in the moment? Is there anything else we can do that would be interesting, enriching, or enlightening?
Make the moment interesting. Make the moment memorable.
Maybe it already is and we’re just not paying attention.