Fellow rebelutionary, Spunky Junior, shares the following quotation by G.K. Chesterton: “There are no boring subjects, only disinterested minds.”
Chesterton is right. When you think about it, there really aren’t any intrinsically boring topics. After all, some people really are interested in studying a dripping glob of congealed black tar for decades on end. In fact, someone won an Ig Nobel Prize for doing just that.
However, although there isn’t such a thing as a boring topic, there is such a thing as a bored person. Each of us experiences the feelings of boredom on a daily basis. Unfortunately, many of the things that seem boring (or disinteresting) are the very things that develop godly character and competence — things like school, reading our Bible, studying theology, or spending time with our family.
Here’s the question: What is boredom and how can we change our interests so that we enjoy doing hard things?
So what is boredom? Our father has always taught us that boredom is the mind’s equivalent to hunger. Just like hunger signals your body’s desire for food, so boredom signals your mind’s desire for mental stimulation. To put it simply, when you’re bored, your mind is hungry and it wants to eat.
When a person gets hungry enough, they’ll eat almost anything. It’s the same with boredom. If you get bored enough, you’ll start reading through the dictionary. I know, because I’ve done it before… And actually, I learned a lot of neat words.
So being bored, like being hungry, is not a bad thing. What is bad is when we satisfy that hunger with worthless clutter. Just like you can appease physical hunger by eating physical junk food, you can appease mental hunger by filling your mind with mental junk food. We eliminate the feelings of hunger, without delivering the nutrition our body needs. We eliminate our feelings of boredom, without allowing it to accomplish its intended purpose, which is to drive us to seek knowledge and gain character through study, contemplation, and hard work.
To make matters worse, we live in a world that seems intent on eliminating all feelings of boredom, without really feeding anyone’s mind. The Internet, 24-hour cable television, TiVo, cell phones, pagers, instant-messaging, text-messaging, email, and iPods, are just some of the ways our culture allows us to be constantly connected to, interacting with, and entertained by people and media.
It’s kind of like living in a world with big bowls of cheese puffs everywhere. Everyone is constantly munching. Hungry even a little bit? Pop a handful of cheese puffs! There’s always a bowl right next to you. In fact, you never even get hungry enough for a real meal, because you’re always eating cheese puffs.
We can laugh at how ridiculous that sounds. After all, our parents would never let us continually snack on cheese puffs, and we wouldn’t do it anyway. We know that ruining our appetite for what is substantial, healthy, and nutritious is foolish. And yet we are constantly ruining our mind’s appetite for what is substantial and intellectually nourishing, by filling it with mental junk food. One of the reasons we often procrastinate about important projects is because we never allow our brain to get hungry enough to enjoy tackling it. We just satisfy it with cheese puffs.
Our appetites are very much shaped by what we satisfy them with. If we always drink a Coke when we’re thirsty, what we will start longing for when we’re thirsty? Coke. If we always eat cheese puffs when we’re hungry, what we will start longing for when we’re hungry? Cheese puffs. In the same way, if we always surf the Internet when we’re bored, what will we start longing for when we’re bored? Surfing the Internet.
You see, we don’t get nourished, we just satisfy the feelings of boredom. But that just makes our minds more hungry, so we surf the internet a little bit longer next time (maybe a little bit deeper too). We’re constantly ruining our appetite for activities that grow godly character and competence, and then we wonder why they seem “boring” or “uninteresting” to us.
This is a call for action. It’s a crisis and an opportunity. A crisis, because we cannot afford to continue appeasing our mind with junk food. An opportunity, because by guarding what we feed our mind when we are bored, we can shape its appetite to long for what strengthens and nourishes it. The more we do that, the more we will enjoy completing our God-given responsibilities and the more great things we will accomplish.
So what do you use to appease your boredom? First, recognize it. Once you’ve done that, make a focused effort to stop using it to appease your boredom. Instead, try this: Let yourself be bored for a while, then tackle something hard. It could be finishing a project, reading a great book, organizing an activity with your siblings, or any number of things. Just make sure it’s not something that comes easy. Once you’ve done it, come back here and tell us about it.
Further Reading: “Do Hard Things” Doesn’t Mean You Can’t Have Fun