Dan Franch on why boredom is good for you:
“I’m bored,” sang Iggy Pop in his 1979 song of the same name. The lyrics describe a person who bores himself “to sleep at night… in broad daylight”; pretty much all the time. Professional help is required to prevent such chronic boredom from turning into depression, aggression, addictions, or disorders. Fortunately, such doldrums are not too common.
There’s another kind of boredom, though, that all people can relate to. It’s the temporary boredom which occurs when we can’t find something to do with our time. Waiting in a doctor’s office is a good example. Being stuck inside on a rainy day is another instant. Rather than causing psychological concern, this kind of boredom is good, very good, actually.
It drives us, propels us to take action and find meaning in life. According to F. Scott Fitzgerald, one of the great American writers of the 20th century, “You’ve got to go by or past or through boredom, as through a filter, before the clear product emerges.” In other words, boredom is a fulcrum between inactivity and activity. It’s a gateway. Once you wrestle and come to peace with its initial irritation, boredom tilts towards fresh viewpoints and ideas.
The technology drug
Yet despite its benefits, boredom is looked down upon. There is a long list of quotes that predict that the devil will find work for idle hands to do. Hence, rather than letting ourselves be bored, we far too often fill up that potentially spark-inducing downtime with mindless activity. The current drug of choice to fend off boredom is technology. We reach for our cell phones, video games, television remote; anything to block out the boredom rather than allowing ourselves to bask in it.
Thus, technology robs us of the potentially constructive capabilities of boredom. Instead of “just being,” as a friend likes to call the quiet time where he just sits and looks out in silence, we squelch our brains with noise – a constant stream of visually interactive static.
Nowadays, there’s plenty to keep us occupied. We carry a connection to the world in our pocket. Chatting, texting, the web; it’s all there at our fingertips. We’re tethered to constant stimulation. Conversely, and despite the stimuli, we too often find ourselves anything but stimulated. We’re comfortably numb. Or maybe we’re numbingly comfortable.
Some might argue that books do the same, causing a similar crowding out of boredom. But books, perhaps because of their lack of visual stimulation amongst other reasons, open the mind rather than channel it into an externally controlled tunnel.
Make space for boredom
Surprisingly, during bouts of boredom the brain is not idle at all. It is busily organizing information, making connections, and exploring. It’s the equivalent of a child walking home from school, processing what has been learned and shared and experienced. Think of it as nourishment.
Boredom also triggers creativity. However, that’s only if we give boredom the time and space required to enable the mind to travel within itself. In other words, we need to disengage from the external world and make contact with our inner world – let ourselves be inspired by doing nothing. After all, boredom is a luxury. Once a privilege of the elite, nowadays almost everyone can indulge and benefit from its productive power if we let it.
We can make space for boredom at almost any time and any place. While walking. While sitting on the bus. While standing in line at the grocery store. While waiting for water to boil. Or simply by making time to be bored. Don’t succumb to the Siren song of the cell phone, the computer, the TV remote, ear buds. Take control. Be “the chairman of the bored,” as Iggy Pop sang (clever wordplay, to be sure).
We all are the master of our own boredom. As such, we have the ability to take charge and make choices of how we channel it. Do we crowd out the creative capacity that boredom affords or do we let it flourish by sitting in silence? No need to wait to answer. Boredom will come to you sooner or later. When it does, why not give your mind five to ten minutes to wander in cerebral silence. It could possibly be the most constructive time of your day.
By Dan Franch, February 2014.