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.



7 thoughts on “Our Yawning Need for Boredom

  1. I adore being alone and haven’t really been bored in a very long time. Recently however I felt the beginning tickle of boredom creeping into my life and so I ditched Facebook.
    Guess what? More reading and writing. More creativity. Could just be my addictive personality but regardless, for me, the correlation is very real. I NEED a minimum amount of “down-time”, time for the pool of the mind to still itself, in order for the water to flow in any meaningful way.

    A weekend with nothing planned? Luxury!

    Cheers to you!


    1. We think alike, J.A.! I ditched Facebook, too, but that was after only a few months. Truth be told, I joined it to increase readership of my book because someone said I must. So I did. But it didn’t garner a single sale, far as I can tell. Plus I wasn’t very good at it. Back to reading and writing (when I’m not teaching, I mean). Thanks for checking in!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah, yes. The old “Social Media Is Needed for Modern Business” Flim-Flam. Same reason I joined, though my biz was the Food Biz. I was on for a couple of years but now the restaurant is closed and I feel absolutely no need to be that “connected.”
        “Connected to what?” I ask. Bunch of madness as far as I can tell. My mental health is much better without it.


  2. atenni

    Ken, you’re putting a lot more work into this blog than Facebook would require of you. Thank you for pointing out that poets are weird. I own that. Alarie


    1. True, but this I enjoy, as it is often reflection on poetry and it often generates ideas as I write. Facebook, to me, wasn’t “writing” so much as “posting.” Plus I’m not big on uploading pictures of me, myself, and I.

      Weird? Did I say poets are weird? OK. Weird is good, if it walks to the beat of a different drummer.


      1. atenni

        You didn’t say weird EXACTLY. You could be doing the same poetry work on a Facebook poet’s page without engaging in idle chit chat and without any fee. I bought your book because of social media of the Goodreads kind.


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s