Our society is fascinated, even obsessed, with boredom. In school, teachers do all they can to make learning more fun. At work, people steal moments here and there regularly to entertain themselves. Prior to the web, they did this at the water cooler. Now, the water cooler has gone online and they play social games, keep tabs on the news, or on their stock portfolio. When they get home, both kids and adults fight boredom with great intensity most commonly by watching endless hours of television or on the web.
But what exactly is boredom? I won’t bore you with the Wikipedia entry on boredom, but instead I’ll try to take a different angle. They way I have come to define boredom is a task that is not necessarily tedious, but instead meaningless. It is this meaninglessness in the task that makes one bored, instead of the task itself. This is why boredom is just one step away from apathy.
For example, I used to feel when I was a kid that mowing the lawn was very boring. I did all I could to put it off or shirk the chore onto my sister as much as I could. When I couldn’t avoid it any longer, I suffered through it with a strong sense of drudgery. Now that I am older and live in my own house, I feel differently about mowing the lawn. I still feel the job is quite tedious and I don’t look forward to it, but I do not find it boring anymore. The difference between then and now is the sense of meaning and purpose in the task.
When I was a kid, I mowed the lawn purely because my parents told me to do it. I had no real connection to it and I saw it as only benefiting them. Now that it is my own lawn, I see it as a reflection of myself in the community. It demonstrates to the community that I work to maintain it and keep it nice looking for all. If I don’t mow the lawn and it gets too long, I feel that I’m not keeping myself up for the benefit of the neighbors and other community members. There is a purpose on the tedious job now.
I’ll give another example, that of my eldest son, the Warrior. He has trouble in school and frequently complains about it being boring. When we lived in California, I thought he was bored because the work was not challenging enough. The pace of the lessons was too slow and there was a lot more repetition than he needed. When we moved to Minnesota, the pace was a lot faster and he had to catch up. Since he is very intelligent, he caught up with the rest of the class rather quickly. But he still complained about it being boring. Now that he is in the second grade and has been in his multi-age class (where first and second graders are combined into a single classroom), he is in the groove of things at school, and still says it is boring. He has trouble staying focused and getting his homework done, even with help.
So I thought about his boredom in terms of meaning. From talking with and observing him, I’ve come to the conclusion that he does not see the relevance of the lessons to him. He does not see any purpose in learning the material being taught. When he gets frustrated at having to finish an assignment, he complains, “It doesn’t matter.”
A few years ago, I posted about the growing sense of meaninglessness in our society. In our social quest for material accumulation (described as “growth”), we have lost our connection with the larger universe. We have lost the purpose in our life as we have come to believe since the Industrial Revolution that we need to be focused on the material and that there is no larger purpose. Why else do we spend so much of our precious time focusing on empty and superficial activities, such as watching television or randomly surfing the web?
I do not claim to be above television and web surfing, but I try to limit it to shows and activities I find specifically enjoyable. I will record specific shows that I’m interested in on TV (thank the Gods for inspiring the inventor of the DVR!) instead of simply putting on a channel and watching what’s on or surfing the channels in the off-chance that I will like something. When I don’t watch a pre-recorded show I like, I prefer to turn off the TV and read articles from online authors I enjoy (like Gary North) and offline books I like.
Though I am not immune to being bored at times, the way I have learned to get past it is to either change tasks to something that has meaning, or working to find meaning and purpose in the task at hand. When you’re bored at work, for example, try to think about how your work helps your employer. Remember, especially in these times of rapid change, that if your employer can’t make a profit, you can’t get paid. If you find no meaning in the work of your employer, then you need to work on finding a new employer (or even a new career). You are not acting according to your Will, so take a step back and evaluate your will and what you can do to live by it.
If you don’t understand your Will enough to follow it yet, take time away from a boring task at home, like channel surfing, and work on discovering it. If your boredom is coming from your job, look at the relationship between your calling and your occupation.
Remember that many tasks that are in accordance to your Will are tedious and require discipline to complete. But they have meaning to you because they advance your Great Work and are therefore not boring. Do your activities that have meaning and consciously do them with discipline, and you will find your life becoming less and less boring.