In Praise of Boredom

“When hit by boredom, go for it. Let yourself be crushed by it; submerge, hit bottom. In general, with things unpleasant, the rule is, the sooner you hit bottom, the faster you surface. […] The reason boredom deserves such scrutiny is that it represents pure, undiluted time in all its repetitive, redundant, monotonous splendor.”


After reading the poet Joseph Brodsky’s candid speech on coming to terms with boredom, I have a few thoughts on his ideas.

It’s a good 12-17 minute read, so if you can’t be bothered, here is a summary.

Summary of Joseph Brodsky’s ‘In Praise of Boredom’


Boredom is the language of Time

Brodsky describes the crippling boredom that everyone will experience at some point in their life, even if it seems far away at the moment. Boredom is a complex phenomenon because everyone experiences it in their own way.

He goes on to say that any attempt to ignore it and run away is futile, even though it might work for a while.

“Until the day, of course, when you wake up in your bedroom amid a new family and a different wallpaper, in a different state and climate, with a heap of bills from your travel agent and your shrink, yet with the same stale feeling toward the light of day pouring through your window.”

Instead of trying to distract yourself with novel experiences and new technologies and ruining yourself in the process, Brodsky suggests that you should embrace the boredom.

This mind-numbing boredom is the “language of Time”, reminding you that you are just a dot in this infinity, a speck of dust soon to be wiped off the table. Yet, just as you wipe it off the table, it whispers “Remember me.

This resonated with me, and Brodsky explained it best:

“one hears in this that if we learn about ourselves from time, perhaps time, in turn, may learn something from us. What would that be? That inferior in significance, we best it in sensitivity.”

Since we are so insignificant, we are more sensitive to all the things that happen in life – the good, the bad and the ugly. We can derive comfort from being insignificant: nothing we do will really matter, in the bigger-than-bigger picture.

Yet this should drive us to do what we want to do; since nothing we do will really matter, we should not value money or social status as much as we do right now. To laugh in the face of infinite Time, we should pursue what makes us feel passionate and excited.

Brodsky warns us that our lives will be remarkable yet wearisome, like “boarding […] a runaway train” that is ceaseless in its motion. You are never stuck, despite what you might feel, for where you are today will soon become the past.

“So take one last look at it, while it is still its normal size, while it is not yet a photograph.”

Brodsky’s Foresight


Productivity stems from boredom

Brodsky proposes some seemingly unintuitive advice for dealing with boredom, opposite to conventional wisdom.

However, I really think that Brodsky is onto something here – despite giving this speech in 1989, he has made some startlingly accurate predictions. The first observation he makes of the emerging technology is that they are used “to render you oblivious to the redundancy of time”. This is a very accurate description of our ‘Distraction Economy’.

Here, Derek from 2veritasium advocates a ‘low information diet’ – basically, to reclaim some of your time that you would spend absorbing useless information, and to allow yourself to be bored.

Indeed, it is this ‘distraction economy’ that Brodsky is describing when he says that this is “the function your purchasing power, toward whose increase you’ll walk out of this commencement ground through the click and whirr of some of those instruments tightly held by your parents and relatives.”

Brodsky goes on to predict a “world where recording and event dwarf the event itself” – heralding the approach of our use of social media as a distraction tool from the most important things.

He also predicts the rapid growth in the world’s population, bringing with it social and political problems: “by the year 2000 there is going to be such cultural and ethnic rearrangement as to challenge your notion of your own humanity.” This problem of identity is a central issue in today’s society, so much so that I’ve written a post on the power of labels.

Clearly, Brodsky has incredible foresight, and his advice is well worth listening to. I find that I agree with him – boredom is important in your life.

In fact, as counter-intuitive as it might sound, doing nothing is essential for a productive life, because you are taking your time to find something that you enjoy, and instead of being distracted you are able to focus all your energy on your projects that require it.

Boredom allows thoughts stuck in your subconscious to ‘bubble up’ and they will help you realise things about yourself and the world that you have never thought of before, so you become more efficient at what you do!

This is one of the reasons why parents should let their children be bored over the summer, according to this article by Quartz.

Dealing With Boredom


Embrace boredom. Let it make your passions all the more intense!

So boredom is something to be embraced, then analysed. Feeling a lack of motivation is a good indication that something is lacking in your life.

Inspiration usually dawns at a time when you are doing nothing in particular – that is why so many techniques to solve writer’s block include going outside, cycling around, taking a distraction-free walk, making a cup of tea, having a relaxing bath, witnessing life pass by, etc.

Being passionate stems from boredom. Nobody likes being bored, so finding something that you love to do is an effective way of getting rid of boredom. It’s a lot harder to be bored when you’re doing your passion!

Boredom helps motivate us to pursue a path that we are passionate about. It is important to feel the boredom, to let hidden thoughts and ideas through to the front of our minds.

Let the repetitiveness of life propel us to seek the extraordinary, to break the monotony that we experience from day to day. Let the impassiveness of Time rouse us to action and passion!

Do you understand the value of boredom? Do you let yourself get bored? Do you hate being bored? Let me know in the comments! Here is a great post by Zoe Does Life on what to do if you’re bored but don’t know how to get out of it.


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