When last we spoke of the “deconstruction of ennui,” I made the case that being busy doesn’t mean you’re not bored.
Today, I’m laying out the indicators of boredom. They are things that we all want less of but things we may not necessarily associate with the experience of boredom.
If you’ve ever been to Target on a weekday morning around 10:30am, you may have noticed that the store is populated by moms with toddlers in shopping carts. These moms are picking up forgotten groceries. They’re picking through clearance racks looking to stock up on childrens clothing for next year. They’re checking out the latest Disney DVD offerings.
I know. I was that mom. Still am sometimes. Now, my stay-at-home dad husband makes the morning Target runs.
The obligatory morning Target trip is a prime example of boredom being masked by busyness.
Despite constant demands on your time & energy, being a stay-at-home parent is a profoundly boring job much of the time. With no one but a very small person to talk to most of the day, we busy ourselves with household and familial upkeep. Of course, we enjoy playing games, singing silly songs, and dancing in diapers – well, the little people do that.
While there may be many parents gifted with staying engaged with the day-to-day routine of this lifestyle, I was not. But I would not have traded the two years I spent as a full-time mom for the world.
Boredom is inescapable and often a side effect of very satisfying situations. But, no doubt, there are real consequences to living an unengaged life.
Because we tend to spend money, eat more, and create patterns that exploit our free time when we’re bored, we lose energy.
The first consequence of boredom is distraction.
Distraction can wear you down like no other psychological state. Now that I am working from home full time, I have the privilege of working for long stretches without being distracted by the demands of my toddler or my man-child. In general, I am quite focused and productive – I love what I do and delegate much of the rest.
But there are still days when boredom drives me to distraction.
And I hate refreshing the Twitter screen every 90 seconds. I hate that my mouse is constantly hovering over the email tab waiting for a new message to curse at. I hate that I check my blog stats so often. This behavior is unproductive, uncreative, unsatisfying.
And yet, I do it.
At the end of a day when distraction has been the rule, I am not happy. Nor have I done my best work.
I am irritable, short-fused. I am often unable to relax properly knowing that the work I did was unsatisfactory.
I have made myself busy, filling a whole day of work, with tiny distractions – sheer boredom.
I’m lucky. These days are no longer my normal. But, for many, these kind of days happen much more often than not.
The second consequence of boredom is consumption.
In America – as I’m sure in other parts of the world – we’ve been conditioned to consume when we’re bored.
Have you noticed that?
I’m bored – let’s go to the mall.
I’m bored – I’ll get a snack.
I’m bored – has the Huffington Post published anything new?
We consume products, food, and information without thinking as soon as we start to get any inkling of ennui. We fill ourselves with meaningless action. We disengage from real life and seek out external experiences.
We consume to feel something other than our own voice telling us to get off our ass and do something.
Or to stay on our ass and rest. Breathe. Enjoy the peace.
Over-consumption is not just a personal problem. It’s at the root of modern society’s ills. We’re in debt, over-eating, and constantly barraged with uninteresting information. The end result doesn’t feel good – so we keep up with the feel-good action that produces it. Just to feel something.
When we’re bored, we consume. Everything.
Consumption doesn’t have to be the only way we feel connected to others & the outside world. We can choose to live, produce, relate, and engage without consuming.
Boredom shouldn’t be confused with rest.
Just as being busy doesn’t mean you’re not bored, resting doesn’t mean you are bored.
Rest is a mindful activity. It requires understanding what things wind us down, recharge our inner battery. It requires engaging our own inner peace.
But often, when we’re bored, we trick ourselves into thinking we’re resting. And yes, I’m talking about sitting on the couch mindlessly surfing the TV channels, letting an hour pass without watching a single program. Yes, I’m talking about thumbing through magazines without gleaming any delight from their pages. Yes, I’m talking about playing Solitaire on your iPhone – over and over again – not because you’re gaining pleasure from it but because it’s there (that’s me!).
Those things aren’t rest. They are a result of boredom with a capital B.
I’m not judging those behaviors. Just calling ’em as I see ’em.
You have to ask yourself whether you’re glad you spent your time that way. Or do you find yourself asking “Why did I do that?”
There are other choices to be made.
Choose to have a decadent meal, sleep in late, spend 2 hours on Twitter, & play video games. The behaviors themselves are perfectly reasonable – it’s when we don’t actively make the choice that they can become unhealthy. That’s when they’re clearly a sign of boredom – ennui – “lack of interest.”
And boredom actually makes for poor rest. Instead of disengaging from the world to create a false sense of rest, engage with your own inner desires for comfort and peace. You’ll find more fulfilling rest.
Boredom makes us ask: Why did I do that? When we’re distracted, over-consuming, or waiting for rest & release that just doesn’t come, we can alert ourselves to our state of boredom.
We can remind ourselves to engage with our surroundings and ourselves. We can create joy out of these moments too. But we have to know what to look for.