Why We Secretly Love Distraction

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July 7, 2013 by Alex Johannigman

“I’d love to, but I’m just too busy.” It’s a common phrase heard by young adults, parents, teenagers, and just about everyone living in our culture today. And we seem to hear it more and more every day even though we have so many technologies today to save us so much time. We have washing machines to save us the hours it would take to scrub our clothes clean. We have cars to get us from place to place in a matter of minutes rather than hours. But despite all of this, families are eating dinner together less and less. We never seem to have free time to relax. It’s hard to imagine someone just sitting outside on their front porch in a rocking chair enjoying the weather (What a waste of time!). If we saw someone these days doing such a ridiculous thing, we’d probably ask them why they don’t have anything better to do. The thought of having “nothing to do” terrifies me, as well as most of the people I know around my age.

So why doesn’t anyone have any time anymore? I think the answer has less to do with how much we need to get done, and more to do with how much we desire to distract ourselves. If we constantly talk about how we wish we had more time for leisure, why is it that we keep ourselves so busy? It’s because we want to complexify our lives. We don’t have to, but we desperately want to. We want to be hurried and hassled and busy at all times.

On the brighter side, my distraction has taught me that Quay, Zin, and Taj are all real words

On the brighter side, my distraction has taught me that Quay, Zin, and Taj are all real words

I think this is part of what makes smartphones so popular, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m just as hooked as anyone else. We now always have a way to distract ourselves and keep our mind occupied reading or watching or playing something new.

Unconsciously, we want exactly what we like to complain about. For if we actually had the leisure we say we desire, we would look at ourselves and listen to our hearts and see the great big gaping hole in them and be terrified, because the hole that exists in our hearts is so big that nothing but God can fill it.

Blaise Pascal explains in one of his famous pensées that “If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it.”

No man or woman has a reason to divert him or herself from happiness. We would only ever want to divert ourselves from unhappiness. While these diversions can seem to make us happy (after all, most of the things I do to distract myself are aimed at making my life more enjoyable) experience tells us that they only make us busy, not actually happy. But it seems to beat the alternative of boredom, where we are forced to face our loneliness, inadequacy, dependence, helplessness, emptiness, and despair, right?

The one advantage that boredom brings us is this: it forces us to confront those things and makes us recognize that we have a need for something to cure those awful feelings. And this is part of the brilliance of things like the Catholic monastic tradition, praying in silent adoration, and meditating while praying the rosary. They force you to be alone with yourself. By allowing ourselves to become bored and to stop being busy at all times, we realize what our hearts truly desire more than distractions. It tells us that we have a need to be loved. We need someone to recognize our worth. We need someone to tell us it’s ok. We need someone to fill our empty hearts and remind us that we are precious.

We need love.

We need God.

We truly do need to start being bored more and busy less so we can recognize our own need for love and our own need for God. Otherwise we’ll only continue to cover up the longing in our hearts rather than working to actually satisfy it.

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