A few months ago, I wrote a post about being tired of hearing people complain about boredom. Despite having every kind of entertainment available, boredom seems to be an epidemic. My post offered suggestions for things to do instead of complaining about being bored. But I think I need to add one more idea:
Live with it.
Being bored isn’t always a bad thing. (Whining about it is, however.) Our culture glorifies busyness to the point that being bored is something to be avoided at all costs. It’s shameful or seen as a sign of laziness. Cell phones have made it worse. Now you can carry a thousand entertainments right in your pocket. You can carry your work with you at all times. There’s no excuse for being bored, so we feel like we must always be doing something, or at least look like we are.
Our brains are becoming addicted to this constant stimulation. Sometimes I fear that humans are losing the ability to simply be. If it gets too quiet, watch people reach for their phones. And studies have shown that if people can’t get to their phones (because the researchers took them away), their anxiety level spikes until the phone is returned. This isn’t a healthy way to live. While “just being” isn’t productive, it’s healthy. Everyone needs to turn off for a while.
If a lack of mindless entertainment or a social media dopamine fix sends you into an anxiety spiral, you’ve got to ask yourself what’s wrong in that scenario.
All boredom really means is that, at this moment in time, you have nothing pressing to attend to. Maybe you’re waiting for something or someone. Maybe you’ve done your work for the day and you don’t have to start another project. You have a choice: Find a way to alleviate the boredom if you really want something to do, or just cool out and embrace it.
I encourage you to choose the latter every now and then. Not every moment has to be filled with work, entertainments, or distractions. Learning (or relearning) how to sit quietly with nothing but your own thoughts for company is a valuable practice. It doesn’t have to slip over into formal meditation, either. The next time you’re waiting for an appointment or in line, leave the phone in the car. Watch the people go by. Think your thoughts. Deal with your internal dialogue. Enjoy just being in that moment and see what happens.
I’ll tell you what happens to me…
My creativity spikes. I get ideas when I let my mind roam freely. Connections between things suddenly appear and I get those famous, “Aha!” moments. Story ideas pop out of nowhere. (If I’m going phone-free for the day, I make sure to carry a piece of paper and pen to capture these moments because I won’t remember them later.)
I’m also entertained. People watching is a lost art, but it’s fun. Just sit in the doctor’s office and watch what people do. Maybe someone is haranguing the receptionist, or having a really juicy cell phone conversation at full volume that you get the pleasure of overhearing. There may be a guy typing furiously on a laptop, leading you to make up a story in your head about what he’s typing. Environments filled with people are often far more interesting than any zoo.
I also feel better when I embrace boredom. Yes, it feels good to do anything other than think about troubling things, but sometimes you’ve just got to do it. As my best friend used to say, “You’ve got to deal with your shit.” Otherwise, your emotions and thoughts get all scrambled and blocked and tend to come out at inopportune times. Think the troubling things, deal with them, and put them behind you.
Of course, being bored is also a chance to think about positive things, too. You can daydream about your perfect house, mate, or job. Go on a mental vacation to your favorite resort. Remember happy times. All of this is bound to make you happier than another game of Candy Crush or lol’ing at someone’s Facebook drama.
It sounds blasphemous in this day and age, but try reconnecting with your own brain. You’ll probably be amazed at what happens when you think and dream instead of bombarding yourself with yet more inane social media or cat videos.