Throw away your earbuds, boredom is good

'Boredom has its benefits' illustration by Anthony Russo

Illustration by Anthony Russo / For The Times

Excerpt from this article:

Earbuds are like underwear: It’s safe to assume that almost everyone’s got a pair on them at all times… For 10 years, I rarely left the house without queuing up something to play. Then, one afternoon in October, I went for a run and forgot my headphones. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d exercised without a constant stream of stimulation, a cranium full of sound. Nevertheless I continued. After 15 minutes, I started paying more attention to the trail. My mind shifted to daydreams. Soon I was actually enjoying myself. What happened?

Boredom is understood as that frustrating experience of wanting but being unable to engage in satisfying activity. But it’s an extremely short-lived emotion, and perfect for airports, sidewalks, afternoons in the woods. Maybe two minutes pass before I’ve found something worthy of note. “Boredom becomes worse when a situation seems valueless,” wrote Peter Toohey in his book “Boredom: A Lively History.” In my experience, embracing boredom makes the world seem all the more appealing.

My wife and I used to live in New York City. When we finally left it felt like the day was suddenly an extra hour long. Quitting headphones is similar. I daydream more. I have more ideas — mostly dumb ideas, but the volume’s increased. I’ll be grocery shopping empty-headed, and suddenly I’ll figure out a way to resolve the day’s work frustrations.

Something I’ve figured out in my boredom: To be at all smart, I need time to be stupid. Silent time — marked by barking dogs and traffic screeches and the murmurings of neighbors watching old movies. Time that’s reserved to be listless and absent-minded not only reinvigorates my desire in being interested in things, it gives me the energy to be interesting, or at least try.