I’ve heard people say that boredom is good for us, and that we need more of it in our lives.
They rightly observe how addicted we are to our smartphones, and how rarely we allow ourselves to feel bored without reaching for instant relief. The problem, they suggest, is in our burning desire to relieve boredom.
But I can’t get myself to see our hatred of dullness as a problem. To me, the desire to be interested in something is a sign of health—a sign that the spark of life still exists inside us.
In my eyes, the problem is trying to satisfy ourselves only with mental junk food and shallow alternatives to the real thing. Instead of running away from our restless feelings and toward people, projects, or adventures, we’re settling for cheap hits of dopamine that pacify our minds instead of truly engaging them.
The Indirect Pursuit of Happiness
I believe that more people should strive to live an interesting life.
I don’t, however, believe that leading an interesting life is the highest human value. And I don’t think it’s a helpful goal for everyone. It will certainly need to be constrained by other values such as love and responsibility.
But, the fact is, even the noblest human is going to be self-interested in some ways. It’s not a flaw in our design, but part of it. That aspect of our nature needs somewhere to aim too. In the United States, we mostly aim at being happy. But at the margin, I argue that we should direct more of that energy toward leading an interesting life.
Happiness is a great byproduct, but a direct pursuit can get you off track as it tends to be too self-centered. To be happy, you need to want other things even more—things outside yourself. And if you do it right, this newfound happiness can have a positive impact on your health.
To Be Interesting, Be Interested
The way to start cultivating an interesting life is to be interested. Being interested and being interesting are two sides of the same coin.
If you are someone who reads great literature or travels broadly on a modest budget or takes risks in the pursuit of some great cause, you become a vivid, living example to those around you of what life can be.
Being interested in those things makes you an interesting person to others. Because you are interesting, and not boring, they will give your life a second look, and in doing so, see the world in a new way. You are helping to expand the horizon of possibilities they might consider in their own lives.
The Moral Weight of Curiosity
In my eyes, boredom isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a moral concern. When my young children complain about being bored, they never also, in that moment, express gratitude. Boredom and gratitude are like oil and vinegar.
But gratitude is possibly the most underrated value. As a Christian, I think it our duty to be grateful for the life we’ve been given. But even for the secular person, gratitude is the surest path to a contented and happy life. Boredom undermines all of this.
For these reasons, I think leading an interesting life should be given a higher status. By cultivating curiosity about the world around you, and then doing things that are interesting and risky, I think you are providing a compelling path beyond the smartphone to defeat boredom. Not only will this benefit your own life, but you will also become a great example to your family, friends, and others of a mature way to attack this common enemy.
Practical Ways to Be Interested
To end on a practical note, I’ll share a short list of ways I am pursuing a more interesting life. There’s so much more I’d like to say, and will someday, but for now, this will give you a taste of what’s possible.
Have lots of conversations with a variety of people.
Say yes to new experiences. Vivid, real-world experiences lead to great memories and increased appreciation.
Travel as often as possible. Even within the United States, there are so many subcultures to explore and understand. But international travel is my favorite. England, Ireland, and Greece top my list.
Listen to a wide variety of music. I like to listen to different genres and try to appreciate why others enjoy them.
Create or build something. There’s nothing interesting about being a passive consumer. Interesting people build things such as blogs, companies, nonprofits, families, institutions, and more.
Read about a diverse range of topics. Don’t be pigeon-holed into a certain type of reader. Add an element of serendipity to the books that end up on your nightstand.
Take risks. The fastest way to be interesting, and interested, is to put real skin in the game.
Write in public. Writing forces you to have ideas and try to be interesting. It’s also a multiplier of opportunities.
Increase your ambitions. In the past year, I’ve realized how complacent our culture has become. To push against this, I’m personally setting bigger goals and doing hard things.
Think independently. My favorite conversation partners are those whose opinions on a given topic I can’t easily guess.
If you’re interested in these ideas, you might also check out Tyler Cowen’s blog at MarginalRevolution.com. His writings on being interesting and living a less complacent life have been an inspiration.