A Case for Boredom

“I have learned that the capacity to endure boredom without looking for excitement is one of the foremost requirements to succeed in investing” said my broker friend Jigneshbhai as we sipped our coffee last weekend.

We were meeting after a long time and my broker friend was reading from a speech he had heard in a seminar a few weeks back. This speech was given by a well-known investor who had completed 50 years of successful investing.

Jigneshbhai continued reading from the speech, as we listened sipping our cup of coffee.

“Bertrand Russell wrote a book on this in which he said that the capacity to endure a more or less monotonous life is one which should be acquired in childhood. The question is what kind of monotony are you willing to endure?”

My broker friend Jigneshbhai was basking in those words and smiling as he read him.

Meanwhile Swami and I were looking at each other wondering whether we were about to be hit by a bout of the same boredom that our broker friend was talking about.

But my broker friend continued. He was carrying the book ‘Conquest of Happiness’ by Russell and was referring to the chapter ‘Boredom and Excitement’ that the speech was quoting from.

“Here it says ‘I do not mean that monotony has any merits of its own; I mean only that certain good things are not possible except where there is a certain degree of monotony’.”

Visibly impressed by what he read, Jigneshbhai was engrossed in the speech and the book it quoted from.

“And here it says ‘We are less bored than our ancestors were, but we are more afraid of boredom. We have come to know, or rather to believe, that boredom is not part of the natural lot of man, but can be avoided by a sufficiently vigorous pursuit of excitement. Boredom as a factor in human behavior has received, in my opinion, far less attention than it deserves.'”

My broker friend nodded in agreement and smiled with contentment like we do when we hear a beautiful song. He looked up and exclaimed, “How wonderful and how right, isn’t it?”

But when he turned to Swami and I, he could only see blank faces that seemed to be slowly approaching boredom.

Obviously with no ability to tolerate such boredom and not the one to stay silent, Swami spoke up rather curtly specially given my broker friend’s excitement (about boredom!).

“But what’s boredom got to do with investing? Investing is about making money and that should be exciting!” he proclaimed dispelling all of my broker friend’s notions.

The last couple of years had been good for Swami, so I could make out that he was in quite a good mood.

On hearing Swami, my broker friend did not quite know how to react. He was all into passionately explaining what he was reading, and Swami had more or less poured cold water over it. It did seem like it was not the right time to preach boredom to an excited investor like Swami. Nevertheless, my broker friend tried.

“Well, I think it has a lot to do with it” Jigneshbhai tried to explain. “If you can’t endure boredom, you will end up getting distracted and taking some action.”

Swami intercepted him again. “That’s the idea I thought. The markets are open every day, and there is so much money to be made in the action. I have seen that in the last few months. So where is the space for boredom?”

Jigneshbhai wanted to remind Swami of the long period of boredom before the last few months, but refrained from doing so. One hears what one wants to hear, he reckoned.

“Well, so be it. There is a time for boredom and that is what you must prepare for. As that time will eventually come” proclaimed Jigneshbhai, almost giving up on convincing Swami.

This kind of talk got Swami a bit irritated. He looked at me and said “See your broker friend is always the show spoiler. He is talking of boredom when there is excitement in the air.”

Jigneshbhai watched and listened silently as Swami was complaining to me.

Just then, the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow dropped by and sat near our table. He was listening to our conversation on boredom and excitement with attention.

He spoke rarely but this time he did.

“Perhaps some element of boredom is a necessary ingredient in life and in investing. A wish to escape from boredom is natural, but the ability to endure it is vital. Because most of the time in your investing lifetime, there is nothing to do and the best thing to do is also nothing. And if you can’t endure that boredom, you won’t be able to do what you should most of the time, which is nothing.”

And while Swami and I were trying to absorb what he had said, Jigneshbhai smiled.

As we were leaving after finishing our coffee, the wealthy man in the sprawling bungalow looked at my broker friend and with a rare twinkle in his eye said, “There is definitely a case for enduring boredom for success in investing.”

2 Responses to A Case for Boredom

  1. Anonymous says:

    interesting read, Ranjit. please keep it up.

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