Friday, March 1, 2024

The Benefits of Boredom: Why I’m Aiming To Be Bored This Summer (And Hopefully My Child Is Too!)

There’s so much pressure to do ‘all the things’ over summer, many of which are fun. But what if you let yourself be bored here and there, without running away from that feeling? We look at the benefits of boredom – both for adults, but also children.

When I have my mini-sabbaticals at my mum’s and step-father’s home in the middle of nowhere in Northland, I like to do very little. I read. I go for walks. I literally stop to smell the roses (my mum has a rose garden).

The only ‘productive’ thing I do is help prepare dinner and do the dishes. Someone once asked me if I get bored there. I replied ‘not often, and anyhow, I’m fine with being a little bored’.

Something else I do that may be considered boring is watching cricket on TV (which is off-brand for me because I’m so not sporty, but I watched cricket as a child, and now my son is super into playing and watching it).

I find it somehow soothing to sit on the couch on a summer’s day with the cricket on, paying attention at some times and daydreaming at other times. And it’s often in these arguably ‘bored’ moments that I actually have brainwaves.

The Upsides Of Boredom

In today’s busy world, perhaps we can find relief or even joy in being bored, because we dang well need downtime. Yet being bored has negative connotations. We’re conditioned to see it as something to avoid or to snap out of. There are many articles about how to conquer it, such as the Psychology Today article ‘Why We Get Bored and How to Overcome It’.

The article states that frequently being bored isn’t a good thing, and I agree. But, I wonder, what if boredom isn’t frequent but something that comes and goes, like a welcome guest who doesn’t overstay their welcome? What if you could you embrace or at least accept the feeling of being bored, allow your mind to wander, and see where it takes you?

In a Time article called ‘Being Bored Can Be Good for You – If You Do It Right’, Jamie Ducharme writes that studies show that “the benefits of boredom include creativity, problem-solving and better mental health”.

She interviews Sandi Mann, a U.K. psychology lecturer and the author of The Upside of Downtime: Why Boredom Is Good. “Mann says it’s important not to conflate boredom with relaxation. A purposefully tranquil activity, such as yoga or meditation, likely doesn’t meet the definition of trying and failing to find stimulation.

“To tap into true boredom, she suggests picking an activity that requires little or no concentration – like walking a familiar route, swimming laps or even just sitting with your eyes closed – and simply letting your mind wander, without music or stimulation to guide it.”

In a Guardian story, Elle Hunt mentions the work of psychologists James Danckert and John D Eastwood, the authors of Out of My Skull: The Psychology of Boredom. “Their research has revealed boredom to be widely misunderstood, perhaps even unfairly maligned,” Elle writes. “In fact, boredom can steer us towards realising our potential and living full, meaningful lives. They say it communicates an important message that – in trying to outrun it my entire life – I had been refusing to heed. What if I stopped and listened?”

How To Be Bored Well

In New York Times article ‘How to Be Bored, and What You Can Learn From It’, journalist Melinda Wenner Moyer writes: “I couldn’t help but wonder what role smartphones and social media play in boredom. Do I scroll through Instagram so much because I’m bored?”

Melinda interviews Dr Erin Westgate, a psychology professor who has closely studied boredom. Westgate says: “if you’re constantly soothing away those feelings of boredom with something like a phone, instead of engaging with them [those feelings], I think it’s taking away a really useful signal”. Rather than picking up your phone, perhaps consider: what might be more rewarding or relaxing?

Why Boredom Is Good (And Rare!) For Kids

As Melinda writes, “at least once every weekend, one of my kids – ages 8 and 11 – lumbers over to me and moans, “I’m boooooored. There’s nothing to do.” When I remind them of all the things they could try (read a book, make an art project, play the piano) they glare at me as if I’ve just asked them to do 150 burpees and then lope off again, shoulders slumped.”

When my nine-year-old says ‘I’m bored’, he’s usually angling for some TV, which we limit. Either way, I say ‘I’m your mum, not your entertainment’. In fact, I think it’s a good thing for him to be bored to an extent. Because it’s after he complains of boredom that he goes and does something imaginative like making up a game or doing some art.

Should it be up to parents to prevent our kids being bored? Or should we encourage our kids to get more comfortable with being bored for a bit then find something to do themselves? The New York Times story ‘Let Kids Get Bored. It’s Good For Them’ has the subtitle ‘A reminder to parents soldiering through the summer: Boredom has its virtues’.

However, it applies all year round. Journalist Catherine Pearson writes: “I’m hardly alone in feeling like it is my parental duty to stuff their days full of activities and learning opportunities.”

Catherine writes that psychology professor Dr Erin Westgate “believes that in moderate doses, boredom can offer a valuable learning opportunity, spurring creativity and problem solving and motivating children to seek out activities that feel meaningful to them. ‘Guarding kids from ever feeling bored is misguided in the same way that guarding kids from ever feeling sad, or ever feeling frustrated, or ever feeling angry is misguided,’ Dr Westgate said.”

So, maybe both kids and adults can get more comfortable with being bored: both for the downtime and to see where it might lead us.

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