The Case for Boredom

March 25th, 2008 by cgergen

Most mornings I walk our three-year old daughter to school and then take our family dog, Mango, for a walk through the woods behind her school.  Up until recently, my walks would consist of me checking my emails and returning phone calls – all while trying to keep from tripping over the branches strewn across the trail.  No longer.


Like many of my fellow over-busy people out there, I feel like I never have enough time to do everything that needs to get done.  So I rely on my technology gadgets to squeeze “productivity” into every minute of my day.  But is that ultimately the healthiest path?  While these minutes spent stumbling through the woods trying to jumpstart my day may seem productive, it’s actually shutting down a perfect opportunity for quiet contemplation and creativity.


When we are faced with a quiet moment or two, weird things can happen.  Rather than celebrating this rare moment to take a breath, it can trigger a sense that “boredom” is soon to follow. So out pops the Blackberry and our world keeps spinning at its same frenetic pace.  We’re conditioning ourselves to avoid “boredom” like the plague – and we are building and buying the technologies to enable this behavior.


But as Carolyn Johnson points out in her wonderfully refreshing March 8th article in the Boston Globe titled “The joy of boredom”

“To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom — so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness — is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.”


In our lives, these moments of “boredom” are increasingly few and far between – and when they present themselves, it is time to resist the urge to fill it.  Less can be truly more.


 So this morning I set out into the woods free of technology.  It’s springtime now in Washington, DC and the birds and flowers welcomed me back – with a fox darting through the brush before me. 

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