We have lost the ability to be bored, or so the all-too-common articles written in a “damn millennials” tone would have you believe. The question is, why should we care?
If I no longer need to feel bored because I have an iPhone at arm’s length, with a never-ending supply of entertainment, what reason do I have to seek out boredom? I have never heard anyone argue that the invention of air conditioning has caused us to lose the ability to be hot, and so we should seek to throw out our air conditioners and get back in touch with the art of being sweaty.
I think boredom has an important role in our lives, however, and is often mislabeled as a bad thing.
Boredom is healthy
Boredom is simply the ability to be alone, completely undistracted, with our thoughts. And unless you are someone who meditates often, you will likely find it difficult to just sit for 30 minutes with nothing to read, do, or listen to.
Boredom provides an empty stage for our mind to step up and present thoughts for us to deal with. If we never sit down without interruptions or distractions, we never have the chance to run through our backlog of thoughts. And while the constant stream of entertainment and social media that we feed our mind is partially a function of sheer convenience and availability, I think it is also partially because we are uncomfortable with sitting down and giving our thoughts undivided attention.
Boredom enhances creativity
But more than just a form of introspection, the ability to be bored also enhances our creativity. Author Neil Gaiman has the following to say about the benefits of boredom for creativity:
The biggest problem with Twitter is that I’d be in a taxi and I’d be on Twitter and it would keep me interested. I realised I wasn’t getting bored enough and [that I needed to get bored] to start plotting things and coming up with ideas.
—Neil Gaiman, article from The Sydney Morning Herald
I have had the same experience time and time again, in my own life. The times when I am most likely to come up with content to write about are when I make myself bored.
Making time for boredom
And so I have a new practice in my life: I periodically make time for pure boredom—sometimes with a pen and piece of paper next to me (to capture ideas and thoughts), sometimes with nothing at all. Ideally I do this once a day, but several times a week is sufficient, too.
So far, I have found that this practice has allowed me to be more calm, and more focused on what matters right now (and what is not actually important). The resulting creativity boost and focus on creating (vs consuming) has left me feeling more satisfied.
Give boredom a try. Resist the unending stream of entertainment and distraction that waits at every turn, and make yourself be bored. You just might find that the result is time well-spent.