On a recent visit to a family member’s home, I couldn’t help notice they turned on the TV as soon as my kids walked through the door. “Would they like a children’s channel, or perhaps a music one?” they asked, madly pressing at the remote. “Or would they prefer to play some games on my phone?”
“Actually, I’d prefer it if you leave the TV off and keep all gadgets out of the room,” I said, settling the kids down on the middle of the floor as the adults sat down for dinner. “They’ll sort themselves out.”
For a moment there was bewilderment, followed by mild confusion (it’s the kind of house where the TV is ALWAYS on, no matter what’s going on). But as my kids began pulling out their pencils and notebooks, there was something else: a feeling like they were being studied as though they were some kind of science experiment.
“Are they always like this?” my aunt wanted to know, motioning at my girls happily drawing pictures and making up songs. “Yes,” I responded. “When you leave children to their own devices, they find a way to entertain themselves without any kind of involvement from the adults.” Honestly, you could hear a coin drop.
As adults, we appear to have a significant problem with boredom, increasingly finding ways to avoid even having a single moment alone with our thoughts. In fact, according to one study published in the journal Science, researchers discovered two-thirds of men and a quarter of women would much rather self-administer electric shocks than sit alone with their thoughts for 15 minutes, and of course, with smart phones glued to our hands 24/7, we have found ways to stay permanently stimulated. No electric shocks necessary.
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But here’s the kicker: we also know experiencing boredom is important for the human spirit – those periods of emptiness helping us to lead happier, more fulfilling lives. Research from Pennsylvania State University shows boredom helps stimulate creativity (author William Faulkner claimed to have written his bestselling classic As I Lay Dying over the course of six weeks between the hours of midnight and dawn while bored out of his mind working at a power plant, for example).
The fact is, when we give our minds time to wander and ponder, we are far more likely to come up with new ideas (whether they be bestsellers or not), and find creative solutions to problems we might be experiencing.
Research has also discovered experiencing periods of boredom boosts productivity and helps us set goals moving forward (if you give your brain time out, it can often give you the room you need to discover you may not be spending your time as well as you could be and rethinking new pathways on how to make your life a success).
Are you happy? What don’t you like about your life? What would make you happy and how can you accomplish that?
But above all, giving yourself time to be bored could be exactly what you need when it comes to really noticing the wonderful things around you. After all, how can you form new meaningful relationships with people, or appreciate views, experiences and daily interactions if you never look up from your phone?
And so, it is that I’m teaching my kids to not only accept boredom as a part of life, but to appreciate what it can do for them in the long-run. Sure, at the moment, it’s all about creating games out of salt and sugar packets at restaurants, making up song lyrics on long commutes and making collages out of buttons, but who knows?
Maybe the next generation’s As I Lay Dying is around the corner, and if not, at least they’ll never be afraid to be alone with their thoughts. In this day and age, when people no longer take the time to analyse their true feelings and what they contribute to the bigger picture, it counts for an awful lot.