So says Arthur Schopenhauer. And on any subject touching on the great problem of existence, I trust the man.
The great philosopher (don’t stop reading! – one of his greatenesses is that he wrote in a conversational, unpretentious style), jotted down his thoughts on boredom nearly 200 years ago, and they are as spot-on and pointed now as they were then.
So let’s get into the nitty gritty – the italicized parentheticals below are my own goose bump reactions to Arthur’s observations.
“Vague longing and boredom are close akin.” (of course they are: you want something more out of life, you wonder “is that all there is?” yet you can’t pinpoint a sure fire solution: a promotion at work? A hot new girlfriend or boyfriend? A compliment from someone you esteem? A house with more closet space? Those are all fine, but as soon as you attain them, you’re bored again. How much joy can you really suck out of a nicer bathroom? I worked as an architect, and I saw many bored housewives tear out perfectly good kitchens and bathrooms just to kill time.
You want something more, something bigger – there is a gnawing in you – and you flit from one distraction to the next, trying to figure out what it is).
“Since pain and boredom are the two chief enemies of human happiness, nature has provided our personality with a protection against both. We can ward off pain, which is more often of the mind than of the body” (I’ve seen it in my son Gabriel. He can take a gory scrape to the knee without flinching, yet if someone teases him for the brand of bicycle he rides, tears will flow), ”by cheerfulness” (absolutely: when my business partner ended up with a leg full of rods and pins after a serious motorcycle accident, we visited him in the hospital, and we was perfectly giddy with the Gameboy and porno mags we brought him…I know – mags – this was years ago).
“We can ward off boredom by intelligence” (not sure about this one – depends on your definition of “intelligence” – I think Schopenhauer means people who, say, naturally read calculus textbooks for fun – my roommate in college did exactly that, and when he grew tired of figuring out the rate of change over time, he made pointillist drawings of rock stars. Otherwise, I think that intelligence can exacerbate boredom. It keeps you from being content doing nothing).
“But neither of these is akin to the other; nay, in any high degree they are perhaps incompatible” (is Schopenhauer really saying that cheerfulness and intelligence don’t go together? Yes, he is, but again, I’m not sure. At least judging by the photos that have become iconic, Einstein seemed like a surprisingly light hearted guy…
…and then folks like Chris Farley, who seemed to exude an – admittedly, manic – cheerfulness, self destruct).
“And if, over and above freedom from pain, there is also an absence of boredom, the essential conditions of earthly happiness are attained” (yes! We all know how distracting something as simple as a toothache is. It colors your whole day. It’s all you notice. You live life behind a gray veil until you get to the dentist’s office)…
“…for all else is chimerical” (again, how much joy can you suck out of a granite countertop, fast car, or one night stand? Okay, a lot, maybe, but it will fade, and quickly).
“It follows from this that a man should never try to purchase pleasure at the cost of pain, or even at the risk of incurring it” (black tar heroin? Crank? Liquor? Sky diving? Corn dogs?).
“Take another example – a roomful of guests in full dress, being received with great ceremony” (well dressed hipsters at a red carpet industry party). ”You could almost believe that this is a noble and distinguished company; but, as a matter of fact, it is compulsion, pain and boredom who are the real guests” (do you really want to talk to people you don’t know? Suck up to them? Do you want to put on a smile for people who, the moment you are of no use to them, vanish?).
“For where many are invited, it is a rabble – even if they all wear stars. Really good society is everywhere of necessity very small” (I’m much better one-on-one than at a crowded party). “In brilliant festivals and noisy entertainments, there is always, at bottom, a sense of emptiness prevalent” (I can not count the number of animated, engaged conversations I’ve had at the bars, where both sides act completely absorbed in what the other is saying, yet when the slightest distraction occurs – a third person shows up, the pool table becomes free, one conversant needs to use the bathroom – that “connection” wilts faster than a hothouse flower in the Arctic).
“… to banish boredom, a man will have recourse to any means that may be handy – dissipation, society, extravagance, gaming, and drinking, and the like, which in turn bring mischief, ruin and misery in their train” (in addition to Schopenhauer’s list of general debauchery, party boys and girls, overspending, gambling, boozing, and their consequences, let’s add obsessing over pimples, excess masturbation, eating ice cream even after we can no longer taste it, egging cars, stealing packs of gum, and watching every slasher movie that comes out, no matter how bad – and this only covers about a month or two when I was fourteen.)
“The truth is, that our nature is essentially restless in its character: we very soon get tired of having nothing to do” (yup).