The Nature of Boredom
Want to know the plain hard truth about boredom? Boredom says more about you than it does about the thing that bores you. I know this because I'm never bored anymore. But that hasn't always been the case.
When I was younger, my friends and I would frequently find ourselves bored out of our minds. At some point in the midst of our boredom, I would ask the most impotent of questions: "So, what do you guys want to do?"
I hoped for an inspired idea, one that would ignite the powder keg of fun, opening the floodgates of possibility... assuming, of course, we could do it for free, now, and preferably from the couch with the TV on. But alas, my friends would invariably shrug and answer, "I dunno. What do you want to do?" I would shrug back and sink deeper into a mental slouch doing whatever boring thing we were doing at the boring time the boredom set in.
But here's the thing: Boredom doesn't "set in." It doesn't settle on us like dust in the attic or strike us like lightening or wash over us like so much rain in a thunder storm, soaking us in waves of ennui...
Boredom is as Boredom Thinks
One person can watch a Discovery Channel program on space or volcanoes or the history of fruit salad and fall asleep bored out of his gourd while another watches the same program totally fascinated. But if boredom naturally arose from the nature of the thing that bores you, the nature of the thing would bore anyone who interacted with it. And yet, it doesn't. Some people simply find everything interesting.
And yet boredom is not a victimless crime. It inflicts little wounds that add up to large gaping holes in people's lives. It's a crime of self-disrespect as we allow the moments of our lives to slip away unused, unclaimed and unvalued. Here are three ways that boredom undermines happiness...
Wasted potential is like a sailboat with the sail only pulled to half-mast. It's the failure to recognize the tree in the seed or the possibility in the moment. It's a crime of omission as a self-inflicted wound.
Boredom is the price paid for lost opportunity and delayed potential.
It's the oil leek on life's driveway when cars and lives are never put into gear and driven. Dreams remain unrealized or only half-pursued. Potential is squandered, possibility muted, happiness diluted and life eclipsed by a yawn. When we fail to reach higher and become something more than we currently are, we atrophy; and there is no happiness in an atrophied life.
When it's chronic, boredom saps the body of energy, the soul of will, the mind of creativity and the heart of passion. It's a trap and a cancer and the act of self-immolation all wrapped into a single tired sigh. When we squander the irretrievable moments, we devalue the life we were given and drain it of all the color and texture life was meant to have.
Boredom just doesn't play very nicely with happiness. As a matter of fact, they can't coexist at the same time in the same person. Boredom prevents happiness from fully ripening on the tree of life. The more of one necessarily dictates less of the other. Besides, boring just doesn't feel very good. It sticks to the skin and coats the soul in a gray numbing fog, leaving us with the nagging feeling that we're wasting something truly precious and unrecoverable.
Boredom is a pernicious thief that steals joy from the moments a life is made of. It's a symptom of something misaligned, an internal alarm that indicates a needed change. It's the setting on your internal thermostat that reads "too cold."
Most fundamentally, boredom is a sign that life is not being fully used as the precious gift it is, that something is missing, not externally in the thing that bores you, but in the character, personality, priorities or mindset of the person feeling bored.
Four characteristics that stomp out, crush and transform boredom into a happy, passionate life no longer tainted by boredom's stink:
What do curious people look like? They are people who buy books, have personal libraries, attend seminars, sign up for workshops, read reputable blogs, watch documentaries and fill their minds with more questions than answers while passionately pursuing their interests.
They stretch their minds, challenging what they think they know, deepening their growing interest in the world, in people and in life-governing principles. They are not the single-key pounding musicians that fill their lives and interests with a single passion. Their interests are eclectic, varied and many.
People of action are rarely bored. They just don't have time for boredom because they don't sit around doing nothing long enough to get bored in the first place. Their lives are full of challenges and meaningful activities. They do interesting things and get into what they do.
Wonder why paint smells? Go look it up.
Wonder where Timbuktu is? Get a map.
Curious about nasturtiums or carpenter ants or opera? Go learn something new.
Too many people sacrifice their curiosity at the altar of inaction. The world is at our fingertips and yet too many people wonder and never learn, are curious and never look, don't know and never ask, want to and never try.
Don't let moments of curiosity die in the swamplands of laziness, apathy or indifference.
Get up and pursue your desire to know and do. Feed the fragile spark of curiosity and coax it into a raging passion of hunger to discover, to challenge, to try, to explore, to build, to climb, to run, to create and live with so much passion that there's simply no room for boredom.
When you can do an about-face smack dab in the middle of life's 4-lane superhighway, you will always be able to avoid boredom by simply changing direction and doing something else.
Learn to think outside the box. If the game gets rained out, play soccer … inside … using a balloon! If the park is closed, move the picnic to the backyard … or the food court at a mall … or your living room floor.
Don't be a victim to inflexibility anymore; learn to adapt, move on and be happy!
Other times it would be the mountains, or the children's museum, or the nature park for a 2-mile hike. No planning or packing or dressing just right for the occasion. Just going. That willingness to be spontaneous chases boredom out the back door and opens you up to so much more life ha to offer.
Too many plans are planned to death and the thing being planned for is never done because it never gets out of the planning stage.
If you fear underpreparation more than you desire the thing you're preparing to do, you decrease the likelihood of it ever getting done. Plans will lead to backup plans which will need plans to prepare for additional planning.
Be spontaneous once in a while! It won't kill you to simply act on a few unexamined whims from time to time! (as long as there's no spontaneous skydiving without preparing a parachute or violating basic laws of decency on an impulse!).
Doing the same things the same way, without deviation, thought or intention is a recipe for boredom.
So go ahead and sign up for the martial arts class or scuba lessons, guitar or ballroom dance. Take a road trip. Sing out loud. Do something you don't usually do merely for the sake of doing it.
It won't be long before your new-found spontaneity will drive your boredom to move out and find someone else's life to bother.
I once heard it told of a young boy who listened to a sermon and found it extremely boring. The preacher had droned on for what seemed like a monotonous eternity. After church the boy was befuddled as his dad went on about how good the sermon had been.
"Now come on, dad!" the boy finally exclaimed, "How could you have possibly thought that sermon was any good?"
The dad's answer is the answer I offer you as the attitude that will transform your life if adopted as your own. Boredom will forever fade into history. Each moment of each day will be experienced as a moment of possibility, a moment to cherish and nurture and kindle into something wonderful. He said, "Son, whenever I listen to a talk at church where the speaker seems to be struggling, instead of complaining about what he's saying or failing to say, I simply give the sermon in my mind I think he should have given. And you know what? I've never heard a bad sermon since."
The greatest prescription to a life of excitement and passion is to be thoroughly, completely, unashamedly, unabashedly entertained by life.
Take interest in your own thoughts. Use them to reshape your experiences. Find something you can get excited about and go get excited about it. Change how you see and interpret the world. If there's a bad sermon, change it, rewrite it in your mind, turn whatever you're doing into something better.
If you're in a waiting room or a long line, read a book or write a poem or edit an article or start creating the masterpiece of your life.
Don't let circumstances dictate your mood. Let your attitude determine how you experience circumstances.
Fill your life with meaning and purpose, with service and adventure, with introspection and creativity, with spontaneity and adaptability, appreciation, curiosity and action, and life will hardly slow down long enough to feel bored ever again.