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The importance of being bored

Updated: Apr 7, 2023

When was the last time you felt bored? A modern person tries to avoid boredom like hell, and the gadgets are here to help. When a baby is about to get bored, a modern parent thrusts an iPad into their nose – we all know an iPad is the only proven way to keep a baby from crying. When a student is bored in a lecture or her father is bored in a corporate meeting, they inevitably reach out to check their phones. When did you last see a person on the tube looking at you, and not on his screen or paper? We can’t even go for a run in the park without music in our ears – we need constant entertainment and stimulation for our brain, or we risk - oh, no - to get bored! Google’s most popular suggestion when we start typing “what to do when…” into the search engine is “bored”. Overall, Google says there are about 2.5 million monthly queries related to the subject of being bored (check Keywords tool). The phrase “what to do when you are bored” brings up 27,100 monthly searches, “things to do when you are bored” is searched on average 9,900 times per month, “what to do when bored at home” – 8,800, and “stuff to do when bored” gets 6,600 monthly searches. By avoiding to be bored, we have impoverished our lives an incredible amount.

Credit: jjennii/flickr

I know what I’m talking about: I am a master of struggling with boredom. I am a “sensation seeker” – always in need of a constant flow of new impressions, people, and events to make me feel alive. My worst days have been during an internship at an economy research institute in Germany, an 8am-5pm job with a routine paperwork and deliberately suave colleagues discussing football and politics day after day after day. I lasted about a week and a half there before getting a severe psychosomatic illness which made me unable to move, so had to be flown back to my home country; it took me a couple of months to recover. You get the picture. Yet, when I am looking back at all those years, it’s thanks to boredom that I made radical changes in my life. One of the first ones was when I decided to abandon my rather flourishing career of a business journalist in the best economy magazine in Russia, an equivalent of The Economist, and move abroad to study and become someone else – but I didn’t know who yet. Before I took this decision, I kept extinguishing my boredom and unsatisfaction with watching TV for a couple of years (we still didn’t have many smartphones those days), but when it became totally unbearable (and the TV programs were repeating themselves), I made a huge effort and moved on. It was painful, but it was better than the pain of daily boredom. One of the best life decisions I’ve made. Another experience of being severely bored led to a breakthrough in creativity. After my MBA, I had three rejections of my UK work permit, and my hard earned job offer was pending because of the visa situation. It lasted for nine months, nine very long months of uncertainty, despair and deep boredom. All my classmates were settled, the man I longed to be with was in London, and I felt completely isolated and up in the air with no idea of where I was going to live, work, or where the money would come from the next month. I was spending days and weeks awaiting the next visa decision of the UKBA, while living in the cheapest possible place (quite a nice one between us, although I didn’t notice it at the time), and had absolutely nothing to do and no one to talk to every day. The TV wasn’t working, and somehow internet dongles in that place weren’t available or affordable. While at the peak of my boredom and despair, I once found a piece of paper and a pencil, and drew an ideal life that I would lead once I’ve got a visa. It made me feel a bit relieved – the first time in many months. I drew another picture, and another, and one more, and long and behold my days started being filled with painting, and my emotions started to become less acute. It was the only activity which kept my boredom and tension to a bearable level. After a few weeks I finally got my visa, and I didn’t even care about it that much as I loved my art. I also didn’t even care that much when it didn't work out with the guy. I never became a professional painter, although I did sell a few pictures and got some orders(!), but having this hobby was something that kept me through a number of difficulties that were yet to show up. It was the first ever hobby I had in 27 years. The moral of these two stories is that I needed to reach a critical level of boredom for some of the things in my life to change. Probably if I had modern devices at that time I wouldn’t get bored enough to move abroad or find internal creativity in the most stressful situation – I will simply distract myself little by little by liking people’s pictures on Facebook and avoiding my negative emotions. Boredom reminds me of water that’s put under pressure in a steam engine – if you open the tank slightly once in a while to release the pressure, the water will eventually all boil away, and the engine won’t work. But if you keep it under pressure all the time, the steam might become so intense that it will make the engine work and the machine will start moving. So next time you feel bored and feel an urge to be entertained, ask yourself – what is it costing me not to stay with my boredom? Which major life decision am I trying to avoid? Just please don’t google it.

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