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Tuesday, March 11, 2008 

Amusement is overrated

A while back I was arguing with a friend about boredom; I said it could be quite enjoyable, and he said it couldn't be (the problem may indeed be definitional: think about the difference between pain defined as "something unpleasent," in which case the masochist may not experience pain, versus pain defined in terms of certain nerve sensations or even defined by what most people would consider painful; I am speaking of boredom in the latter sense, he may have meant in the former). This is what I was talking about:

We are most human when we feel dull. Lolling around in a state of restlessness is one of life's greatest luxuries -- one not available to creatures that spend all their time pursuing mere survival. To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom -- so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness -- is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.

"If you think of boredom as the prelude to creativity, and loneliness as the prelude to engagement of the imagination, then they are good things," said Dr. Edward Hallowell, a Sudbury psychiatrist and author of the book "CrazyBusy." "They are doorways to something better, as opposed to something to be abhorred and eradicated immediately."


(I happen to be listening to the song "Get Lonely," by the Mountain Goats, and while it's really about the phantom-limb pain of losing a loved one (one way or another), it strikes me that it's also kind of about this kind of thing)

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Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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