Our Yawning Need for Boredom


What is it with people’s fear of being alone (as in, not only by yourself but without any technological binkies like a cellphone)? A famous study by a team of psychologists stated that “two-thirds of men and a quarter of women would rather self-administer electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes,” which leads one to the question: What on earth could their thoughts look like that they’d prefer self-torture?

In the June Atlantic, Jude Stewart takes a quick look at many of studies surrounding “boredom” and being alone in her article “Make Time for Boredom: The Surprising Benefits of Stultification.” To a writer, the short piece is both surprising and not-so-surprising.

First the not-so-surprising: Stewart’s conclusion is that boredom is an accomplice to creativity. “By encouraging contemplation and daydreaming, it can spur creativity,” she writes.

(Editor’s Note: Whoa. News flash! You’re more creative when you’re alone!?)

Here’s the surprising part: boredom, defined as “the aversive experience of wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity” is linked to such behavior issues as “mindless snacking, binge-drinking, risky sex, and problem gambling” (all the equivalent of self-administered electric shocks, I guess). What the article misses is the human element. Boredom cannot exist unless people who don’t know what to do with themselves let it exist.

Here’s where artists come into the picture like cavalry riding over the hill. Artists embrace what others might call “boredom” because the conditions necessary for “boredom” to take root are the same as those necessary to create art, whether it’s a poem, a novel, a musical composition, a painting, or a sculpture.

To put it a better way: Bored people are lonely. Creative people are alone. But both are breathing the same air.

Truth be told, I can think of nothing better than an approaching weekend where I have nothing planned — no social engagements, no domestic tasks, no nothing.¬†Why? Because it means I can both feed the well (by reading) and draw from it (by writing).

If that be one man’s (or many’s) idea of boredom, bring it on. Some of my best work has been thanks to the beautiful gifts of boring silence and boring nothingness.


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