On Boredom

[source; by the way, arson is not a recommended boredom buster]

When I was a kid, my mom had a rule during summer breaks: if we said we were bored we were given a chore. Her point was twofold; we had a room full of toys and friends down the street, and she quite simply didn't want to hear us whine. This meant that we had to be inventive. Blocks were turned into cities, our toys became merchandise in the store we set up, and scraps of old material became a new fashion line for our Barbies. Our boredom catalyzed our imaginations and motivated us to find new things to do with the old things we had.

Finding myself once again in a position where I have summer breaks, I think about this idea of boredom quite often. There are different types of boredom we experience. There's the "this meeting has been dragging on forever and I could care less about what he's talking about" boredom, as well as the "I have been scrubbing this grout for thirty minutes and it's still not white enough" drag. We also have the "I'm bored with my life" conundrum that comes as result of a stagnant career, relationship, or social life. And then the most common boredom that results from not having "anything to do" (the "do" being said at an octave higher). At the root of every single one of these problems is a lack of stimulation, a lack of fascination, a lack of energy. And this is why boredom can be good.

When you're bored you really have two choices: you can continue to be bored or you can do something about it. If you're content to linger in the abyss of boredom than I'm not really sure what to tell you- as my grandmother would say, "God helps those who help themselves." But for the rest of us who aren't willing to waste hours, days, weeks, or years under the pressure of lost time, boredom can be incredibly motivating. Boredom forces you to take action, whether if it's as simple as ordering a new book to read or braving Linkedin for a new job opportunity. The desire to escape boredom churns the creative juices and forces the brain to consider other options. Boredom makes a person think outside the box- this is why it's good.

But who really is bored in the era of smart phones, tablets, a million television channels, and social media? Or do these options make us more bored? As a society are we harder to stimulate because we're used to such a high level of excitement and sensory bombardment? The short answer: I don't know. I'm inclined to say that for some people the abundance of options in this world keeps them perfectly occupied, while some people want more. Some people get burnt out on watching YouTube and refreshing their Twitter feed. Those are the people that become the innovators and creators, I suppose. Bottom line- in moderation technology is a great way to enjoy yourself and sometimes even challenge your brain (like when you watching a TED Talk... not The Bachelor), but I think it shouldn't be a crutch. Sometimes you need to let boredom happen so that you can consider doing things you may not necessarily be used to doing (find a new guy to date! go to a museum! try a new recipe!). 

It bothers me that so many kids aren't experiencing boredom the way we did when we were younger (cue return to "when I was a kid" speech). Kids need to spend days at home without preplanned activities so that they're forced to use their imagination and invent new games and projects. They need to experience what it feels like to lay on their beds during the summer heat staring at the ceiling racking their brains for things to do. That's when they'll have the best daydreams and create the best stories. Boredom is not only a right of passage, but the way in which it's handled says so much about a kid (or any person, for that matter).

Personally, I don't experience boredom often, since I'm so proactive about combating it. During the school year the only time it pops up is during meetings or after I've graded thirty or forty papers on the same subject. I just don't have time! During the summer I welcome it. For me boredom means I have free time, which is then filled with friends, outings to random places I generally don't have time to visit, books, and working out. Some of the best, most fun things in my life are the product of boredom- this blog, the Coursera classes I've dabbled in, yoga after I tired of running, attending readings and museums in LA, and developing better friendships. It's about how we use our time. 

Embrace boredom. It can be a really great thing.


  1. Love this. Have you read "You're bored? That's so awesome" by Mike Sowden? It's a kick-ass article.
    It's funny but there's definitely a difference between me and my siblings in terms of boredom. I'm very good at occupying myself without electronic things and they (only 4 and 8 years younger than me) struggle a lot.
    The Boy and I have decided we will not buy a TV, ever. We do just fine without one already.
    As for internet... that's a beast I must learn to tame (again).

  2. I think the issue with technology-induced boredom is that the it is being used in a passive way. Refreshing your Facebook feed, browsing instagram, scrolling down twitter, clicking on video after video on youtube. Of course, those are great opportunities for creativity (Creating a video, photo editing, crafting the perfect tweet, etc.), but it's too easy to just click here click there and use zero brain cells. I guess it's up to parents and teachers (always the teachers!) to push our kiddos to do more, create more, get off their butts more. I like your mom's method!

    I think a little boredom is okay. After a long day at work, sometimes all I can manage is reading the blogs I like, reading my book, and crashing. But if that's all I did all the time, my brain would be mush.

  3. BORED was a dirty, dirty word in my house while I was growing up. My mom did the same, if she heard of saying we were bored we were rewarded with a chore. I must have learned something from her because if I hear my kids say it I respond with ONLY BORING PEOPLE ARE BORED! ;)