The Importance of Wasting Time

Design by Alexa Druyanoff

Over the course of the last six months, I have spent countless hours churning butter. I have never been happier.

My motivation to start making butter was simple: it was a joke. A bit. On October 15, 2022, I went to Storm King, an outdoor museum in New York, with a few friends. One of my favorite exhibits was Maya Lin’s Wavefield, a four-acre installation that includes rows of hills carved to look like waves. My friends and I started running up and down the hills, sprinting and stumbling with youthful glee. Breathless, I explained to my friend that it reminded me of when I was a child, rolling a mason jar of cream down a hill over and over to make butter. I joked I’d never been happier than that day in kindergarten. I had no worries in the world—just admiration for the foliage as my legs ached from climbing the hill so many times.

As I reminisced, I joked that I should buy cream, put it in a mason jar, and roll it down the hallway of my apartment. My friends went along with the joke because they didn’t think I’d actually do it. I didn’t think I’d actually do it. 

The next day, I ordered two large mason jars for cream shaking, 40 small mason jars for packaging, and 54 labels printed with the flavors I had decided on: salted honey and garlic rosemary. I googled farms in Connecticut and emailed farmers asking if I would be able to buy heavy cream in bulk. Unfortunately, my lack of LLC status prevented me from qualifying for bulk delivery meant for businesses, and there were no farms that would deliver non-bulk orders to New Haven. Determined to only use fresh, unpasteurized cream, I decided my best option was to buy cream at a farm in my hometown in Massachusetts during Thanksgiving Break and bring it back to New Haven in a cooler on the Amtrak. 

When I arrived back at school with fifteen bottles of cream, I suddenly realized that my bit had become a serious undertaking. The first day I made butter, I spent seven hours rolling the jar of cream down the hallway, shaking the jar (for about 40 minutes per pint of cream), rinsing the buttermilk off, adding flakey salt and local honey, and packaging the butter with my custom-made labels. Beth’s Butter (@beths.butter on Instagram) was officially born.

After turning all the cream into butter, I had to figure out a method of distribution. I didn’t want it to be free because I wanted to feel like it was a business, but it didn’t feel right to charge my friends for a joke that had gotten out of hand. I ended up deciding to embrace the barter economy, instructing people to present me with bizarre offers in exchange for butter. I sold out in a few days and have continued to make new batches and come out with new flavors (whipped strawberry coming soon!) over the past few months. 

To be honest, I don’t like butter any more than the average person. When I ask myself why I have spent dozens, if not hundreds, of hours on this project, the answer has absolutely nothing to do with a deep love for butter churning. Spending my time doing something that I am not particularly passionate about and that does not help me achieve my goals in any way helps me find happiness—it allows me to internalize that I really can do whatever I want, no matter how random and pointless it might be. 

When I first came to Yale, I took the freshman seminar Education and the Life Worth Living, which made me  think about how I could live a happy and fulfilling life in college. I recognized that when I was in high school, I prioritized achieving academic goals over my own happiness, but I did not want to accept unhappiness in college. I set out to not just be content, but to achieve a level of happiness which I had never experienced before. 

As college students, our days are strictly scheduled. I find the idea that I must spend all my time wisely to be a very stressful prospect. When I am constantly working towards something, whether I am pursuing academic opportunities, chasing an extracurricular passion, or doing something else that is a “good use of my time,” I feel like a robot programmed according to a GCal algorithm. Walk into any coffee shop around campus and you’ll hear Yale students complaining about being controlled by their calendars. There’s a culture at Yale that pressures students to maximize their time, but there must be another way to actually be happy.

Psychologists offer simple answers for how to be happy during college: exercise, sleep for eight hours, make sure to have some leisure time, and don’t use your phone too much. However, sometimes these simple solutions aren’t realistic. I once overheard a girl say about the Good Life class, “I know I’m going to be happier if I don’t use my phone, but that’s not going to stop me from using it.” It’s true that it’s hard to only do things that are good for you, so I needed to look for an alternate, more realistic solution.

I realized I might be happier if I tried to do things just for fun instead of pursuing commitments that represented a grander passion. To break out of a pre-programmed GCal lifestyle, I started trying random hobbies, some which lasted and some which didn’t. I started making memes,  collaging, and window-shopping at random stores around New Haven. I wanted hobbies in their purest form, hobbies that made me smile even just a little, and that I could quit at any time without facing consequences. When I eventually started making Beth’s Butter, I was able to fully experience doing something just to make myself laugh a bit, and it was more fulfilling than I ever could have imagined.

If I view happiness as a goal to be achieved in the distant future, I forget that I can have a bit of casual fun each day which can add up to a happy life. I can spend my time doing something that does not fit societal standards of passion as a prerequisite to worthiness. So what if I’m not passionate about butter? Does that make it a poor use of my time? 

I’ve realized that it’s okay—more than okay—for my hobbies to be things I randomly enjoy rather than a passion I’ve nourished for years. Not everything is about gaining a deep sense of fulfillment. In high school, I chased long-term passions. I felt pressure to devote my time to things that “matter,” and did not have enough encouragement to try things just for fun. Looking back, if I had spent this time doing something random (like making butter), I think I would have been much happier. 

Beth’s Butter has taught me lessons I couldn’t have learned from any college class. It has taught me that finding a hobby can be an outlet to escape structure—suddenly, I am in another world where all that matters is foliage and tired arms shaking a jar for hours. I’ve found a hobby that I don’t love at all—so much so that it has become an inside joke with myself. It has taught me that if I’m stressed about my responsibilities, it’s okay to take some time, maybe even a lot of time, to do something that is pointless. Time can exist just for me.

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