Being Bored

I read a great article this morning by Heidi Grant Halvorson titled How Happiness Changes with Age. She succinctly states that it’s okay to be boring. From her perspective, this realization isn’t for the young at heart; it’s for those of us who have experienced youth and are now ready to try something else, something that brings about “peace and relaxation” rather than “giddy excitement”.

She writes about a recent set of studies wherein

…psychologists Cassie Mogliner, Sepandar Kamvar, and Jennifer Aaker looked for evidence of how our sense of happiness changes with age by analyzing twelve million personal blogs… Older bloggers were more inclined to describe happy experiences as moments of feeling peaceful, relaxed, calm, or relieved – the way you feel when you are getting along with your spouse, staying healthy, and able to make your mortgage payments. This kind of happiness is less about what lies ahead, and more about being content in your current circumstances.

I get contentment, but I don’t think being content is being boring. Maybe her argument is based on the perspective of our younger selves, the “previous me” that was more ambitious, always thinking and acting on what is possible in the future rather than what is currently happening.

I get the part about slowing down. One of my defined ethics is the “moral of slow,” to do everything a bit slower for the sake of paying closer attention to what is happening. But that doesn’t imply boredom. In fact, that slower pace helps dissipate any sense of boredom, because the slower self is hopefully a more aware self—aware of the stimulus that is within arm’s reach.

Occasionally, I’ll ask my students if writing is boring, and they will give me an honest response—“yes”. It’s an opportunity to talk about why it is boring: how they don’t believe they have an audience, how writing is formulaic, how they have nothing interesting to say—many of the messages they learned in secondary schooling. To get their attention, I tell them that I haven’t been bored for 26 years (because that’s how long I’ve been married, and my wife is very engaging).

Engagement: it’s not about having amazing stimulation. It’s not about the smart phone and its continual push of customized data, the multimedia madness, the ongoing digital stream. Engagement is about point of view, perspective. I like to think that I can be just as engaged (if not more so) watching the bird feeder outside the living room window as I can when I’m on Facebook. But it takes a disciplined perspective, a point of view that embraces the waiting for another bird to land on the feeder to eat.

Is the waiting part of watching a bird feeder boring? Not if you understand the nature of watching birds. My cats love watching the birds feeding outside the living room window. They are the ones that taught me how to do it.

I think Halvorson’s article has more to do with happiness than boredom. How you reach a time in your life where your sense of what makes you happy is what you once thought would bore you to tears. Expectations change, aspirations change, the willingness to enjoy what is right in front of you changes. A change for the good. I cannot imagine what my life would be like if I was still trying to aspire the way I tried in my twenties and thirties. That would not only be unsustainable, it would be miserable.

I tried finding a picture on my computer that symbolizes “boredom”, but out of the thousands of photos to choose from, I couldn’t find one. Maybe that’s because we don’t tend to take pictures of people being bored. But really, I think it’s because there’s not much boredom going on around me. My cats aren’t bored; they may look bored as they sleep through the afternoon—but I don’t believe its boredom. It’s just catdome. Which is why the closest photo I could find that symbolizes boredom is a photo of Lilian, my cat.

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