“Is life not a thousand times too short for us to bore ourselves?” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
It’s the time of year again. Late summer, when the novelty of swimming all day and staying up all night has worn off, but school has yet to start. My daughter is starfished on the couch, deep sighs emanating from her like some Victorian wife on a fainting couch.
“I’m so bored!” she wails.
I smile and continue working on a jigsaw puzzle. “I will not even dignify that with a response.”
“I know,” she sighs again. “You’re like the only person in all of human history who thinks boredom is awesome.” She rolls her eyes dramatically and mimics my voice, parroting my own words back at me, “Boredom is simply a lack of curiosity.”
She’s not exaggerating; I believe that boredom is an increasingly lost art. Humans are in an arms race against distraction, our constant technological diversions prevent us from ever having a moment of dullness. We can achieve intense stimulation at the click of a mouse or touch of a screen. We’re overly used to being passably entertained and woefully lacking in the ability to create our own fun.
Moderate amounts of dull, down time can make us more joyful and creative humans by forcing us to create our own entertainment and amusement. Boredom has existed as long as homo sapiens have been on the planet. I imagine our ancestors sitting in a cave while it rained for days on end. I’m guessing around day three, their boredom gave way to cave drawings, songs about how much rain sucks and some sort of prosaic drinking game. As soon as humans stop doing something purposeful, our minds wander. But why should creating space for imagination be viewed as negative? Most of the best ideas I’ve had in my life arose from sitting around pondering things. If necessity is the mother of invention, boredom is definitely its older sister.
Being bored is lazy and uncreative. There are 500 billion galaxies in the universe and trillions of synapses in our brains. We’ve only seen about 5% of the universe as of this writing. That means there is a lot of interesting, novel and noteworthy out there to be had. Even our minds are endless opportunities of exploration.
I like to say that my superpower is being curious. And a large part of my innate curiosity arises from the fact that growing up, my brother and I were often ignored like white crayons. In the 70’s, there were no cell phones to entertain us. Unless you loved soap operas or Phil Donahue, the five channels we got in rural Clark County didn’t show anything remotely interesting to a child until late afternoon. Parents did not organize play dates. The rule was underscheduled, not overscheduled. Your folks did their thing and you, the kids, were to go outside and not to bother them unless you were bleeding, vomiting or on fire.
All this meant we kids had to create our own fun or die from boredom. So we invented tag games with stupid rules, made blanket forts, found crap in the garage to reimagine for our amusement. We held endless talent shows and choreographed dances to songs from the Brady Bunch. We climbed trees and caught lightning bugs and read lots of Judy Blume books. When all else failed, we set up a lemonade stand and made a dollar or two selling watered-down Country Time to the two fathers on the street that mowed their lawns.
I’m aware that time has romanticized these summers in my memory (for reals, some adult really should have made us put on a helmet, a seat belt or some sunscreen). But I still hold that we are only as bored as we are incurious. In today’s world, the means of learning are more abundant than ever, but it seems that the desire to learn is growing ever scarcer.
It’s time we start asking more questions, of ourselves, of others and of the world. Read things not on a screen. Stop outsourcing our interests to Google and explore the planet a little more. Become intimate with the great mystery that is Life. As G.K. Chesterton writes, “There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.”
Curious and interesting or simply bored? It’s completely up to you.