“Our inability to deal with boredom is one of our greatest weaknesses.” — Yuval Noah Harari
When Alice in Wonderland chased the white rabbit and ended up taking a long, looooong fall, something strange happened: she started getting bored enough to look around. You’d think something like falling endlessly would be enough of a terrifying event to consume her attention, but no: her mind started to wander from her new state of ennui, her recent excitement forgotten for now.
There’s something about the human condition that craves constant novelty and entertainment. And with all our nifty gadgets and hyperconnectivity now, it can feel almost immoral in our modern times to succumb to boredom anyway. “Better busy than bored”, I like to say. “There is no boredom, only boring people,” say others. And yet, constant novelty in itself can quickly become tedious, like white noise. It’s why we sometimes scroll through our social media aimlessly — an ingrained, listless habit like standing in front of the ‘fridge door half-hunting for a snack even though we’re not hungry.
Writer and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari, quoted above, recently bemoaned how we become so consumed by productivity and novelty that we leave no space or permission for new ideas to grow or deepen through boredom. We see this in our world media and the increasingly efficient ways we sloganise issues before we move on to the next shiny, urgent thing. But boredom is a strange gift when we “waste our time” because it allows us to muck around the sand until the gems reveal themselves. It also serves as an internal alarm that galvanises us to change our environment. Boredom also tells us when we’re tired. I read a great tip once: if all you have energy for at night is to sit and watch TV for hours, chances are you’re due for a good sleep.
Most of all, boredom is a gift because it’s a luxury. It is “an emotion usually associated with a nourished body: like satiety, it is not normally for the starving.” (Toohey, P. Boredom: a lively history.)
Food for thought, indeed.