Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 17 September |
Saint of the Day: St. Hildegard of Bingen
home iconLifestyle
line break icon

Why it’s good to be bored

BORED

Photographee.eu | Shutterstock

Fr. Michael Rennier - published on 06/20/21

We prefer to avoid boredom But what if it contains a lesson we need for a happy life?

When I was a teenager I worked on a pumpkin farm. The older farmers, who had inherited the land from their father, were content to while away hours at a time sitting in the shade of the barn, silently watching the clouded sky slide across the furrowed fields. They were at peace with dullness, but in the sweltering heat of the Mississippi floodplain I became fidgety. So fidgety, in fact, that I would look for any little job, any task at all, that I could do to fill the time.

Over the next two summers, I learned from those quiet men who had spent a lifetime adapting to the slow, inexorable rhythms of the earth. I know it sounds funny to phrase it this way, but ever since then, all of my adult life, I’ve purposely sought out moments of boredom. I stand still and look at the sky for a minute, or sit with a cup of coffee on the porch in the morning. I’ll wait in the checkout line at the store, phone safely tucked in my pocket, and simply pay attention to what’s happening around me, the dull business of everyday life, a child crying, the small talk of the cashiers, the single guy buying frozen pizzas, all of it punctuated by the beeping of the cash register. Sometimes I find great beauty in these moments. Sometimes I feel a spiritual ache.

It has been my experience that boredom is often exactly that – boring. There are no great epiphanies that automatically arrive with it. I think of boredom more like a symptom of illness. It’s a sign that my life is too comfortable, that I’ve stopped struggling to pay attention and live every moment to the fullest. Instead, I’ve given into complacency. In this sense, boredom is an early-warning system, telling us to renew our inner life, to put in more effort, to not settle for mediocrity. In this sense, it’s very important to be bored.

It seems to me that boredom is a luxury of the modern era. In less technologically advanced times, humanity was busy trying to survive, hunting and being hunted, gathering firewood, and building shelters. Boredom was less of an issue. Our boredom is a byproduct of our disconnection from the world around us. We no longer take pleasure in hearing a bird sing and feeling the satisfaction of taking a deep breath.

I recently read The Pale King, an unfinished novel by David Foster Wallace. The whole novel is about boredom. Specifically, it’s about the inner workings of the IRS, which is the most boring topic he could think of (I’ve been assured by parishioners that accounting is actually quite fun, but color me skeptical). Surprisingly, I find the novel captivating.

In the foreword, Wallace writes, “Maybe dullness is associated with psychic pain because something that’s dull or opaque fails to provide enough stimulation to distract people from some other, deeper type of pain that is always there … This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do.” He believes that this drive to avoid boredom keeps us from doing the real work of understanding why life can be so bittersweet, the way in which it is full of both joy and sadness. To be a human being encompasses both. Refusing to be bored is an attempt to avoid the sadness, but in the end, the avoidance also means we lose the joy because we end up seeking out shallow diversions and meaningless distraction. To live deeply, we must accept all that life sends our way, refusing nothing, the good and the bad, the exciting and the boring.

There are many articles out there about how we ought to let our children be bored. It increases creativity, self-control, and the development of identity. I believe this is as true for adults as it is for children. Boredom is not a state of mind that we actively seek out, but maybe we should, at least in small doses. It may turn out that what is revealed to us in these moments is much larger, much more vast than we ever would have guessed.

Tags:
Virtue

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...




Top 10
1
CELEBRITIES
Cerith Gardiner
Our favorite stories of celebrities who inspire us in daily life
2
communion
Philip Kosloski
How receiving Holy Communion can drive away demons
3
Kathleen N. Hattrup
Pope considers what to do with pro-abortion Catholic politicians
4
Berthe and Marcel
Lauriane Vofo Kana
This couple has the longest marriage in France
5
As irmãs biológicas que se tornaram freiras no instituto Iesu Communio
Francisco Veneto
The 5 biological sisters who joined the religious life in just tw...
6
CROSS
Philip Kosloski
Why is the feast of the Holy Cross celebrated on September 14?
7
SAINT ANTHONY OF PADUA
Philip Kosloski
This prayer to St. Anthony is said to have “never been known to f...
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.