Everything else

Nothing Is a Good Thing

The importance of boredom.

Illlustration by Camille

Illustration and collage by Camille

There are perhaps no two words that command less respect in this world than “I’m bored.” Before you know it, the to-do police—aka parents, teachers, friends—move in from every angle: There are causes to rally around! Countries to see! There are tons of things that you are only mediocre at that you could be practicing! You could be watching TV!

The problem with boredom is that people think boredom is a problem. In the ’90s, the band Harvey Danger made me believe that “if you’re bored, then you’re boring.” It seemed like a sin. We as a culture tend to place a lot of emphasis on being busy as a way to avoid laziness, and it’s hard not to feel anxious or ashamed when the people around us are bouncing from soccer practice to afterschool jobs to bassoon lessons. They seem more serious about life, and we feel guilty for just wanting to loaf around.

But boredom is inevitable, and I think it’s healthy. It’s your body’s way of forcing a time-out. This past September I was trying to write a paper about the Harlem Renaissance for an English class. It’s one of my favorite subjects, and I usually have lots to say about it, but I was bored with one of the authors I was supposed to be reading and I got frustrated. Two weeks before the deadline, I hit a wall. I couldn’t figure out how to put my thoughts together to write the paper. So I just stopped working on it. I watched Netflix all day, took a few naps, and generally tried not to even think about it. When I returned to the paper a week before it was due, I found the break had helped me, and I was able to focus. I realized I’m not always doing my best thinking when I’m staring at a computer screen, and even though it seems counterintuitive or self-sabotaging to spend a day on the couch with a deadline looming, sometimes that’s exactly what I need.

There are lots of instances in which boredom is just that: a damn break. It’s sitting alone with your thoughts and feelings, and just allowing yourself to be idle. But it’s also important to know the difference between being bored with things and being bored with time. In the first case, maybe you’re legitimately no longer interested in something that you’ve dedicated a lot of effort to in the past. When I graduated from high school, I was certain that I wanted to study fashion design. When I actually got to college, however, I was disenchanted with the classes and the businesslike approach to a creative endeavor. I realized that I mostly loved making clothes for myself, which I could do without marketing classes, so I dropped out and moved on. If you feel like you’re sick of playing basketball or writing the book you’ve been working on forever, it helps to ask yourself why. Have you lost steam? Do you just need to decompress (aka watch Netflix and nap)? Or do you really dread the project/activity at hand and you would rather be doing anything else? Sometimes boredom is a sign that something needs to change: your major, your job, the city you live in. It’s hard to face that reality, but doing so can kick-start a whole new pursuit/lifestyle that you actually enjoy.

Being bored with time is another beast entirely. For some of us, the worst thing in the world is having an entire day with nothing to do. It freaks us out and makes us feel lonely. Whenever this happens to me, I watch this video by the poet/songwriter Tanya Davis and filmmaker Andrea Dorfman. It popped up in my Google Reader a few years ago, and I clicked on it because I was curious: How can you TEACH someone to be alone? I loved it instantly, and I watch it frequently as a reminder that being alone is OK, and that there are lots of things to do in my own company. And as my fellow Rookie Hazel noted here, there are benefits to learning how to be by yourself, because you’re not always looking to other people for validation or entertainment or distraction.

Of course, it’s also possible to be around lots of people and still feel totally bored, in which case choosing to disengage becomes a radical act. Everybody wants to know why, and whether something’s wrong, and is it them? So instead of stomping around and complaining that everything sucks, which can send the message that your restlessness is about your friends and not you, I just tell people that, hey, I need some time to myself right now. I have left more parties early and canceled more plans to stay home and knit than I can even count. I recently skipped my own graduation to go to the movie theater and see Star Trek Into Darkness and Iron Man 3. It had been a particularly grueling semester, and graduation was going to be an all-day event, outside, on my feet, smiling a lot. The movies seemed to better accommodate my current state: exhausted, dying to sit down, preferably in the dark without talking to anyone. I feel bad about bailing on these things, but sometimes you have to do what you want to do. I believe it’s never a bad idea to step back and take care of myself.

In truth, the only time I think boredom can be a problem is if it’s sustained. If you’re consistently dispassionate about everything—going out to dinner with friends doesn’t interest you, staying home to read sounds awful, concentrating on work is impossible—it might mean that you’re depressed. A lot of us have been or will be in this situation at one time or another, and if you’re unhappy or stressed out about it, confide in a trusted friend or a family member or a professional. (Check out Jamia’s super-informative article about finding the right healthcare provider.)

On a similar note, and thanks to the internet, I think boredom is in part a reaction to our constant stimulation. More than anything, I feel like I’ve reached my limit right now with how much media and pop culture I can consume on a daily basis. Knowing that one of my friends is always saying something, or that a meme of a cat dressed as a shark chasing a duckling on a Roomba is making the rounds, can actually bore me at the same time it tempts me away from naps and walks and leisure. I love my friends, but how many Instagram selfies and pictures of food can I be expected to comment on? Lately, spending an entire day without hearing anyone else’s opinion sounds like a miracle. A lot of that is my own fault, but media demands a lot from us and most of us spend a lot of our day online. I think it’s good to give ourselves little internet vacations just to reinforce what we enjoy. We can’t let FOMO keep us from genuinely relaxing.

Summer is the perfect time to embrace boredom. If you think about how much you do during the course of a school year, doesn’t it make sense to give yourself permission to have at least one day or week without plans? I know that you’re probably told that you should be doing everything you possibly can to prove how awesome you are to prospective colleges or employers, but that doesn’t mean burning yourself out. I’ve never heard of someone being denied acceptance to a university because they spent a weekend binge-watching Arrested Development and eating pizza bagels. It might take a little convincing, but you owe it to yourself. ♦

30 Comments

  • FlowerandtheVine June 7th, 2013 3:12 PM

    God, I miss being bored at home during the summer. Now I just get to be bored at work.

    http://flowerandthevine.wordpress.com

  • Sophie ❤ June 7th, 2013 3:16 PM

    I LOVED this article- it is so true (the title, I mean). Nothing really is a good thing.
    [Sometimes]

    P.S. I love today’s background pic!

    http://plainlysophie.com

  • SiLK June 7th, 2013 3:18 PM

    THAT is why I get bored despite having a reading list that is miles long, several homework pieces and things I want to research! It all makes sense now, and I’ll know to rest and take a break so I can be un-bored again. (How do you guys know/understand so much?)

    http://theirfancies.blogspot.com/

  • Blythe June 7th, 2013 3:41 PM

    I really like this article, but I definitely have to be careful about being bored. If it goes on too long, it turns into apathy, and that’s the first stage of one of my depressive bouts. If I don’t get myself excited again, I’ll spend about two weeks being depressed and about three days in the middle being borderline suicidal.

  • whatever June 7th, 2013 3:47 PM

    this is such a great article. U GUIZ R SO WISE

    ♡♡♡♡
    http://teenmoonwitch.blogspot.co.uk/

    • whatever June 7th, 2013 5:23 PM

      sorry to be that poop but the “e” in the word “extending” in the second paragraph is missing <3

      • Anaheed June 7th, 2013 6:59 PM

        Fixed, thanks! (You’re not a poop because poop isn’t helpful and you are)

  • Mary the freak June 7th, 2013 3:55 PM

    awesome!! thank you – i really really needed this. <3

    http://birdiewearsatie.blogspot.com/

  • Erin. June 7th, 2013 4:07 PM

    I once spent an entire day doing nothing. Literally, just sitting on a chair, staring into nothingness. Maybe I did some cleaning and cooking because I had to, but other than that, nothing. I was just really angry at everything for no specific reason, so I decided to do nothing. It’s kinda like meditating, but meditating screws me up, while doing nothing clears everything away.

    PS: What’s “FOMO”?

    PPS: Rookie really seems to like Netflix. Am I the only one who doesn’t have Netflix?

    • Phoebe June 7th, 2013 4:13 PM

      Fear of missing out. Learned it from Deb and Mitch.

    • taste test June 7th, 2013 7:18 PM

      you are not the only one without netflix! I don’t have it. I also don’t watch actual TV and don’t know how to torrent or anything so my movie/TV viewing is basically limited to whatever I can find on youtube. haha

      • all-art-is-quite-useless June 9th, 2013 1:29 PM

        I don’t have netflix! I do have a telly with a tivo box so I record quite a lot of tv or films and watch it later, but I can’t watch any programme or film at any point which is sad. Can you get stuff like BBC iPlayer or 4od (or whatever the equivalent is in other countries, I’m British) on your computer?

  • elliecp June 7th, 2013 4:57 PM

    At the time I’m always like ‘god I need to stop wasting my life’ but after a week of non-stop busy-ness, I realise just how much I adore sitting on the sofa doing nothing <3

    http://roseandvintage.blogspot.com/

  • kate bentley June 7th, 2013 4:59 PM

    I seem to always be bored. It makes me angry that I can even find time to be bored despite having a very busy life! It also makes me feel disappointed in myself that I’m wasting time when life is so short.
    HOWEVER Rookie and recently having my own blog eases some of the boredom.

    frannyandzooeyforever.blogspot.co.uk

    @slutthefalcon

    xxxx

  • Kristen June 7th, 2013 5:56 PM

    Wait people start papers two weeks ahead of time?

    • taste test June 7th, 2013 7:21 PM

      hah I thought of that too! I don’t think I’ve ever done that in my life. I probably should, but.

      http://xyzzyzzyzx.blogspot.com/

    • Danielle June 8th, 2013 2:23 PM

      I try to start weeks in advance, and always end up doing the last minute anxiety attack anyway. :)

  • jessthetics June 7th, 2013 8:27 PM

    This article is the best! It’s definitely good to be bored sometimes, it can make you creative. I agree that there’s a good bored, where you feel motivated to do something different to what you are doing, and a bad bored, where you don’t want to do anything because everything is boring.

    Me and my boyfriend were actually talking about boredom for ages when he pointed out the irony of how interesting it is to talk about boredom.

    http://www.jessthetics.wordpress.com

  • whatnaomiloves June 7th, 2013 10:30 PM

    Wonderful, wonderful, WONDERFUl piece, Danielle.
    And I LOVE the video!

  • emilyowls June 7th, 2013 10:35 PM

    Let’s all remember what louis ck tells his daughter when she says she’s bored in that road trip episode of louie. yes. awesome.

  • Tara A. June 8th, 2013 3:55 AM

    This was a really awesome article that made me look at boredom in a whole new way. I never actually realised that it might be good to be bored.

    https://www.unlockingpandorasbox.blogspot.com

  • AidaA June 8th, 2013 6:00 AM

    Ahh i did the Harlem Renaissance for my A level coursework! I totally agree about the burning out thing. Definitely planning to take it easy for a couple of days this summer. Great article, enjoy your summer too!

    http;//sunshinesuperwoman.blogspot.co.uk

  • queenofnothing June 8th, 2013 7:26 AM

    Ooh, another article that perfectly responds to my current doubts… I’ve noticed recently, that I’m constantly bored with things I have to do due to my studies. I have no motivation to write my papers, even when the subject seemed interesting at the beginning. First thought was that I’m just lazy, but now I’m slowly starting to consider the fact that maybe I should change my way and move on… This is scary, but maybe it’s the best solution.

  • MeetJaclynTheDancingMachine June 8th, 2013 11:01 AM

    Definitely needed to hear this. I was talking to a friend about some of the books I read, feeling like I have to “trudge through” them in order to complete them. He replied, “Sounds like you’re reading the wrong books.”

    I spend so much time listening to other people’s recommendations/opinions that sometimes I stop to think if I even share the same ones… This is especially true of the media I consume.

    Hey, we don’t have to take brain candy so seriously! If you like it and nobody else does, that’s awesome! And you don’t have to like everything your friends like! Liberating.

  • periwinkle_dreams June 9th, 2013 1:14 AM

    Definitely. And I would say, in general: be present. We already all think enough about the past and the future. But it’s important to just stop and breathe sometimes, and think, “This is where I am”, and feel every minute of it. It’s no good spending a day doing nothing if the whole time you’re worrying about the essay that you’re not doing, and it’s no good wishing for days of nothingness while the busyness you’re in the midst of could’ve turned out to be really worthwhile. I’m in the middle of 8 weeks of crazy, and I’m trying to appreciate it instead of focusing on the negatives.

  • Joyce June 9th, 2013 8:18 PM

    I always say this to myself! NOTHING IS A GOOD THING. While my friends look forward to going back to their homes and going out with their friends, I just look forward to days when I get to be alone in my room and just read a good book or draw. Maybe it’s just me being lazy but whatever, I love it!

  • wallflower152 June 10th, 2013 9:57 AM

    I used to get bored a long time ago. These days I have obligations so I only get five-ish hours of my own free time a day plus weekends so I feel bad when I just do nothing. Like another Rookie article talked about…there is just so much STUFF (books, movies, tv shows, music) to consume and so many places to explore and crafts to make, etc. These days I don’t think I would get bored even if I had a few months with no work or other obligations.

  • sarahmadeline June 10th, 2013 8:30 PM

    I’ve tried in vain to explain this all to my mother on numerous, and infinite, occasions.. I’d say: boredom is the same as “productive free time” and that’s good for you. She never bought it. But regardless, this post is a lovely comfort for me and my antisocial tendencies (aka laziness).

    I especially love the last bit about overstimulation. I hit a rocky low a few weeks ago where I literally found no interest in anything. I blamed it all on the overexposure I get to all these aspirational internet dreams, which left me a little empty when I faced reality. So I’ve vowed to end my obsessive affair with the world wide web and reduce it to merely flirtations. But it is not going too well.

    Whoops, sorry for writing a novel.

    http://www.cococarteblanche.wordpress.com

  • Demmy June 12th, 2013 12:36 PM

    Sometimes being bored is a good thing but then other times it can be quite disastrous. x

    demmydaily.blogspot.com