The Plague of Boredom — How Avoiding It is Making Us More Boring
You’ve heard the saying, perhaps about an ex-lover, or maybe someone from the opposing political party: Avoid them like the plague.
There have been many plagues. Of course, the origin of the name, a pandemic that killed one third of Europe’s human population starting in 1347. There are plagues of disease, of bad ideas, of ridiculous internet trends (I’m looking at you Tide Pods), of misinformation, the list goes on.
A plague infiltrate the life of its hosts. It sweeps in silently, and before you know it, it’s effected everything. It effects everything from how they go to the bathroom, to how they interact with one another. It effects their sleep and their mental wellbeing. The disease makes a meal with friends less enjoyable, reading a book nigh near impossible, and standing in line excruciating.
For my generation (younger Millennials/older Gen Z’s), we were raised in such a way as to be plagued with something relatively new to the human experience. Our constant influx of stimulating visuals and sounds, interactive games and riveting experiences has especially weakened our immune system to this phenomenon.
What plague am I talking about? Boredom.
How has our avoidance of being bored actually made us more boring?
If you were born in the mid 90s like me, you barely can remember a world without smart phones. And none of us remember a world without cell phones. Definitely no world without multi-channel television, specifically tailored to our age group.
Later in our childhood, we began to see cell phones that could take pictures, then video. I remember the first time I every saw a flip phone with a camera. I was blown away.
“Are you kidding me, I can call 900 numbers and take photos with this thing?!”
When I asked my friends’s older brother if I could see his new magical device, he replied, “Yeah, but don’t take any pictures, I don’t have very much memory left.”
Those were the days.
I thought that a cell phone with a camera was the last thing to ever be invented. We could stop trying new things, everything has been created already. We need nothing else.
As you know, that was just the tip of the iceberg. More and more things built to grab our attention and hold it captive were made and innovated. It’s being done still.
Anything they can do to grab and hold your attention, they will. Because you put your money where you put your attention. This has been the case since the invention of a twenty-four hour news channel. Every bit of media innovation since has been competing for our attention.
But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know or can’t find information on somewhere else. That’s not why I’m here.
I’m here to draw a connection between the various forms of media and video games we’ve been attached to for most of our lives and the idea that we’re terrified of being bored. We’ve been so stimulated for so long, that we have lost a healthy relationship with boredom.
I mean can you imagine sitting in a doctor’s waiting room without your phone in your hand? Forget about it.
On Netflix the other night, two characters were having a discussion about the small town they lived in. One of them called the town boring, to which the other replied,
“Only boring people get bored.”
Boom. What a brilliant line. From a Frenchman, no less. How true it is.
Thinking about it later, I realized that the only people who get bored are people who have a bad idea about boredom. The only people who get bored are the people who don’t know how to be bored. They think that boredom is a bad thing and should be avoided at all costs (like the plague).
What do we do? Scroll through our phone, tweet back at some asshole for his opinion, DM that girl back who said she loved your eye shadow. Lock our phone, stare at the wall, rinse, repeat.
We have been stimulated at such a high level for such a long time, that anything less than that feels like hell on earth. We think that boredom shouldn’t exist in our lives.
As a result, we’ve become uninteresting, boring people.
I’m here to make the case that boredom should exist in our lives.
WHY SHOULD WE MAKE SPACE FOR BOREDOM?
When’s the last time you stared into the distance long enough for a new idea to pop into your head?
When did you last go on a walk without taking your phone or headphones?
Have you ever sat on a park bench and just watched people?
When we allow ourselves to sit and not consume whatever nonsense we’re used to ingesting, our minds will eventually regulate themselves and you’ll start having interesting thoughts and observations. You’ll start finding things to be interested in.
And in order to live an interesting life, we’ve got to be interested people.
If you put down your phone and stare at the wall, you’re bound to feel the urge, even a burn, to get up and do something, to grab your phone and gobble down your normal diet of Kardashian memes and political opinions.
But I beg you, don’t. Your mind is going to be spinning for quite some time, but once it quiets down, it’ll start ticking at its own pace and generating its own interesting things.
Being bored allows time for our imaginations. Our constant consumption of media, videos, memes and whatever else gives us no time to figure who we are and what we’re actually interested in.
Boredom is where you find what actually makes you excited. Boredom is where you find how to be interested.
WHAT DO WE DO WITH BOREDOM?
If you’re the type of person who finds themselves easily becoming bored, it may be due to your simply paying attention to the wrong things. Perhaps, we feel like we shouldn’t be bored because that’s the message we’re getting from the things we pay closest attention to.
If you are that person, ask yourself these questions:
- When’s the last time I got really excited about a new idea?
- When did I last hear a bit of information that sparked within me my own new ideas?
- When was the last time I was inspired to create something?
When you find yourself bored out of your mind because there’s nothing left to watch on any of the fourteen streaming services, and you’ve caught up on your Instagram feed twenty-four times already, ask your self this:
- What expectations have I put on my life that aren’t being met?
- What am I paying attention to?
- What am I not paying attention to?
In essence, our resistance to boredom is what makes it so painful. But if we welcome it, become comfortable with it, we quickly realize that boredom isn’t so boring after all.
Which brings me to my next point:
Magic is real, and it’s all around us in the form of new discoveries. Anything that gets us interested, and has a bit of mystery surrounding it is magic. Something you can know everything about, but still not be able to explain it completely.
This could be a new idea or a new question. A new friendship or an old one. A new romantic interest or an old flame. A new trade or a new culture. Anything that you look at and think, I gotta know everything about this; I gotta experience this, but what is it? That’s magic.
It’s around us all the time. It’s what fills the space between us and the air. Almost like air, but even more dense and even more mysterious. Magic is the question we’ve yet to know how to ask. It’s the ideas that we find when we’re wondering through the woods alone. Magic is finding a new restaurant that you want everyone to eat at, but don’t want anyone to go to.
You get the idea. In general, magic is what excites you. It’s what makes you want to get out of bed in the morning instead of have to. Magic keeps you up at night.
For instance, occasionally I’ll go a week with bad sleep. I lay in bed at night and my mind won’t stop running around. My head feels hot like an engine that’s running at high RPMs but not going anywhere. Perhaps you’ve experienced this.
One of the loops that my brain takes round and around is about horses. I know, very nerdy, but some nights I lay in bed and can’t stop thinking about the creatures.
I think of how they communicate, how they feel to ride, how they play with each other, how to teach them this or that. I think of how good it feels to ride a nice smooth lope. I think of the ones who have tried to buck me off, and the ones I’ve had to reprimand for unruly behavior.
Over and over again, like riding in a round pen, one lap after another, the beasts occupy every inch of my brain. My heart pounds, my jaw clenches, and my anxiety spikes because I just want to ride a horse.
That’s magic, you see. Horses are magic to me. There’s so much we can know about them, but there’s still a great deal of mystery involved.
Stories are also magic. Think of how captivated by a good story you can become without even realizing it. You can live in a world that doesn’t exist outside your mind, but it’s real. If you read The Lord of the Rings, you’re there. You’re in that world and that world is real.
How is it real though? Magic. There’s a lot you can know about it, but there’s so much mystery surrounding it.
Music is magic,
Books are magic,
Relationships are magic,
Sex is magic,
Cooking is magic,
Writing is magic,
Horses are magic,
Dogs are magic,
Conversations with strangers are magic,
And walking through the woods and playing with sticks and rocks is unbridled, unfettered, totally pure, mainline magic (this is where I find it most).
So if you’re bored, what magic are you missing?
What are you not paying attention to?
Here’s the kicker, magic is rarely found on a screen. It’s rarely found scrolling through Instagram and Twitter reading people screaming and crying about shit you got no business caring about.
So what does this all mean?
I think it means that we’ll live a happier, healthier existence if we stop consuming so much and let ourselves create more. More ideas, more conversations, more sex, more magic.
In order to be an interesting person, you’ve got to be an interested person. You’ve got to tune your mind to see magic everywhere.
Don’t let your life be controlled by the constant influx of things you’re told you should care about. Allow yourself the time and space to be bored. Eventually, you’ll discover something that inspires you to create yourself in a new space, to realize what matters to you.
Go be interested, go create, go discover.
Close the app, turn on do not disturb, get bored and find yourself some magic.