Oscar Wilde wrote that ennui is life’s only unforgivable sin, yet ancient Chinese wisdom notes that you must pass through boredom to arrive at fascination. Whatever fascination awaits at the end of the tedium rainbow, most people still prefer to escape boredom, and it’s much easier now to do so now than back in the days of Confucius.
Although the idea and the English word didn’t come about until the 1700s (weird, right?), boredom certainly is prevalent now—as are the many ways to escape this unbearable and sometimes irritating feeling of emptiness.
One of the most recent “escape factors” to battle boredom? The smartphone. Whether you’re waiting for the train, waiting during a commercial break or waiting in line at the store, just check your phone–boredom be gone! Well, not entirely gone, but it certainly is good at killing time.
Not surprisingly, the average smartphone user checks their phone at least 150 times a day—and more than half that time it’s not because someone is texting or calling. Statistics such as these are what prompted the creation of Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing Out, a week-long challenge from a WNYC podcast to help people cut down smartphone use and get back to that good old pastime of daydreaming.
The introduction of the smartphone has helped to keep us distracted and engaged in something at all times so that we don’t have a free moment to let our mind wander into more interesting thoughts or memories, or to dwell on things that upset or worry us.
So wait a second—maybe boredom isn’t so boring after all, maybe all this time it’s been about avoiding your deepest inner thoughts. But isn’t that the most juicy material for a creative masterpiece?
Some psychologists who study boredom say that taking the uncomfortable path of embracing boredom, instead of escaping it, can elevate our minds and spark creativity. To really dive deep into the creative unknown that is our “bored” state of mind, we’ve got to do whatever it takes to remove those escape factors that are eating up our idle moments.
Other idle moments can be riding the bus, washing the dishes or folding laundry–moments that are perfect for letting our mind run over the day, brainstorm and frolic through our field of thoughts.
Want to practice embracing boredom? Try to sit still for five whole minutes and not do anything, not even yoga. Look around you, let your mind wander. What happened? Did you (gasp) enjoy being bored?
Wallowing in a moment of absolutely nothing, facing a wall of time—it isn’t easy. It’s hard to retract ourselves from the material world and focus on simply being when we are always offered something in which to engage our senses, and when our society places value on things like multitasking and staying (or at least appearing) busy.
But you don’t have to take up meditation to pass from boredom into fascination. Just try zoning out once in awhile, try getting away from the everyday world so you can tune into what’s happening in your own world. Just like you used to do in school. In creating your art, that inner world is revealed, so embrace your boredom and get to know it well.