“I’m bored,” a child whines. Oh, no! Quick, pull out the paints or Playdough—heaven forbid the child actually sits with nothing to do.
In our entertainment-obsessed society, we almost panic at the thought of having nothing to do, at being bored. The world seems to want to fill every spare moment with productivity or fun.
But is boredom such a bad thing? Could boredom actually be…good?
This article in the Boston Globe about boredom explored the strength—even the joy—of boredom.
It quoted a professor of psychology and women’s studies at the College of Staten Island:
“Our society is perpetually anxious, and a way to alleviate the anxiety is to delve into something that’s very within our control, pleasurable, and fun…It feels like it has all the makings of addiction.”
I value creativity, so this quote stood out to me:
As Ralley studied boredom, it came to make a kind of sense: If people are slogging away at an activity with little reward, they get annoyed and find themselves feeling bored. If something more engaging comes along, they move on. If nothing does, they may be motivated enough to think of something new themselves. The most creative people, he said, are known to have the greatest toleration for long periods of uncertainty and boredom.
And this, too:
To be bored is to stop reacting to the external world, and to explore the internal one. It is in these times of reflection that people often discover something new, whether it is an epiphany about a relationship or a new theory about the way the universe works. Granted, many people emerge from boredom feeling that they have accomplished nothing. But is accomplishment really the point of life? There is a strong argument that boredom — so often parodied as a glassy-eyed drooling state of nothingness—is an essential human emotion that underlies art, literature, philosophy, science, and even love.
My friend S. and I have talked about the fact that our kids’ generation doesn’t seem to allow much time to just sit and think. They don’t have time to create. To solve problems. To wonder about the deeper issues of life.
That’s because they’re occupied with nonstop activities:
They’re online, on the phone, text messaging, watching movies, watching TV, playing games. I remember long car rides when I would just stare out the window and think. When today’s kids are on long car trips, they’re often playing handheld games or watching DVDs.
When is today’s generation of kids able to sort through the deeper questions of life, to develop a personal philosophy? Both S. and I grew up in settings that allowed for many hours of “down time” and alone time when we could think, uninterrupted, for hours. We’re not necessarily intellectual or philosophical giants, but we can sit down and talk about more than “Dancing with the Stars.” What will happen to our kids if they don’t get some of that “down” time—that “bored” time—to think?
“When we’re writing deeply, writing thoughtfully, we are often trying to communicate with ourselves and trying to communicate what ultimately can’t be communicated—the greatest mysteries of the world: what is truth; what is beauty; what is being?” said Eric G. Wilson, an English professor at Wake Forest University and author of the new book, Against Happiness.
To write like that, one must think about it. Ponder it in the quieter moments of a day.
When and where are those moments?
Toward the end of the article:
Paradoxically, as cures for boredom have proliferated, people do not seem to feel less bored; they simply flee it with more energy, flitting from one activity to the next. Ralley has noticed a kind of placid look among his students over the past few years, a “laptop culture” that he finds perplexing. They have more channels to be social; there are always things to do. And yet people seem oddly numb. They are not quite bored, but not really interested either.
That means steeping in uninterrupted boredom may be the first step toward feeling connected. It “may take a little bit of tolerance of an initial feeling of boredom, to discover a comfort level with not being linked in and engaged and stimulated every second,” said Jerome C. Wakefield, a professor of social work at New York University and co-author of “The Loss of Sadness.”
“There’s a level of knowing yourself, of coming back to baseline, and knowing who you truly are.”
Today’s Writer’s Almanac quoted Flannery O’Connor. Her words reminded me of this article, of being bored, of thinking and creating:
“The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.”
Boredom isn’t always disengagement, nor is it always unproductive—sometimes boredom leads to a new thought, an epiphany; a creative idea that requires our full attention.
Sometimes staring leads to story.
Next time your child looks up with a pitiful look and sighs, “I’m bored,” just smile.
“Good,” you can say. “We need more boredom in this world.”
And then just wait. Don’t fill the time.
See what happens.
Is every hour rush hour at your house?
Explore the jarring effects of our overcommitted culture and find refreshing alternatives for a more meaningful family and spiritual life.
Find a pace that frees your family to flourish.
“Not So Fast is a gift to every reader who takes the time to slow down and breathe in its pages.”
—Lee Strobel, best-selling author of The Case for Christ
Karen @ Surviving Motherhood says
Hmmmm, do you suppose a person who is comfortable with being bored will be better able to simply sit in God’s presence and just BE???
Seems to me that ability would be a HUGE blessing of boredom.
I remember growing up and saying “I am bored” to my mother on several different occasions. She always answered back, “Boredom is a state of mind.” There is a lot of wisdom in that little statement.
I think it is important to raise our kids in such a way that boredom is not even really a part of their vocabulary. We can teach them to enjoy quiet time, we can teach them how to ponder, we can teach them how to love reading, drawing, etc. and we can teach them to use their imagination and how to explore all the amazing things around them.
When I used to teach it would frustrate me to no end that my students expected to be “entertained.” That is exactly what I don’t want to be teaching my kids.
Ann @ Holy Experience says
Ann, your posts are so thoughtful. I sat here tonight, read, and you ministered. You’ve offered food for thought on several fronts…
Now to go google a book title mentioned in your post ~warm smile~.
Keep writing it.
I love the post on boredom. I had a teacher when I was a kid whose motto was “Only boring people get bored.” A little harsh maybe, but the point remains that the seeming nothingness of boredom is full of potential– for reflection, insight, creativity.
Oh, man. When my kids tell me they’re bored I say DO YOU REALIZE WHAT A BLESSING THAT IS? The fact that they are among the priviledged few in the world who are not scraping an existence from the dirt 24/7 is a point I am never slow to point out to them.
I’m just that much fun.
My mom always used the “only boring people get bored” line on us too. Always worked.
Llama Momma says
Great thoughts, here. I’m also a believer in boredom!!
Jennifer (Et Tu?) says
I could not agree more. Thanks for the link and for your insightful comments. I was an only child and we moved around a lot, so I spent a lot of time “bored” (though I didn’t think of it that way)…and yet it is through that that I developed my love of creativity, reading and writing.
I just linked to this from my links blog. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!
I thought I was the only one to tell my kids that it’s good to be bored, that it gives them a chance to be creative and find things to do! I must admit that I sometimes gave them extra boring chores (like cleaning the piano keys) so that they would think twice before saying that they didn’t have anything to do…
This is my first visit to your blog – I really like it! I was just thinking about this idea of boredom lately as I’ve engaged in a discipline of 31 days of nothing (i.e. no spending on things outside of basic necessities). It’s amazing how much more time I have, and how I’ve learned to be more content at home. But I do wrestle with the “I’m bored” challenge myself. We have so many different ways to keep us engaged or entertained these days, that to just sit and not do that much feels extremely uncomfortable (if not sinful – how often do we feel that if we aren’t doing something, we’re disappointing God?) But in those uncomfortable silences there lie infinite possibilities to engage in what is truly real and meaningful. . . to listen to the thoughts that have been troubling us, to pay attention to the direction of the Spirit, to notice the “small things” of this world that often get lost in the bustle.
Jake Carr says
I knew a guy once who was going to write an entire book on how boredom changed the course of history. Think of how many great things in history happened because someone was bored. Charles Darwin was bored of medical school, so he boarded the HMS Beagle. Wars, inventions etc. The list is astounding!