For as long as I can remember, there’s been something bad about being bored. It started when I was a kid and I’d mention being bored to my dad, who would quickly assign me chores to help “solve that problem.” It continues now as a professional trying to make the most of each moment, given there is a never-ending list of items on my to-do list.
It’s deeply ingrained in our society that we should always be busy doing something. We should be working or off to an event or cooking something healthy or exercising or meditating or calling our family…
You get the idea.
As a parent, if your child isn’t in a plethora of activities, they might be missing out. As a teenager, if your weekend isn’t full of plans, you’re not popular. As a professional, if you finish work early and have a couple of hours to yourself, you’re a slacker. As an entrepreneur, you’re leaving money on the table.
Being busy has affected our sense of self-worth.
We’re constantly pushing ourselves to hit that next goal or that next target, personally or professionally. If we’re not doing something at all times that pushes us closer to achieving it, well, we’re failing.
Then COVID-19 came along and cleared our social calendars.
For many of us, the dreaded boredom set in. But I’d argue that boredom is in desperate need of a rebrand. It gives us the opportunity to hear our inner voice with no distractions. It’s essential to refuelling our emotional real estate and gives us the space to discover what exactly fills our cup. Being bored requires that we get present, get creative, and follow what feels good in the moment without a single goal or objective attached.
So, why are we all so damn scared of being bored?
It’s fair to say that boredom can be detrimental in excess. Several studies show that boredom can lead to destructive behaviours. But others, like psychologists Wijnand Van Tilburg and Eric Igou, believe that boredom can push “individuals to seek out opportunities to engage in meaning-providing activities.”
Which ironically would be the perfect antidote for those who are feeling Too Busy to Be Happy. Having time to just be gives each of us the opportunity to determine what it is that we need at that moment. Setting aside time for “boredom” or “to do nothing,” just means you’re allocating time with zero expectations. It does not mean you’re going to sit and stare at a wall. (I agree — that sounds awful.) That “nothing” always turns into something.
Feel like playing a game? Do it. Feel like exercising your creative muscles? Get crafting. Craving cupcakes? Bake some. These days, I often catch myself intently watching the birds stopping at the birdfeeder in my backyard and I’m shocked by how peaceful it is to “waste time” this way. And there’s part of the problem! Why do we refer to certain things as “wasting time”? If it’s refuelling you, it’s not a waste of time. What if we rebranded “wasting time” to “savouring time”? Would it feel different?
In order to feel at peace with the boredom, we need to reframe how we think about it. We need to learn to be busy being bored. Boredom is something to be thankful for, since we know that it can result in mindfulness and creativity if we choose to view it that way.
And I’m guessing my fellow parents would agree.
For those of us navigating parenting through these challenging times, once we can finally find some time to be bored, it’s going to be critical to teach ourselves (and our kids) to relish it. I notice many of us, myself included, are always looking to plan things for our kids to help “keep them entertained.”
Without saying it, we are scared they might be bored. But so what if they are? So what if they have to find a way to entertain themselves. What if having that time helps them identify what really interests them? What if they were just following their natural instincts instead of following our carefully procured gameplan for the day? Is that really such a bad thing?
If we didn’t have phones and tablets and toys, how would we pass the time? What would we feel called to do? When we could hear that inner voice, what would it say? Would we end up choosing things that refuel our emotional real estate?
Next time, I’m going to dive into the benefits of being bored. I hope you’ll come back.