Boredom is a part of life, you might say. You can’t have fun all the time. Sometimes things are slow and there’s nothing you can do about it. Being bored is an unfortunate but inevitable reality.
Except that isn’t exactly true. Boredom left unchecked often means we’re just not trying hard enough. In fact, I’d argue that boredom is not only good, it’s necessary.
Boredom Is Important
Being bored is etched into our DNA. If I could recall every time I proclaimed “I’m bored” for no one in particular to hear when I was a teenager, I’d have a really excellent memory. I’d also probably be thinking about hundreds, even thousands of moments in my life. Monotony, ennui, apathetic lethargy—these things cause angst when we’re young, but they can also create a sense of purpose. They can spark creative drive. If you’re bored and you don’t have an easy or obvious way out of it, you're forced to do something about it. You come up with your own solutions. This is part of how kids explore and learn.
I’m not a doctor. I don’t play one on TV. Hell, I generally fear even talking to doctors in the first place. But I’m pretty sure boredom is a key contributor to childhood development (in addition to taking Flintstones vitamins and eating asparagus and wondering why one's crotch feels tingly all of a sudden). It's a positive thing that forces us to start thinking outside whatever box is in front of us and become solution-minded.
Boredom Is An Opportunity
While I generally embrace the upsides of new technology, one thing I do wonder about “kids today” (besides their inability to get the hell off my lawn) is whether they’re missing out on great opportunities to be bored. Why come up with creative solutions when you can whip out a phone, open an app, launch various surly avian cartoon characters at a few crude architectural structures and feel a vaguely unsatisfying sense of accomplishment about the minutes you’ve just burned? I certainly had some similar distractions in my childhood, but they weren't always so easily and instantly accessible.
But now I'm supposedly an adult, and with adulthood comes such timeless rites-of-passage as standing in line at the DMV and cursing at the Prius driver in front of me who holds equally-minimal power over the traffic jam we’re both stuck in. Boredom happens in life and there’s nothing I can do about it!
Only there is something I can do about it. Boredom is all in your mind. It’s just an opportunity to come up with something new, to improvise and create things on the spot. You won’t always have a lot of resources at your disposal, but that just means you have to try a little harder. And trying harder means not taking the path of least resistance to whatever the inviting, blue glow of your phone or TV can provide.
Some People Get Bored, Other People Have Fun
It can be a fun challenge to come up with boredom-killing ideas for various situations. I'll give you a few examples I've used recently. None of these are groundbreaking, but that's not the point; they made dull moments a little less so.
- Read every license plate as if it were a vanity plate. I saw one that said “8EAK500," and I imagined it was an avid bird-watcher who wanted to commemorate his or her 500th species spotted.
- Try to call out lies in every advertisement you see. This is not only entertaining, it’s incredibly easy, as advertisements are pretty much 99% bullshit anyway.
- Come up with the porn versions of movie titles. I came up with a bunch that I really don't feel comfortable listing here, although I was quite fond of "Inside Out Then Back Inside Again."
- Play the autocorrect game, where you text someone the most filthy phrases you can think of, but you let your phone autocorrect whatever it wants right before you press send. The other person either gets the most inappropriate text of all time or the most nonsensical. Either way, you both win. (Note: eventually your phone starts realizing you’re a horrible person and stops correcting anything at all.)
That last one is an example of using your phone creatively rather than as the passive solution by flipping through blog posts about who’s recently gotten nose jobs in Hollywood (everyone) or who has a reasonable and worthwhile political statement to make (no one). That’s not making us less bored, it’s distracting us from the fact that we’re still bored. Avoidance never solves the underlying problem.
Be Your Own Distraction
Of course, I use my phone for that kind of thing sometimes, and that’s fine. But the idea here is to do the passive things a little bit less and come up with new solutions a little bit more. Be your own distraction. Next time you're bored, don’t think of it as an oppressive thing, think of it as an opportunity. Use whatever means you have handy to actively kill the boredom instead of passively killing time until something more exciting falls into your lap. We spend way too much time waiting for things to happen when we have so many chances to make them happen ourselves.
So go ahead, see how many people you can catch picking their noses in their cars when you’re driving. Use your phone to write a chapter of a book about murderous unicorns while you’re standing in line (rather than searching for cat GIFs). Say “Hi" to everyone passing by while you’re waiting for a friend to show up and see how many folks say “Hi" back. Start a brand new hobby when you’re sitting at home with nothing to do. Mix and match these things to make your day more creative and entertaining. Do something to take control of your own boredom rather than letting it take control of you.
Boredom exists to force us to figure out ways to not be bored. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m bored with writing this post. Time to go make up something new!