How boredom helped me find purpose in my life
I'm bored, I wrote. Bored of the endless stretching of featureless time, bored from the loneliness and the lack of mental stimulation.
For a year, I had floundered in the sluggish dragging of time, working as a waitress to make ends meet, freelance writing (averagely) on the side, broke and desperately lonely, unsure of how to ignite the inspiration to create a less boring life.
Boredom can be a precursor to positive change and creativity if we use the time for contemplation, daydreaming and even inspiration
In that expanse of space – space I hadn't experienced since before school, university and boyfriends had occupied my time – I wrote. I'd only ever composed essays or written for work with the affected tone of someone who lacked confidence; it was never creative, never liberated from fear of the reader. And it was never enjoyable.
Now, I wrote just for me. I let my inner world tumble onto paper. I wrote badly and yet it didn't matter because for the first time I understood the feeling of freedom that can come from creating and I got to know myself, my own voice.
When I look back on that time, with all its listlessness and inertia, I realise it was a gift that eventually delivered a drive to improve, re-engage with life, and do whatever I needed to escape the ennui. I enrolled in a master's degree, bought a bike, decided to stop allowing my fears to define me, said "yes" more often and felt life's wheels gain traction and start to accelerate.
The positive possibilities of boredom have researchers excited, spawning an array of "boring" books and even conferences. We have become accustomed to the over-scheduled, over-stimulated life, and while prolonged boredom, to the point where it becomes a default state, can be detrimental to our mental health, a little of it isn't bad.
"It gives us that opportunity to reflect on where we are and what we're doing and gives rise to creative thought – or at least a re-evaluation of where we're going with our lives," explains Tristan Berrell, a psychology researcher at Swinburne University of Technology who specialises in boredom.
The indistinct quality of boredom, which affects us all, is a unique emotional state, with positive and negative attributes. In this purgatory, we can come to define ourselves. Boredom can be a precursor to positive change and creativity if we use the time for contemplation, daydreaming and even inspiration. This means thinking about what we want to do more of, reflecting on what's important to us, and redefining what success means in our own eyes.
"There are people who've achieved much more by putting themselves in a very bland room," Berrell says. "It comes back to how they get themselves out of that boredom. If boredom is used effectively, we can get some real benefits out of it."
A sense of meaning, or lack thereof, is perhaps what underlies boredom. "There's a sense that boredom is an existential crisis in some ways – a question of 'What is the meaning of my life, what is the purpose?' " Berrell says. "It's that trigger for us to say, 'Something isn't right.' Perhaps we haven't defined what our purpose and our meaning is. Boredom can give us that impetus to look into that."
After completing my master's degree, I landed my dream journalism job. I entered sporting challenges, found a mentor, learnt to meditate and fell in love with the father of my child. Life has become anything but boring.
Still, I have not forgotten that time and its lessons. Now I try to create moments of space for emptiness and idle exploration, because a little boredom and blank space is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it might just be the making of us.
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