The Idle Mind is the Daydream’s Playground: Inspired by Bertrand Russel’s Essay “In Praise of Idleness” and Manoush Zomorodi’s Book Bored and Brilliant

Watercolor, ink and India ink on paper

Day 289 and Manoush Zomorodi

In his essay In Praise of Idleness, philosopher Bertrand Russell writes of the necessary role idleness plays in expansion. And I couldn’t agree more because, from experience, there is nothing more stimulating to my imagination than a blank wall and time to contemplate what may be lurking just beneath the surface. 

Russell muses upon an ideal society in which people are able to make a living that will support just that–living–while making time for exploration, 

“In a world where no one is compelled to work more than four hours a day, every person possessed of scientific curiosity will be able to indulge it, every painter will be able to paint without starving, however excellent his pictures may be.” 

In current culture, time spent in quiet idleness seems nearly impossible to achieve. Life seems to seek validation through busyness, we whisper to ourselves, “I am busy, therefore I am”. Technology tantalizes us with the companionship of constant stimulation, we are reminded that there is always something do to, someone to see, a post to like. 

Somehow, spaces of idleness inspired and motivated my childhood and teenage years. In the long and quiet moments of the afternoon creative potentials began to form. My parents hoped that my sister and I could understand the liberation creativity could bring us.

Looking back, I cannot express the gratitude I have for my parents supporting our “boredness”. If one of us remarked on being bored, they would smile and exclaim that being bored was good, a time to use our imaginations. And so, if I grew restless, I would pick up a challenging book and when I craved thrills, I began to make art. Soon, I found that my daydreams urged me to absorb and create, nearly every moment of every day. 

Yet as I’ve grown, the paradox of constant busyness and self worth creeps in, and I find it increasingly harder to make the time to be still, to let my mind creatively wonder. But right when I grew worried the days of daydreaming and idleness were rooted in my past, author and journalist extraordinaire Manoush Zomorodi’s book Bored and Brilliant came into my life. While listening to a podcast Zomorodi used to host, Note to Self, I heard about Bored and Brilliant, I got excited and that prompted my family to buy the book.

Zomorodi adds challenges throughout Bored and Brilliant that prompts you to observe and explore your digital usage and habits, with the hopes of learning to carve out a little more time to be bored. When I discovered these challenges and all the neuroscience and psychology Zomorodi researched and provided between the pages, I got nerdy excited—a notch above typical “this is cool” excitement, it’s sort of a “the world just might be good after all” kind of excitement. 

Zomorodi writes of psychologist Dr. Sandi Mann’s research into the world of boredom,

“People who are bored think more creatively than those who aren’t. 
But what exactly happens when you get bored that ignites your imagination? “When we’re bored we’re searching for something to stimulate us that we can’t find in our immediate surroundings,” Mann explained. “So we might try to find that stimulation by our minds wandering and going off someplace in our heads. That is what can stimulate creativity, because once you start daydreaming and allow your mind to wander, you start thinking beyond the conscious and into the subconscious. This process allows different connections to take place. It’s really awesome.” Totally awesome.
Boredom is the gateway to mind-wandering, which helps our brains create those new connections that we can solve anything from planning dinner to a breakthrough in combating global warming.” 

Begin with small steps, begin with minutes—maybe hours—spent away from technology, begin with moments, then minutes spent in nourishing idleness. Next time a daydream comes your way, next time you have a sudden and wild urge to stare out the window at nothing in particular, even if it’s just for a moment, listen and follow where your thoughts lead you.