Every human suffers from two painful maladies: boredom and loneliness.
I’m pretty sure these two have wreaked their havoc on every single generation before us. Boredom and loneliness are an inseparable part of the human experience … if you look back far enough, you’ll find a bored and lonely caveman scratching on the walls, and if you look forward far enough, you’ll find a bored and lonely cosmonaut drifting between the worlds.
Every generation develops tools to face boredom and loneliness. My father and his father fought them with alcohol and books. Our mothers fought them with duty and silence (and the television).
We, on the other hand, fight them with that eternal favorite: “going out with friends”. The objective is simple: gather a bunch of people you’re okay getting drunk around, but don’t know too well (otherwise, what would you talk about)? Ingest enough alcohol or drugs and surround yourself with enough noise and other bored, lonely people that your brain shuts down and forgets, for a while, that you’re supposed to be bored and lonely. It’s become a cultural institution. If you’re bored or lonely, you just aren’t getting out enough.
“Live life!” we say. “Stop working, stop creating, just let go!”
And the next day we return to our desks, open our laptops, and being checking our mail.
I understand where this comes from. In general, ours is a generation of workaholics. We no longer see the fruits of a developing world in the same way that our parents did. A degree is now no guarantee of anything. Killing yourself, either in your own business or in someone else’s, has not just become the fastest route to success – it’s become the only route. It makes sense to let go when you’re working from 9 to 9 around the clock and spending every waking hour checking your email – especially when everything around us sells us the glamour of the club and the noise and the opiate of alcohol.
Go, the world tells us. Be happy. You deserve it.
But why I rail against this, even as a partial subscriber to this trend, is because I believe that space of being bored and lonely is crucial. In many cases it teaches us, over time, to be more comfortable with who we are. In other cases – and this is the real value – boredom and loneliness spawn great works of creativity.
Some people create works that will last a lifetime in the ether. Novels. Art. Video. Others create businesses. And yet most of us, in the wholesale endorsement of this trend of going out and dissolving your brain, we turn away from this creationism; we become nothing but consumers, trading our chance to leave a mark on this earth for the chance to fling our hands to the sky in pursuit of that one hour of bliss. We pay for the priviledge of shutting down our minds so we can be dumb enough to be happy.
I wonder who has the better end here. Is it better to be unhappy, but to change the world? Or is it better to pass through the world unnoticed, save as a half-forgotten memory of one night, and to be happy?
Art never comes from happiness, said Chuck Pahlanuik.
Which begs the question: is happiness even the end goal, or is it to change the world? Is it not happiness to create, and if so, when did we forget that?