As a student here at UCSB, life is tough. Sometimes we fall off our bikes; maybe we lose our favorite headphones. Maybe we get sad because we don’t have any friends, or it’s raining, or we’re pissed because that last grade wasn’t nearly high enough — we deserved better! On the other hand, sometimes life is good. We get good grades, go surfing, walk on the beach and enjoy the beautiful weather, laughing and playing with our roommates and neighbors.
But I’m not here to talk about those states of being. I’m here to talk about one that is only mentioned when we’re at our wits’ end and think, There is nothing left in this life for me. Everything that is good is gone, and anything worth a damn isn’t appealing. This is getting deep, Kevin, you think. Is it depression? Are we suicidal? What is this madness? I’ll fill you in: We’re talking about boredom.
You’re oh-so-familiar with the state, as you sit on the couch, staring at the ceiling. Or you’re walking around aimlessly, going from desk to kitchen to couch, from computer to fridge to TV. There’s nothing on, there’s nothing to eat! Facebook has suddenly become uninteresting; you stop caring about who’s tweeting what. Okay, I get it. You’re bored. Unfortunately, that’s the first sign that you’re doing something wrong.
At one point or another, we’ve all contemplated our place and purpose in the universe, and whether you’ve decided it’s your mission from God to spread the holy word of the church of Kopimism (it’s real, look it up) or your life is meaningless and futile and we are all but dust in the passing winds of time, the real answer is the same. You are a Homo sapien (Latin for “wise man,” though I think we were giving ourselves a little charity with that). You originated in Africa, and branched off from the rest of the higher apes sometime around 200,000 years ago.
Living in those times was a little rougher. Your life expectancy was around 25 years, you had to worry about you or your family being eaten, and you essentially lived your life hiding and hunting, gathering and protecting. The point I’m making is that boredom is a recent development. For almost the entirety of human evolution, natural selection molded us into the beautiful and self-proclaimed “wise” men and women facing those challenges. However, it’s only over the past one or two thousand years that we’ve had the benefit of being able to be bored. And this boredom, especially in modern America and other First World countries, has become an epidemic.
We as a society have become brilliant and efficient at living. It’s now possible to live with absolutely no effort at all. These days you can be poor and fat. That was never the case in the history of Homo sapiens. You can be poor, fat and have cable, Internet and a cell phone, and many, many humans do.
We all have a list, whether physical or mental, of things we are going to do someday. I want to write a novel; I want to learn to play the piano; I want to learn a second language. These are the books I want to read; these are the movies I want to see, you say. And although we find pleasure in creating these lists and adding to them, it’s quite the rarity that they get smaller. We have all these incredible things we want to do, and that we could do if only we had the time, as we say to ourselves. And then we do have the time … And we do nothing and call ourselves bored.
What to do? … What to do? … Reading this article is a good start, but here is another tip: look at your life and the things you do and put them into two categories: “Creating” and “Consuming.”
Creating can include any activity that knocks things off that list we talked about — even something spontaneous and unnecessary like buying a disposable camera, pretending to be a photographer and developing the film. Creating is making things, starting things, going places and seeing things. Creating is active; creating is doing.
Consuming, conversely, is passive; it’s lazy. Consuming is turning your brain off. It’s watching four seasons of Family Guy in bed on a Saturday. Consuming is usually the answer to our boredom.
Let me give you a number: 339,304. Now although we haven’t evolved to be able to grasp numbers that large, try to wrap your head around it. That’s the amount of hours of conscious life you, as an average 20-year-old, have left to live. That’s not very many. Every day it goes down by about 16, every month by 480, every year by 5,840. Those hours are counting down faster than you realize — this is already, what, week three of the quarter? Wait, wasn’t it just New Year’s? Right before then, Christmas? Didn’t this school year just start?
Here’s some advice. You want to be a happy person, correct? You’ve thought to yourself, Sure, there’s no reason I can’t be a student and enlightened, whatever the Buddha says. You want to find fulfillment in life; you want to find meaning through suffering. You’ve decided, yes? Well, it’s simple, really. Stop consuming and start doing, because as much as we’d like to think our clock runs slower than average, we won’t likely be able to do anything about our own mortality before our hours run out.