In Defense of Boredom
How many times a day, whether at work or at home, do you say or think to yourself, “I’m bored”? If you’re anything like me, it happens unconscionably often. When I was a girl in middle school, I’d constantly complain to my teacher about my boredom, to which he once replied with the age-old saying, “Only the boring get bored.” As soon as he said this—more than anything out of a desire to please the educator on whom I had a dizzying crush, something akin to the Van Halen song, “Hot For Teacher”—I kept my feelings of boredom to myself.
Now that I’ve gotten older, I’ve begun questioning this notion that boredom is a negative feeling, that it’s merely the unfortunate product of living in a modern world with too much time on our hands, in which we don’t have to constantly do physical work for our survival. A couple of years ago, I read Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Gay Science. In one excerpt, he explains the difference between a true thinker and a mindless worker. He says, “They [thinkers] actually require a lot of boredom if their work is to succeed. For thinkers and all sensitive spirits, boredom is that disagreeable ‘windless calm’ of the soul that precedes a happy voyage and cheerful winds. They have to bear it and must wait for its effect on them. Precisely this is what lesser natures cannot achieve by any means. To ward off boredom at any cost is vulgar, no less than work without pleasure.”
Nietzsche’s take on boredom is a fascinating concept, one that I think should be considered seriously, especially by those of us who live fairly “normal” lives. Fear of boredom is what drives us to be always doing, regardless of whether or not the activity is meaningful. This manic desire for action manifests itself in different ways. One example that comes to mind most of you will be familiar with– surfing the Internet addictively. Now don’t get me wrong; I’m guilty of this pretty much daily, and when all is said and done, I do think the Internet has revolutionized our existence more or less for the better.
But while free time spent on the Net can be useful, particularly with staying abreast of what going on in the world, even the informative, has constantly updated Internet news cycle can be harmful if taken to an extreme. The Internet has bombarded us with astounding amounts of data, such that warding off boredom via the Web becomes, simply put, an addiction to information. And by information, I don’t mean the kind of well-developed gems resulting from hours of deliberate pondering; I mean just quick facts, bits of data that we swallow and immediately discharge, without ever really digesting anything.
Charles Baxter, a renowned novelist and essayist, writes about how our allergy to boredom (or stillness,” in his words, which is essentially the lack of action) has had a profound effect on today’s fiction. Baxter argues that currently, there is hardly any stillness in fiction, simply because we fear and ignore stillness in our daily lives. He notes, “If, however, we have truly lost the ability to be interested in stillness … we will have lost the capacity to be accurate about an entire dimension of our experiences.”
So, if you’ve got some extra time on your hands, then enjoy it. Revel in it. Boredom isn’t a disease, and it’s not inimical to a happy, productive life. Sometimes it’s perfectly okay to just sit and do nothing.
This guest post is contributed by Emily Thomas, who writes on the topics of top online colleges. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: email@example.com.