Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Boredom

I read somewhere once that the average American changes careers four times, the average American woman seven times. I'm assuming the higher number for women has to do with time off to have kids, although I haven't had any children and right now I'm contemplating career number four. I can only speak for myself and will say that the reason for the career changes is incredibly easy to pinpoint. I get bored. What's odd is that I've managed to make several careers out of doing things I love to do, things I willingly do in my spare time. Why then do I get bored once those activities become tied to my income?

Here's another way of looking at it. When I'm at home, I never get bored. I can amuse myself endlessly reading, writing, watching a movie, talking to the dog, whatever - a day goes by before I know it. Move my butt to an office, though, and the very same activities - surfing the web, or writing copy, or even making phone calls - become torture. I spent the last couple of months at my last corporate job staring at the wall most of the day, dreaming of quitting. And now I spend some time every day staring at the wall, dreaming of what I'll do with my life next.

Boredom is undoubtedly a large component of all lives, and one that gets little attention. No one wants to admit to getting or being bored; it feels like a failure of will, or of imagination. And it feels selfish, given the quality of contemporary lives and the variety of amusements available to us. Slaving 12 hours a day in a sweatshop wouldn't leave much leisure time for boredom, after all. In that sense boredom is a commodity available only to those who can afford it. I should be thankful that I have the luxury of my ennui.

Or is that not it at all? By that theory, a homesteader would have never been bored because of the continuous labor involved in building and keeping the home, and in growing and harvesting crops. The single mother who works three jobs in order to pay the bills would never be bored. The manual laborer would never be bored. Yet accounts of homesteading include discussions of the relentless loneliness and boredom associated with life lived in that kind of isolation. I have a diary kept by a Pennsylvania farm wife at the turn of the last century and reading it makes evident the fact that she was incredibly bored even though her days were filled with labor. Perhaps boredom is simply part of the human condition.

Perhaps the problem is that we are meant to live in packs, traveling together and subsisting communally. Once we decided to break off into smaller family units and stay in one place to raise crops it was all over for us. Maybe we're meant to be constantly on the move. Hunting and gathering doesn't make much sense these days, so I may as well just keep changing careers.


TW said...

This is exactly what I was thinking about a week or two ago; does the process of commercializing an activity we previously did for pleasure rob that activity of the joy it once gave us? There seems to be a psychological shift from recreation to routine that is soul-stifling. I suspect we simply need lots of variety, and that learning is in itself pleasurable. That obviously can't happen when our activities become mindless.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of boredom, I'm looking for your entry today (Wednesday)...where is it? Are you busy starting your new career? I look forward to reading your blog every morning.

tunsie said...

when you do something 4 the sake of doing it,u will become bored.but if u do something u love it is hard 2 fathom that u will ever become bored.you will not stare out the window and wait 4 the clock 2 let u out of jail[yes if you do what u don't like u r in jail].some people need more than 1 thing 2 keep them occupied.their head is empty.tunsie.tunsie,tunsie