Lately, I’ve been bored. Not unhappy, not anguished. Just bored.
I’m especially bored by things that once produced franticness. Take the future, for example: After worrying about my summer plans since the first day of fall, those plans, or my lack thereof, have honestly become boring to me.
Maybe I’m tired. The past 19 years have been rife with worry: I sweated the big stuff, the small stuff, and all the stuff in between. So now the boredom is a relief. It is a pleasure to be bored. When things get to such a large, unsteady state, maybe the worry just implodes and you’re left with a sense of contented listlessness.
I have a friend (let’s call her Lorelei) who’s spending the year in China. Amid the chaos of her life—making plans for the future from thousands of miles away from home, negotiating her relationship with one adorable Jewish British architect—she’s bored, too.
“As with most things in my life recently, I feel as though this whole thing has gotten to such a heightened state of excitement/uncertainty/!!!/??? that it is honestly boring to me,” she wrote to me about the architect in an email. “After a long and relatively intense period of heightened romantic tension, it is honestly become boring to me.”
Lorelei continued with her musings.
“Is it okay that things that should be considered not-boring are honestly boring to us?” she asked. “Should we be not-bored (i.e. excited) by them, or is boredom secretly a key to an enlightened life that does not feed on the excessive highs and lows of modern living?”
First I rejoiced. I had found a bored kindred spirit! Then I thought of Facebook. There is perhaps no better illustration of the excessive highs and lows of modern living than the creature that is Facebook.
For the first 17 years of my life, I had no Facebook account. While my friends signed up in eighth grade, I held out until twelfth. It seemed hopelessly self-centered: Me? I deserve an entire “wall” (is that still what it’s called?) dedicated to my own life? Who the hell even cared about what I was doing with my time? But underlying all my suspicion about broadcasting my boring life was the fear that my life was actually unexciting—that I would be exposed as someone who lived a small, quiet life, and also that my life was somehow not big enough.
For the two years that I had a Facebook page, my life ballooned to fill the space that Facebook made for it. My life became bigger, louder, more not-boring (i.e., exciting). My emotions were dictated by the excessive emotional highs and lows of getting “likes,” of inspiring “comments.” When someone else’s life seemed more exciting (i.e., not boring) than mine, I seethed with envy. When someone else’s life seemed more boring (i.e., unexciting), I felt slightly better about my own existence.
When I deactivated my Facebook account last June, my life shrunk like a grape that shrivels into a raisin. I didn’t think much about those who were not in my immediate vicinity. I didn’t really care whether there were people taking pictures. My life sans Facebook also became a lot quieter. Without the constant noise of others’ status updates and pictures, I saw what was in front of me. And sometimes that was a blank wall. Sometimes that was the page of a book. When nobody was looking at me, I still existed: This was reassuring, though not entirely unexpected.
But this isn’t an article about the dangers of social media. This is an article about enlightened boredom.
We’re trained, I think, to be boredom-averse. We seek experiences that carry us from emotional neutrality to soaring giddiness and crippling despair. We thrive at the fulcrum between elation and utter dejection. The modern world caters to this teetering: Anything from a test (A = elation, D = despair) to a new job (success = elation, no success = despair) can plunge us in a direction of emotional extremism. Facebook dramatizes these dramatic excesses; it raises the stakes on living. It makes existing—it makes identity—thrilling and desperate all at once.
Sometimes, life is honestly boring, and we’re thrilled by it anyway. This is how most of us react most of the time. And sometimes life is honestly thrilling, yet we’re bored by it. The latter is what Lorelei proposes as a possible way to resist feeding on the dramatic excesses of modern living. As Lorelei put it: “Our diets are set up the same way. Excesses of simple carbohydrates and sugar taste good and simultaneously create and satisfy craving, and then leave us living between the spikes and crashes of insulin and blood sugar, ending in heart disease.
“What SHOULD fuel our excitement?” she added. “Is the ideal state a constant, even, elevated level of awe, rising a little on the Sabbath, declining a little on Monday morning? Rising a little in the summer, declining in the winter?”
I think that’s exactly it. The ideal state might just be bored awe: appreciation for life with a side of ennui for its most self-aggrandizing elements. We don’t have to be bored by everything, but we should remember to rise steadily, and to let boredom kick in when things become so much that they are honestly boring.
Boredom is a relief, actually. There isn’t any pressure to have life move you or to have you move life when you’re committed to being honestly bored by things that are honestly not boring (political elections, horror movies, cute British architects). Boredom isn’t exactly apathy; it’s not that we don’t care about the cute architect, but we’re a bit bored by hir, too. To be bored by something that is not boring (i.e., exciting) is subversive. It’s a counter to the sharp twists of modern living; it files down the jagged cliffs of elation and despair.
So let’s get bored. All we have to lose is heart disease.
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.