May 30 2013

The Benefits of Boredom

By Mark Sisson
88 Comments

Set Your Imagination FreeNo matter how old – and busy – I get in life, when summer rolls around, I still think of the leisure of the season as a kid. As much as I looked forward to the open-ended days of running wild, however, at some point I’d inevitably find myself bored. My best friend would be away on vacation. The weather would be too consistent. Whatever the case, I’d find myself feeling like I’d seen and done all there was to do a million times over. I’d mope and grumble (gaining no sympathy in the process). In those days, there was no gadgetry to surrender attention to. It was mostly the power of invention and imagination – the two best aspects of childhood if you ask me. Eventually, I’d conjure something good enough to get out of my funk. In fact, my greatest schemes and misadventures seem to have came out of those lulls. The thought makes me wonder: in this age of easy preoccupation, do we undervalue boredom?

There’s an ecard floating around on Facebook of a woman sitting noting “that awkward moment” of not knowing if she really has time to sit or if she’s just forgetting everything she’s supposed to be doing. There’s adult truth in that – the endless succession of chores, work, bills, errands, calls, emails, and other obligations that overspill every hour of the day. Boredom can seem like such a remote luxury. Why, then, in the free moments we undeniably have do we so mindlessly reach for the gadgetry, newspaper, or whatever else is handy? What do we fear or loathe so deeply about being unoccupied?

Just as I think it’s a good idea for mental health to unplug from the 24/7 media stream, I’d say we do ourselves a service by leaving these gaps unfilled. Boredom certainly stands in opposition to the prevailing culture – a provocative enough feature to get my interest. We shouldn’t have time for it, we’re told, which to me usually suggests something deserves more attention than it’s getting.

Sure, we’re a species that benefited from it’s own selected-for neophilia. We got where we’re at not by drumming our fingers and yawning the day away. Get out there and migrate – darn it! Kill something. Make some better clothes, for Pete’s sake. As the research shows, we all – some of us perhaps more than others, however – are products of a gene that lit a fire under our ancestors. Today, that same “novelty-seeking” characteristic can keep us vibrant throughout our lives as we both enlarge and challenge ourselves with rich experiences. Yet, our ancestors’ ample leisure time was inevitably the resource that inspired critical inventions, imagined novel skills, and elicited pivotal strategies in facets of life as diverse as social relations and navigation for those grand adventures. Our ancestors couldn’t really have had one without the other (although it’s hard to believe they thought of it as boredom). Why do we think we can?

It’s hard to talk about experiencing boredom without also thinking about the worry of being boring as well as bored. I read something the other day that suggested we tend to not care as much about getting “boring” as we get older. As social psychologist and director of Columbia University’s Motivation Science Center, Heidi Grant Halvorson, explains, over the years we tend to be less motivated by accumulating and accessing the “new” in life (e.g. things, opportunities) and more interested in “preserving” what we already have. Likewise, she notes, research suggests we tend to view happiness less in terms of euphoria and more in terms of contentment. Although I think these age-associated patterns make sense, they likely unfold differently for different people. Speaking for myself, I would say I do more “adventurous” activities now than when I was younger, but I didn’t have the time and resources in my younger years. That said, I imagine I probably approach them differently than my 20- or even 30-something self would have. I take my time mountain climbing – not because I need the rest but because I look at the views more. I plan my trips with more time spent on fewer activities. The detail and nuance of experiences matter more to me.

Maybe boredom teaches us something similar. Can life – should life – be a string of stimulation? What do we get out of good old-fashion bouts of boredom? Beyond living in environments of genuine deprivation, it’s more a matter of engagement. Researchers have attempted to define boredom from a neurological standpoint, situating it in the context of attention and labeling it as the momentary inability to “engage in satisfying activity.” Yet, other research and conceptualizations gesture toward what lies beyond the initial agitation. Studies suggest we’re more creative in our work, for example, when we’re bored because we tend to daydream and make novel connections as a result.

Sure, it’s at first a state of frustration and longing (with a little resentment thrown in). When we finally get bored with our own irritation and give up bellyaching about the sensation, however, we end up quieting ourselves, maybe even emptying ourselves, which begins to sound (and feel) rather Zen. We might start to notice details we never have – pictures in the grain of a wooden window sill, the growth of plantings in the yard. We begin to reflect in ways we often miss – examining the arc of our lives, the growth of our kids. We’re open to what’s in front of us – or perhaps what lies deep within us. Either way, we can lose ourselves in that state and access something rich. Boredom – followed to its logical conclusion – becomes its own unique state of flow.

Like the woman in the ecard, I think we easily forget how much we get out of boredom.

I have to admit, as a Type A, it’s a challenge for me to unwind and disconnect enough to leave ample room for boredom, but I recognize it as a subtle but significant element of the Primal Blueprint in practice. I have to push myself toward inactivity and quiet, but when I do I’m always grateful. I’m not only proud of myself for resisting the temptations of all the “at-hand” distractions; I’m treated to a mental re-booting and even a new way of seeing at times. I come away feeling like I’ve followed something knowing and instinctual. Boredom isn’t so much an experience itself but our resistance to an innate level of being. Open the door more often, and you’ll get a better understanding of what’s behind it.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. When was the last time you were bored? How do you make the most of it?

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88 thoughts on “The Benefits of Boredom”

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  1. As kids, we used boredom as the impetus for creativity, thus we found ourselves busy with our “new idea” and were no longer bored.

    Nowadays, kids aren’t even allowed to color outside the lines (so to speak)–there’s pre-designed Lego kits, and pre-fab doo-dad kits for just about anything a kid would ever dream up.

    Whatever happened to jumping into a huge pile of random Lego pieces, then spending the entire winter making a Barbie condo out of them..or doing the same with Lincoln Logs (a Barbie cabin)…or doing something equally massive with Tinker Toys? Thanks to the pre-fab kit world, kids are no longer required to use imaginations.

    I guess I was spoiled–I had all of the above toys, plus a set of colored building blocks, and was left alone to dream and create as best I could. I also had huge jigsaw puzzles when I got older–where have THOSE disappeared to?

    1. Funny you mentioned Legos I just visited my 4 year old nephew who had just discovered Legos and it brought back a ton of memory’s. I’ve sense returned back home I went on eBay and bought a batch. You can buy them buy the pound! Yep that’s right a 28 year old getting into Legos again!

      1. I bought my husband the smaller Lego Star Wars Millenium Falcon set for Christmas two years ago. His sister said she never saw anyone get so excited over a gift before. Legos rock!

    2. I made a point to provide my kids with open-ended toys: basic Legos rather than kits, a variety of art supplies & blank paper rather than coloring books, multi-purpose electronics & chemistry sets when they got older, that sort of idea. I also made sure their days weren’t packed to the gills with organized activities, though they did have music lessons, martial arts & such. And we didn’t own a television until they were much older. They complained a bit at the time, but by the time they were in college, they both actually thanked me!

    3. Well, some of us get “stuck” when confronted with a huge, random pile of legos. I tried and tried building things and always wound up with square buildings. *sigh* I was always jealous of my brother’s ability to build all sorts of crazy things. Though, during my psych classes (I have a BA in psychology) I discovered that my spatial relation skills are sadly lacking. You know those lovely tests where you look at a picture of a random 3-D shape made up of cubes and then pick which one of the multiple choice pictures is that same shape from another view? I seriouisly suck at them. I think that’s where my problem with legos is.

      As for huge jigsaw puzzles, I think they’re all stashed in my closet! Check in the board game area, in the toy section/store. That’s where they usually hide the jigsaw puzzles. The bigger the toy section/store, the bigger the puzzle selection and the more likely you are to find huge ones. Or look online….

    4. Oh yeah!! My Little Pony barns made out of lego – so awesome! I still love lego (sometimes guilty of co-ercing a kid to spend his/her Christmas money on more lego hehehheheeh) and crayons, the big box. sigh….. I love new crayons

      anyway – no problems with boredom here, however, I think sometimes when my kids have friends over, the friends are bored because we don’t let them play endless playstation or computer games or stare at the TV together. Dudes … you have friends over GO PLAY!

  2. Embracing boredom… such a tough concept…. thank you for the post. It makes sense! I will try to disconnect more often and connect with Life’s primal benefits

  3. Mark–

    Thanks for this post! I work as an occupational therapist. As coincidence would have it, just last night, as I was falling asleep, I started thinking about human occupation, particularly as it relates to Primal living. A great deal of our stress and anxiety (much like our physical ailments) I suspect, can likely be attributed to our current occupations being out of discord in some way with the occupations that formed our evolution.

    Most popular models of occupation lump our occupations into work, self care and leisure. I think these model leaves out the important element of willful lack of occupation–downtime not geared towards anything. This differs from leisure time, in my mind, as there is no goal beyond not doing anything. Just reflecting, meditating, flowing–hitting the reset button.

    Thanks again, this article provides good food for thought.

  4. Reminds me of something a wise teacher once told me: Boredom is simply the lack of homework.

  5. I have a son who gets very, very anxious about the prospect of boredom. He can’t leave the house without a raft of books or his Kindle. He will even read U-Haul brochures while he’s waiting for a meal to arrive in a restaurant! I’ve tried and tried to get him to relax, look out the window, daydream, but he just can’t do it. Must be my husband’s genes because I have no trouble. 🙂

    1. That was me – getting nauseous on car rides because I was always reading a book. Reading IS relaxing to some people.

    2. I also have a son who has trouble relaxing and “going with the flow”. We noticed when he was about 17 months old that this was part of who he is. We went on a drive to see the sun set on Hood Canal, however, he was very uncomfortable the whole time. Why? We had no destination. “Where are we going?” “For a drive, to look out the window at the pretty trees, water, sunset” …… He still struggles with it 9 years later but if we give him a pen to go with his napkin waiting in a restaurant he will come up with some wonderful drawing. Of course he’d rather play on Dad’s phone or a DS but then he’d lose out on the joy of creating, something he has very little appreciation for now.

  6. Brilliantly insightful post, Mark. Boredom could be a gateway to meditation, which could be a gateway to self insight. Effective boredom should be defined as really doing nothing with no thought-influencing technology… not sitting, staring blankly at a television or computer.

  7. Embrace boredom… very interesting, thought provoking post!

    I just hope my teenager isn’t reading this. lol

  8. I get all my chores done as soon as possible so I can sit in the sun and be bored. I love that bored time all by myself. But I do I really miss making little boats out of walnut shells and floating them down the gutters…and building model airplanes and then shooting ’em up with a BB gun!

  9. I have a friend who is the master of doing nothing. He says that most people these days are just not able to do nothing. I’m fairly good at doing nothing but nowhere as good as he is. His idea of a good time is to take a lawn chair down to a creek and just sit there all day long. No book, no fishing pole, no gadgets, nothing at all. It’s really a lost ability I think.

    1. Definitely a lost ability! That would be a real challenge for me. Even if I’m not being productive, I still feel a need to be ‘actively’ doing nothing, like reading or watching a movie. Even if I’m laying in the sun or taking a walk, I’m always listening to a podcast. One of these days I’m going to force myself to REALLY do nothing, and see what happens!

      1. I think most people are scared shitless when they quiet down and listen and be, just doing nothing. Try living in a cave up in the Himalayas. It would drive most people mad. The ego wants you to be someone and do something. Anything. But,
        When you’re nobody…you can be anybody!

      2. You’ll never find “one of those days.” You have to make it. I came across a Zen concept of Active Inactivity and Inactive Activity.

        Inactive Activity – plan for it. Cross off your calendar for an hour or two, and you’ll forgive yourself for not doing anything, so you can enjoy it. You will also have made “one of those days” exist.

        compared to

        Active Inactivity – run around like crazy, accomplish nothing.

        Just realized I’m doing the latter now. I’ll go stare at the grass for 5 minutes. 🙂

        1. We were recently on a cruise, and even there, on vacation, still felt some stress. We discovered a deck that had nearly no people on it, because most of them were inside. Unlike the top deck, you couldn’t hear any of the noise from the various announcements and partying atmosphere. No sounds from others, no sounds from airplanes or engines, or anything but pure ocean and wind.

          I sat in a deck chair and stared at the ocean, listening to the wind and the waves, I instantly felt the calmest calm I have ever felt, even deeper than through any meditation I was able to reach. Yup, no thoughts at all, no monkey mind chatter. Just pure calm.

          That small moment in time, maybe less than half an hour, was far more restful than any sleep, and even more so than the entire vacation.

          I wish I could find a way to replicate that – I did have my phone with me, and yes, I did record the ocean for ten minutes without any other sound. I do revisit this when I can, but it doesn’t have quite as much of an effect, though it helps.

    2. Finally I hear about someone similar to me. I sometimes even bring books on vacations and find that it mostly interferes with my ability to just relax and I don’t even start reading them. Same thing goes for watching TV, or listening to music, or using a phone – all of which I hardly do. I would say I hardly do anything others consider productive, and I’m proud of it. But it’s not boredom, and I think this is the one time Mark may be wrong. Being bored is having a lack of interest. But if one is interested in or prefers ‘doing nothing’? That’s something completely different altogether. I’ve experienced boredom when I was a kid and it’s something completely negative, if not painful. But being able to enjoy doing nothing is relaxing, thought-provoking, positive…

  10. There was a story on NPR a while back, actually, discussing the fact that with all the media, devices, and electronic toys kids have access to these days to alleviate “boredom,” their creativity and intelligence is plummeting. Too bad.

    I also believe if you’re bored, you’re boring. There is always something to do, create, or build.

    1. Agreed! I don’t understand boredom anymore, because I always find something to enjoy even when I’m not technically doing anything. My boyfriend complains that road trips are boring, but to me they’re relaxing and fun, and I like the fact that I can space out and drive (well, not completely space out), and just take in the scenery and enjoy things for what they are. I think it’s a huge loss that most people feel like they need to be constantly entertained. Then again, I’m the type of person that isn’t bother by silence.

    2. I have to remind myself every now and again when i have this strange compulsion to pull out my smart phone for no particular reason that it is okay to simply “be”.

      Most people, are x1000 worse at this than I am however.

  11. I agree with what Graham said.

    I was super imaginative and creative as a young kid, but when I hit high school and was hooked on the computer and video games, all of that seemed to disappear.

  12. On a recent flight from Hong Kong to Chicago, i had 15 hours to embrace boredom. I’ve recently adopted Stoicism as well, so found the “down” time quite pleasant. Rather than complain about being stuck on a plane for 15 hours, I I instead used the time to think about how lucky I was to even be in my situation and how i couldn’t wait to see my family. I used negative visualization to think about how much worse it could be: i could be stuck in the back of the plane in a middle seat, my flight could have been delayed, etc…

    I recently cut my cable and don’t miss it all. I bike to work (when not in Asia) and am going camping this weekend just to try get bored. Great article and very timely.

  13. When I was a kid I filled my many bored moments with constant doodling. Now I’m a professional artist/illustrator. Cautionary tale! 😉

    These days I deliberately cultivate a pattern of periodic “boredom”– although I never think of it as such. I like to load my head with a barrage of ideas & images, then set aside times of emptiness to allow my brain to make connections in peace. If I don’t have those contemplative times, my creative flow really suffers.

  14. Two of my favorite quotes:

    “There are no boring places, only boring people.” – Anonymous

    “I can never seem to get enough of Nothing To Do.” GK Chesteron

  15. I have thought so often how much I would love to be bored. There’s always too much to do!

  16. When I retired, I vowed to spend more time in my flower garden. I put in automatic sprinklers and other easy-care features. Then I had nothing to do out there. So I turned off the sprinklers and now I sit in my garden every afternoon with the water hose, and do the job by hand. My mind runs as free and far as it does in the shower.

  17. Boredom can be really detrimental for people with mental illness. When I’m feeling depressed, boredom just leaves time for negative thoughts to infiltrate. Keeping busy is the only way to keep that at bay. I like the idea of feeling “at peace” with nothing to do or think about, but it’s difficult for me to practice. I have too much fear associated with boredom.

    1. I agree. Boredom can fuel depression. But I think sometimes depression can fuel boredom. Something I noticed was that when I felt depressed, activities that I used to enjoy were extremely unsatisfying.

  18. I agree that boredom can help be a catalyst to creativity. My son has produced some amazing things from being bored. I would suggest a paper and pencil and he’d be off and creating in no time. We were waiting in line one day, a beautiful warm sunny day after months of cold dreary rain, not bored with the wait. However, the couple who were waiting in line after us were worried that they should go someplace else to get faster service. Being the not shy person that I am, I suggested that they enjoy the boredom of waiting in line on such a wonderful day, acknowledging that they probably lived such busy lives that it might be an enjoyable boredom to wait in line.
    I find I get a lot more done if I “waste” a day or several hours doing nothing one day every now and then.

  19. I was never bored as a kid. But we could go anywhere, goof off all day, and not have to worry about things like trespassing, fishing laws, etc. Now if you step off your own front porch, you’d better have permission! It also seems like you can’t go anywhere and be alone. There’s too many people nowadays. (at least below the arctic circle, lol)

  20. “Nothing to do” is not synonymous with boredom, in my book. I would not be at all inclined to “embrace boredom,” or to assign it any benefits. It’s a pretty negative state, and I have lots of stories of all the trouble I got into as a child that resulted from it. 😉

    Boredom defined as the momentary inability to “engage in SATISFYING activity” says it all. There’s a physical and spiritual restlessness inherent in boredom. It signals a dissatisfaction not with what we aren’t doing, but with what we are doing: unproductive, uninspiring, purposeless, empty. (Blah! I hate this. What else can I do?) So we find interesting things to think about and do. They satisfy us. And then we’re not bored anymore.

    You can’t tell by lookin’, as they say. Appearances to the contrary, an individual who sits by the creek all day, by choice, is probably content and fulfilled, not bored. “Nothing to do” does indeed allow emptiness to be full of connections (oooh, thanks for the phrase, Paleo-curious! The Taoist in me loves it.). Boredom just gets in the way of that.

    Burn me for spltiting hairs, but I’d rather see this re-titled as “The Benefits of Nothing to Do.”

    1. Nassi – I agree. It’s not boredem that’s helpful. It’s the downtime. The empty space that offers rest and inspiration.

      I don’t have the free time to waste being bored by staring off into space anymore. But I do have several boring or really mindless routines that keep the house clean, etc. I find I have most of my ideas during those times when I’m physically engaged but not mentally so.

      When I do have recreation time, I use boredom as a signal to move or do something else.

    2. First sorry, I should have typed Nannsi. Also, this:

      “It’s a pretty negative state, and I have lots of stories of all the trouble I got into as a child that resulted from it.”

      reminds me of the saying “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.”

      Yes, boredom can inspire creativity but creativity isn’t always positive. 😉

    3. I agree, Nannsi. I hate being “busy”. Always have. So I make it a point to keep a pretty empty schedule except for work because I love the down time, but I’m never bored. I just like having the freedom to do what I want including just being…

  21. This article made me think of that show Phineas and Ferb – two bored kids looking for things to do over summer. It’s a cartoon, so the possibilities are endless. It’s worth watching at least once, especially if you’re interested in the subject of boredom.

  22. A LITTLE boredom is a good thing – 10-15 minutes here and there to daydream.

    But constant boredom is absolutely dreadful – I’ve experienced it the past year while living in Turkey, due to an inability to find a truly expansive social circle, and it’s really harmed other aspects of my life (namely productivity while working on my own side projects).

    Tim Ferriss has a quote I really like about boredom: “The opposite of happiness isn’t sadness – it’s boredom”

  23. I love this! I recently spoke with Kevin Geary on the Rebooted Body podcast and during our discussion of my upcoming AHS 2013 presentation on social media use and addiction, we came upon the topic of boredom. What came out is that “bored” simply means “before becoming creative”! How many times were we all “bored” as kids? Didn’t we “escape” by creating detailed imaginative games and daydreams? What is the consequence of always being “entertained”? I’m glad Mark is talking on this “bigger picture” pieces of the Primal puzzle and look forward to more! You can also check out my conversation with Kevin here –> http://www.fitnessinanevolutionarydirection.com/2013/05/social-media-use-and-device-addiction.html

  24. daughter: “Mom, I’m bored.”
    me: “I know! Isn’t it great?”

    I miss being bored. Really bored, not, I’m-staring-at-a-report-that-I-don’t-want-to-write bored.

  25. I really dislike the new trend of tv/CD player in vehicles. It drives me crazy that no one allows their kids to be bored anymore. We go on frequent 3 hour car trips (and several longer trips/year), and our kids (4 and 7) have NEVER watched a video. Our last trip they occupied themselves for almost 2 hours with their *computers* – large pieces of cardboard that they drew computer screens and keyboards on. My 7 year old even designed a game for hers and was *playing* it. I love to watch the things they come up with on these long trips!

  26. This is a great topic as I LOVE to be bored – at home. Boredom at work is a killer but at home it’s great. I relax and listen to what is going on around me – I do not put the TV on or pick up the phone. Instead, it’s a great time to get to know your environment. It can be really peaceful. Then you ultimately stumble upon something to do and it passes…..or you take a nice nap!

  27. one really good book about on the topic is the very simple Tao of Pooh. It sums up the bisy Bacson – run till you die vs the simple state of being. How hard is it today for people not to be connected is scary. I always smile when my wife has to tell/explain to someone that she does not own a cell /smart/ padthingy phone – the expression on their faces (reboot….) I often tell my kids when they complain about being bored that I’m not a clown etc… and that spying on a rock is fun !

  28. This is interesting – I think it also goes along with how many people can stand to be alone – maybe the same kinds of reasons people crave constant entertainment is that fear of being “left” alone. I know for myself, now that I am in my late 40s, I am very much at peace being alone and I am rarely ever bored anymore because I have become comfortable with myself, and I try to be present in the moment. I actually prefer to be on my own if a situation becomes dull these days, but when I was younger, I would always have preferred to be with people – even if they weren’t interesting, just to avoid being lonely.

    1. Meant to say how people CAN’T stand to be alone (makes a little more sense, I hope!)

  29. Perfect timing! I keep talking to my 8 and 12 year old kids that it’s good for them to be bored, and no, they can’t have electronics to assuage their boredom. Thanks for the timely read! I’ll pass it on to my son.

  30. great post!
    personaly, i find i challenge myself too often. school, career, physical feats (marathon, triathlon etc). but now that i’m about to turn 40, i am finding it so important to stop DOING all the time and embrace the BEING a lot more. i have always related the doing to feelings of acceptance, love, admiration. but now i realize that it is often those “feats” that distracted people from who i am.

    so while i definitely do less goal-oriented things, if i’m putzing around at home i do definitely feel uncomfortable and feel like i should be doing something “productive”…but then i realize it’s primarily so that if people asked me what i did on the weekend i don’t have to say “nothing”! madness!

    doing less has certainly given me more space, mentally and some peace. but like Mark said, I also have to push myself toward inactivity and quiet.
    hammocks help a lot in this. 🙂

  31. Y’see, I must have intuitively known I was onto something all these years…

    My mum never sits still – she’s a pensioner, but is ALWAYS on the go, “doing” something. Sometimes just looking at her makes ME feel exhausted! And she’s always tried to instill this in me – I’ve regularly been told from childhood that I’m lazy, “like my dad”. True, my dad is the exact opposite to her in this – he takes his time over things, and is often in a world of his own. But he’s also designed and built (and still building more of) his own model steam railway, including many tools and parts he needed but either couldn’t afford, or figured would be “easy enough” to make himself. Also, throughout his working life, he often worked with his hands, and would design/invent/develop products, tools, improvements to what he was working with, and so on.

    I remember, with great sadness, the last time I daydreamed naturally. I was five, I think, and I was in that place where being shocked back into reality causes real distress, like being woken suddenly. My teacher told me off for daydreaming. She also told my parents she was concerned about me not paying attention in class. Since then, I’ve felt the need to “do nothing” regularly (most days in fact), and I find it easy to just stop, but there’s that fear of letting my mind do it’s own thing, as if I’ll get told off again. I have to work at that now, but it’s worth it, as that’s usually when my best ideas, or insights into a life situation, come to me.

    I’ve yet to have a family, but when I do, I intend to nurture this skill in my kids. And make sure they have Lego, and Play-Doh, because they were the best toys I ever had! 😀 (And I have to admit, I’ve caught myself looking longingly at basic Lego on ebay in recent months…)

    1. Daydreaming is vital to me, it’s a stress buffer for everyday life and a place where, because the limits are off, I come up with my best ideas – by no means all of them intended to get me back DOING busy-busy-busy work, either!

      Just thoughts, insights, stuff like that…

      Anyone who’s dubious about how it’s the people creaming off our taxes who are the most ardent evangelisers of the work ethic should read the link I’ve (hopefully) managed to add on my name to this post, of educated and insightful quotes against work, especially the futile sort that kills you wayyy too young.

  32. Fear of boredom, I believe, is less a reflection of our inability to sit still and enjoy the moment than it is a result of society’s disdain for doing nothing. We are encouraged to go-go-go all the time, no matter what it is we’re doing: work, chores, errands, even play, with structured rules and regulations. We have been convinced that those who do nothing ARE nothing, and as a result we are programmed to do everything, all the time. In Europe, vacation is a right, not a privilege. Long lunches are indulged by both mailroom kids and CEOs alike. Many, if not all, national holidays are paid- and there are many of them. Not so in the US. We have a ‘do it now’ mentality that doesn’t allow us to rest on our laurels, lest we want to face persecution in the eyes of the more “productive.” Even our sick time is restricted. Heaven forbid you catch the flu and need to be out for a day to rest and recuperate; how much your work will suffer! How dearly your co-workers and colleagues will pay in your absence! And should you become chronically ill (like me), you run the risk of losing your job altogether for “lost productivity.” I may be digressing somewhat, but the ultimate point is this: we need to re-wire our brains to believe that every once in a while, we have EARNED and DESERVE a break from time to time. Break the cycle of ‘but if i don’t do it RIGHT NOW…’ It’s a mental trap. Don’t fall into it.

    P.S. As I was writing this, my 11-year-old texted me with “I’m bored.” I told her to go climb a tall tree and stay in it until sunset. I have a feeling she won’t be bored for long =)

  33. “Boredom is part of the discipline of meditation practice. This type of boredom is cool boredom, refreshing boredom. Boredom is necessary and you have to work with it. It is constantly very sane and solid, and very boring at the same time. But it’s refreshing boredom. The discipline then becomes part of one’s daily expression of life. Such boredom seems to be absolutely necessary. Cool boredom.”

    – Chögyam Trungpa

  34. Mark’s post reminds me of some recent reading I was doing about peoples’ initial reactions to being submerged in sensory deprivation tanks. At first the mind jumps around like a game of pong on steroids trying to attach itself to something. Then finally, like a tired puppy after a romp, it settles down into a blissful quietude and just . . is.

  35. I spent way too many years running myself ragged with a job and single parenting to ever object to having too much leisure time. I love being bored. I put those empty moments to good use, either meditating or taking a cat nap. Then, rejuvenated, I get up and go do something else.

  36. Love this, very true. I sometimes just sit on my balcony and look out at my lake to feel the wind and enjoy the ducks, fish, turtles and birds as they swoop down for a meal or drink of water. It’s very centering.

  37. Indeed Like Sarah wrote, it is centering. Just sit and enjoy, observe and be still.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  38. “You’re bored because you’re a boring person”

    — Vanessa to Rudy, The Cosby Show

  39. OMG. Hubby is 11 years older than me and retired 2 years ago. Moved to Florida to a gated community with golf, tennis, mahjong… Sounds great, but at 55 I’m not a golfer, don’t play tennis, and the only mahjong I know is the online solitaire type. I’m fine in a social situation, but not a social person. Yep, I’m BORED STIFF.

    I thought I’d get back into the workplace, but coming from Silicon Valley the available jobs here are not only few and far between, but extremely low level. Then I found a posting I thought might work for me as an entrepreneur, executive assistant and office manager, and got an interview. The man was SO passionate about what he was trying to start up that he talked almost nonstop for close to three hours. Being a very polite person I did sit through it all politely. I could have had the job, but while it may have solved my idleness, it would not have helped my boredom.

    I believe boredom is an important facet in life, allowing you to slow down and collect yourself, but too much of a good thing can turn into a bad thing. I’m still searching for a good charity to align myself with.

    1. Right, healthcare is advancing on the “wack-a-mole” theory that people develop diseases, be they degenerative, infectious, all sorts, and then wise doctors step in and fix them, yes? But the fixes are wayyy too high-tech now for everyone even in developed nations to be able to afford them from their own pocket, so we group funds together, be it via socialist-style state taxes that provide free-at-the-point-of-use system like the UK or Canada etc., or through an insurance company like the US system. The majority healthy pay for the minority unhealthy right now, and in exchange they know they’re covered in future if and when illness strikes them.

      The trouble is, socialist or privatised, someone’s getting more than they put in and other people lose out, and as we live longer, the average diet degenerates, environmental pollutants increase, it’s likely the fixes will get more complex & expensive while the average person needs more and more healthcare, leaving fewer healthy contributors to the communal (insurance/state) pot to fund that care.

      So your mission, should you choose to accept it 🙂 is to consider what 3 or 5 key areas the people YOU know could change to make their internal resistance to disease & degenerative conditions stronger, so they’re fighting off disease instead of paying to have it treated.

      You could be checking the academic sites, just the abstracts to look into new research on how the immune system works, or what factors seem to help or harm in the aging process, or doing other things as well, I don’t know.

      Or, don’t, but it seems to be the noblest task we have right now, because our present system is burning up under pricier treatments and increased demand – oh, and of those 3 – 5 factors, only one gets to be diet, because most of us here probably think we’ve already got that one sorted, in theory if not always in practice.

      Then, start a blog or something, put what you know out there – remember the time before you’d heard of primal? There are people out there who will read your work, and live longer and happier because of it.

  40. “We should do away with the absolutely specious notion that everybody has to earn a living. It is a fact today that one in ten thousand of us can make a technological breakthrough capable of supporting all the rest. The youth of today are absolutely right in recognizing this nonsense of earning a living.

    We keep inventing jobs because of this false idea that everybody has to be employed at some kind of drudgery because, according to Malthusian Darwinian theory he must justify his right to exist. So we have inspectors of inspectors and people making instruments for inspectors to inspect inspectors.

    The true business of people should be to go back to school and think about whatever it was they were thinking about before somebody came along and told them they had to earn a living.”
    ? Richard Buckminster Fuller

    Pre-agricultural & pre-industrial societies tend to do the minimum needed to survive, there’s nothing primal about harrying yourself into the grave to line another person’s pocket.

    1. And I have more:

      “The anthropologist Marshall Sahlins, surveying the data on contemporary hunter-gatherers, exploded the Hobbesian myth (*that life in the past was nasty, brutish and short*) in an article entitled “The Original Affluent Society.” They work a lot less than we do, and their work is hard to distinguish from what we regard as play.

      Sahlins concluded that “hunters and gatherers work less than we do; and rather than a continuous travail, the food quest is intermittent, leisure abundant, and there is a greater amount of sleep in the daytime per capita per year than in any other condition of society.” They worked an average of four hours a day, assuming they were “working” at all. Their “labor,” as it appears to us, was skilled labor which exercised their physical and intellectual capacities; unskilled labor on any large scale, as Sahlins says, is impossible except under industrialism.

      Thus it satisfied Friedrich Schiller’s definition of play, the only occasion on which man realizes his complete humanity by giving full “play” to both sides of his twofold nature, thinking and feeling. As he put it: “The animal *works* when deprivation is the mainspring of its activity, and it *plays* when the fullness of its strength is this mainspring, when superabundant life is its own stimulus to activity.” (A modern version — dubiously developmental — is Abraham Maslow’s counterposition of “deficiency” and “growth” motivation.) Play and freedom are, as regards production, coextensive.

      Even Marx, who belongs (for all his good intentions) in the productivist pantheon, observed that “the realm of freedom does not commence until the point is passed where labor under the compulsion of necessity and external utility is required.” He never could quite bring himself to identify this happy circumstance as what it is, the abolition of work — it’s rather anomalous, after all, to be pro-worker and anti-work — but we can.”

      Source for that quote linked in my name below.

      1. Patrick! I think I am one of the few who agrees with you, and I am also familiar with the primitivism site you linked. I am also interested in seeking a solution (I’ve only been inactively seeking so far) to having to live a contemporary life. I would LOVE to find a way of not having to earn a living, but it is infeasible on one’s own. Even Christopher McCandless died trying. All the paleo people here may advocate a paleolithic lifestyle and try and incorporate it into their modern lives, like refraining from driving and biking instead, go barefoot to work instead of wearing shows, stand up at their desk instead of sitting at it.. but they are still leading modern lives. Why are we not making the switch to actually LIVING like Grok did???? Do you have a solution, Patrick? Does anyone here? I think if a group of people were willing to do it, it’d actually be possible.

        1. I’m not too concerned (with respect 🙂 ) whether many people agree with me – any idea that sets conventional wisdom on its head always seems crank-y, unnatural, even irresponsible and damaging at first (I bet a few avid readers here once thought this about a high-fat diet) so I was just putting the ideas out there because someone might benefit from a different way of looking at this issue.

          My main thing is to do the least amount of work possible, saving my perfectionist/obsessive side only for projects that really inspire me, and to keep in mind that the current model of life as “9 – 5” (or more like 8 – 6) from infancy to retirement is a broken model: otherwise, why would there be unemployment, work-related stress killing millions, so much alcoholism & depression etc? It evidently doesn’t work for the majority, and the conspicuous minority who promote it as morally correct are usually profiting – but if hard work was good for you, the universal symbol of royalty would have been a pick and shovel, not a chair (throne).

          Once I got that sorted in my own head, it didn’t mean a world of primal opportunities was there, nor did I feel a need to change the world, but each small decision I make now comes from respecting that hard work is not a moral or ethical thing of itself.

          I like to seek out fellow thinkers, but not really interested in DOING anything about it. Lots of my family worked themselves into an early grave in respectable middle class jobs, buoyed up by chronic high-functioning alcoholism, and it took me a while to shake off their programming EVEN THOUGH I saw that not one single one of them had been remotely happy.

          I think it’s a realisation people must come to for themselves, that nobody’s keeping score, and of course it’s nice to go the extra mile on doing favours or turning in a project of some kind at a higher level of competance than you’ve ever done before, but that’s a different thing than submitting to a relentless life of grinding mindless drudgery, just because someone told you hard work was always better than inactivity.

          That saying, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re always right” goes double here – people who believe that hard work is all life has to offer them, and that anything else is a futile pipe-dream, usually manage to acquire a life creaking at the seams with back-breaking toil. “The Lazy Way To Success” by Fred Gratzon is one of my favoruite books.

  41. One of my 3 children has Autism and I have often thought that a secret gift she gives is slowing down! We end up spending more time at home than other families and my other 2 cannot be over scheduled due to her inability to handle change. Being “stuck” at home forces us to connect more and we end up playing more games or blasting music! Another plus side for me is it has strengthened my love for cooking! I am also a teacher so off with my children this summer. Bring on the boredom!

  42. I’d say this may be a false use of the word boredom. Being leisurely and sitting around relaxing, thinking, daydreaming, does not necessarily quantify boredom. Boredom, to me, is a condition resulting from a sudden loss of titillation and euphoria. Tribal people that can seemingly sit around for hours doing nothing are not experiencing boredom, but tranquility. Boredom is a modern problem resulting from excess.

  43. What can I say, as a fellow type A I can relate. Although I’ve been heavily influenced by Zen, Buddhism and everything related in the last decade. I find it fascinating, so I do enjoy my quiet time.

    But I still feel the pull to constantly check my email and do stuff. I’ve found that when I least want to take a break, that’s when I need it most.

    Oh life, how fascinating are thee 😉

  44. To me:

    Boredom is a symptom of a lack of focus. Or the inability or refusal to let your mind wander.
    Boredom indicates a surplus of time, so the time was the critical resource. Not the boredom. I doubt our ancestors were ever bored. The ones with focus were the ones using their spare time to create and invent.

  45. As children when we complained about being bored my mother would tell us to make a ‘boredom jar’. We had to write down all the things we could do next time we were bored. Inevitably we would come up with some great idea we could go do there and then like build a hut or go for a bike ride.
    As an adult that still sticks with me. For 9 months of the year (winter to summer) I have an awesome job working outdoors where I never get bored. The payoff is 3 months of having to work inside over autumn. It’s hard to hold a conversation due to noise and distance between workmates and the work is repetitive so I confess I do get a little bored. I often end up making a mental ‘bored jar’ which gives me time to think things through deeply, dream a little and drift off. In fact I’ve just returned from a wonderful holiday dreamed up while bored at work a few weeks back!

  46. This post’s picture is kind of like the view from my shelter. It’s a wooden box. I too notice pictures in wood grains when I’m bored. When I was staying in a large metal shed, mostly unused – that’s why I could stay there – and the weather was still cold and I was tired I’d listen to my cd player and often stare at the sky, the forest, or the beams. I found a lot of interesting faces and sometimes the moods they seemed to convey happened to correlate with what I was thinking. I don’t know if that was a subconscious thing on my part, directing my eyes to things I noticed without realizing when it made sense to do so, or maybe even something deeper, noticing those things at a proper moment. I’ve been told by a psychiatrist she believes I have a hyper-sensitive brain. I tend to get overwhelmed by the environment. I suspect lots of things to be more than coincidental. For example, sitting around in my box shelter, getting antsy (and flicking gross-tasting-looking ants and squatting mosquitos), thinking or saying out loud, “Ok, I think I should go to town now” and immediately upon concluding that thought hearing a car honk in the distance and thinking that’s like an exclamation mark to it. Maybe it’s just my imagination. I have a very skeptical as well as mystical aspect to my mind.
    Sometimes following my guesses, “intuition”, or hunches results in great benefit. Other times I’ve ended up deriving nothing of value from them or gotten into trouble.

  47. This is pretty timely. I just wrote 5 things you could be doing instead of sitting on technology. http://notjustpaleo.com/5-things-instead-of-technology/

    I think you and I talked about it on the podcast too.. People think that always being busy is some sort of symbol of “being cool” and having no time to sit and just watch a fire spark in front of you is how you should be or you’re not successful.

    Our constant attitude to continually seek and seek for things out there is preventing us from happiness!

    It’s when we sit down, stop the rat race and take a breath that we say “Man this is awesome!!”