Happiness,  Self care,  Thinking

Is Boredom A Luxury You Can Afford?

There are lots of two-word combos that pack an almost disproportionate amount of power. As a lover of language, I am intrigued by a number of possibilities.

  • Think big.
  • Stand up.
  • Time flies.
  • Heart health.
  • Forever love.
  • Take action.
  • Make memories.
  • Think different.
  • See success.
  • Finally bedtime.

These are all good examples of strong two-word phrases yet not one can come close to packing as much power as this one. Ready?

“I’m bored.”

(Of course to get the full impact try hearing them pronounced like this:  ‘I’m bo-ooo-r-ud.’ It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents.)

It is a sound that is particularly chilling for parents. Click To Tweet

It may be unwise of me to raise questions about what it means to be bored: it’s not something I’ve often experienced. One of the reasons? I’m chronically curious. When I decided to revisit old blog posts about kids, parents and boredom, I tripped and fell into a rabbit hole. It’s name? “Reading about boredom.” And guess what? It was interesting. I wasn’t the least little bit bored.

To Study Boredom

Apparently the topic of boredom also appeals to social science researchers. As with many research topics, the initial struggle was with definitions. The articles I read described boredom as an emotional or psychological state that can arise when a person doesn’t have an especially engaging task or activity before them, is stuck in a “tedious time period,” or lacks interest in their surroundings.

I also learned the term “boredom proneness” and that there is a Boredom Proneness Scale. So, while many of us tend to minimize boredom as trivial, researchers have correlated it with depression and other significant life issues.

Additionally, researchers tell us there are three types of boredom:

  • circumstances are preventing us from doing something we want to do
  • we are obligated to do something we don’t want to do
  • there are factors that prevent us from being fully engaged in the task at hand

Ennui Among the Animals or Boredom at the Zoo

As I continued to think about the topic, I realized that animals get bored, too. Our dogs, ranging in age from a baby to a senior citizen, love to go to training. They love the five hour round trip. Nobody (except the human) gets to stay in for the entire class, but each dog gets enough mental stimulation to make for a very quiet, sleepy ride home.

Not to be outdone by engaged pet owners everywhere, the National Zoo now gives donors the opportunity to provide keepers with discretionary funds for added enrichment items ranging from food to toys and special scents for their charges.

I believe a high level of inborn curiosity vaccinated me against becoming boredom prone. To me, when that “meh” vibe starts to creep in, it’s a signal that my creativity needs slightly different time and space. It encourages me to check in with myself and my HALT: hungry, angry, lonely,tired.  It’s a nudge to try stuff.

Boredom is a nudge to try stuff. Click To Tweet

 

I guess that reaction is part of what makes me wonder why so many parents believe that boredom is bad for kids and  it’s their job to ‘fix’ it.  If  we respond like cruise ship activities directors on steroids what are we doing for the kids?  What do they take away from our behavior? What example are we setting?

Am I exaggerating? Just think about the number of times that, upon hearing this particular set of ‘magic words,’ you’ve seen parents leap into action. Like exhausted super heroes, they quickly shuffle through their repertoire of activities, snacks, electronic devices, and other entertainment to find the one special remedy that will most quickly put an end to the dreaded condition called boredom.

Unintended Messages

We all know that actions can undermine and contradict both words and good intentions. Attempts to alleviate another’s discomfort can be interpreted as thoughtful and kind and Boredom-Rescue behavior is no exception. All behavior can send powerful (and sometimes unintended) messages; intervening in our kids’ boredom could be interpreted as:

  • You deserve to be passively entertained
  • Your uncomfortable feelings are very important
  • Uncomfortable feelings should be avoided at all costs
  • Someone or something outside of you is responsible for fixing your feelings

And even if  those aren’t their take-away messages, how much thought have you given to what happens to your kids when you’re not around to entertain them? If we build our schedules and priorities around filling, enriching, and stimulating their every waking moment, how will the young ‘uns manage being in a group or in a classroom setting? Or alone?

Oddly enough, I started working on this post before Covid-19  hit our shores. As people gradually start to understand how such diseases spread, they are taking responsibility for their portion of herd immunity by self-quarantining. And, in the course of staying home, some of them are feeling bored. That might not be a bad thing.

Quiet Minds, Open Minds

I’m a huge fan of new ideas and experiences.  Novelty is great for brain health which, in turn, benefits us physically and emotionally. We live in an amazing time with no shortage of things to learn and do and think about and try.  And, given the opportunity, we will discover our passions and interests. Maybe there will be powerful new interests. But in the course of pursuing those opportunities, we will need to manage more than a few uncomfortable feelings along the way. So will our kids. But to seize those opportunities we will need to make sure our hearts and minds are quiet and open enough to recognize and seize those opportunities.

9 Comments

  • Lisa Hutchison

    I love this Andrea! I rarely find myself bored, like you, I turn to creativity. As a society, we have an instant gratification. If we feel bored, it is a disease to be cured of. Perhaps, it is an invitation to connect deeper within?

  • Heather Maria

    I never understood the word bored and I know it’s because I never was. Seeing the world, I understand why, most people have learned not to lived from their hearts. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I thoroughly enjoyed your post.

  • Barbara Parcells

    I have to giggle when I hear those two words because they remind me of my mother who did not tolerate them. I we said, “I’m bored,” she would come up with 5 different household chores we could do like wash floors and iron clothes. It was amazing how quickly that boredom passed! I’m still doing the same thing only now I actually do clean (I gave up ironing, though).

    • Andrea

      Ironing is a last resort around here. And, as I sit here reading your comment, I realize that I have absolutely no idea where I might find an iron.

  • Debra Oakland

    Wonderful post Andrea! When I would say I was bored my parents would tell me to find something to un-bore myself, such as…clean the horse stalls, collect chicken eggs, work in the garden, take a walk in nature, and on it went. As an adult I don’t find myself bored, and like you, I am curious. Curiosity breeds creativity. We are the one who must settle within ourselves that which delights our soul.

    • Andrea

      I don’t know about you, but with so many fascinations waiting for us, it’s often hard to choose just one or two at a time. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  • Debra Reble

    Thank you for your enlightening post Andrea. To me, I’m bored is a phrase that many people use to avoid or distract from feeling uncomfortable. It’s signals it’s time to dig deeper to what’s underneath the boredom and the “Why.” I’m using this time to be quiet and uncover what’s underneath that phrase “I’m bored.” Much love

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