This is my column this week in the New Zealand Herald, which is published in the digital edition every Thursday…
Boredom is the bane of many a parent. And as we once again stare down the barrel of the long summer school holidays, the prospect of bored children will likely be on parents’ minds.
But is boredom a good thing? Should we not only tolerate it but maybe even encourage it?
I’ve always been intrigued by boredom. In a world surrounded by wonder, and so many things one could do, how and why does boredom happen? What does it even mean to be bored?
Hard to describe, but we all know the feeling: Listless, devoid of ideas, as if there is nothing to do, or nothing we want to do, boredom can be hard to shake off once it arrives. However, from the space that boredom thrives, also comes creativity.
In fact, many people now believe that boredom is actually vital for creativity to flourish. Many studies have looked into the growing effects of screens: first TV, and now smartphones and tablets. One of the things that stands out is the impact on creativity – early studies showed children raised in TV-free homes were more creative.
More recent research has demonstrated that literally anything you do that doesn’t involve a screen is better for your mood than using a device.
Yet we rush so quickly to entertain our children, out of convenience – handing them a phone or a tablet when we need them settled when out, or out of necessity – enrolling them in action packed school holiday programmes because both parents need to return to work before the school holidays end.
Either way, we increasingly squeeze the opportunities for boredom – unstructured time – out of our children’s lives.
But perhaps it’s because as adults we also tend to increasingly avoid the prospect of boredom – largely via that little bundle of technology in your pocket.
When was the last time you felt bored? The last time you stood in a queue, or at a bus stop, and didn’t get your phone out after just a few moments of waiting?
Has boredom become a lost art?
As regular readers of this column will know, I am a big fan of mindfulness. Even though it is fashionable, it is undoubtedly a very effective approach to anxiety and stress, and more generally helpful to ameliorate the impact of modern living.
But I also wonder if mindfulness is so popular because it’s a way of packaging up and marketing “not doing” in the guise of doing something:
“What are you doing?”
Perhaps rather than meditating, we should recover the lost art of allowing ourselves to do nothing; to ignore that impulse to pull out our phone as soon as we find ourselves at a loose end. To simply sit, be with ourselves and reflect.
And if that seems terrifying, ask yourself why? When did you become such bad company for yourself?
So take some time this Christmas holidays to have a break from the screens in your life.
Let your children run out of things to do.
Let yourself have a boring holiday. You might even enjoy it.
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