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The Benefits of Boredom

Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

Ask someone how they’re doing, and the most likely response you’ll receive is, “I’m busy.” Leading a hectic life has become a status symbol. Perhaps because of that, the two most dreaded words in the English language are now, “I’m bored.” We spend our lives running so hard because we’re scared of being bored.

But is boredom really so bad? After all, without boredom would Benjamin Franklin have decided to fly his kite to test electricity? Would Thomas Edison have thought up the lightbulb, the phonograph, the motion picture machine? When we’re bored, we’re alone with our thoughts, and thus we tend to—gasp!—think!

I remember reading a study a while back that found that people burned more calories sitting on a couch for an hour staring at a blank TV screen than they did sitting on that same couch staring at a TV program. Sitting with nothing to do makes our brains active, and we start to actually imagine.

Imagination, I think, is impossible without boredom. It’s boredom that pushes people to start thinking: what else could I do? And that’s when we get the greatest ideas! Children build forts or explore the outdoors. Adults write stories or think of new business opportunities or fix something.

Boredom can be a huge benefit in childhood, for it nudges kids to actually play with their pesky younger siblings, instead of spending all day sitting by themselves updating their Facebook status. Boredom makes kids read books. Boredom makes children explore more of the world and figure out what interests them. It was boredom that made people turn to crafts—crafts that may have taken hours or days to complete, but delivered such a sense of satisfaction afterwards, a sense that one cannot get from advancing to the next level on Call of Duty or Halo.

Parents in the past embraced boredom. If kids were bored, we told them to clean their rooms, play a game, go outside, or read a book. We turned the problem back on the kids: if you’re bored, find a solution! Today, we accept responsibility for our kids being bored and think it’s our job to fix and ensure our children are entertained. And all too often our quick fix has to do with food. We stick something in their mouths to stop the whining so we can get back to our own busy lives. We’ve forgotten how to see boredom as a positive thing: this will help my child use his or her imagination, get active, or try a new hobby.

I learned to knit as a teenager because I had nothing to do on Sunday afternoons, and the television schedule was dominated by bad movies that were already decades old. Twenty-five years later knitting is still my favourite hobby, and I have ten of the cutest little baby sweaters nestled away in a box, all ready should anyone have a baby shower. I find knitting tremendously relaxing, and it’s such a source of creative expression and joy in my life. Would I have first picked up those needles, though, if video games and Facebook were in existence then to dispel my boredom?

Boredom forces us to enlarge our world. It forces us to play with a sibling, call a friend, or write a letter. It makes us take up hobbies, learn a new skill, make home improvements, clean something, organize something, or make the world a better place.

Why deprive our children of such a great gift? Next time they say they’re bored, celebrate! Don’t try to fix the problem—and especially don’t stick something in their mouths. Instead, reply, “That’s wonderful! Now let’s see what you come up with to do.” And you just may find they live much bigger lives because of it.

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At 10:36 AM , Anonymous Kathryn Lang said…

I agree with you 100% - just not so sure my kids always would :D

We live in the woods, on a creek, on 40 acres. I am still shocked when my BOYS come in and tell me there is nothing to do.

So I gave them some suggestions. They are now working on digging a tunnel. I am not sure WHERE the tunnel will go, but I figure if they want to dig a big hole then who am I to complain ;). (I confess I did try to encourage them to dig a hole instead in a place where we could put a pool, but I guess that will be for another day)


At 11:12 AM , Blogger Mary R. said…

You are so, so, so right! With all our running around and busyness, there is no space for creativity, for dreaming.

Also, today, we associate busyness with importance. When we brag,"I'm busy," what we are really saying (and what we are hoping that everybody notices we are hinting at) is, "I'm important."

Not busy means not important. How sad.


At 3:08 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

I agree completely. I actually wrote a blog on how people wear their Busyness Badge. It is truly a badge of honor for some, a status symbol.
But I had never thought of boredom like this, and I think it's great. Very encouraging. Thanks. :)



At 11:30 PM , Blogger Poetic1too said…

I found you on Twitter. I am a Stay at Home mom too. Looking forward to following your blog.



At 11:22 AM , Anonymous Amy said…

Wonderful post! Having small children in these times is sooooo different than when I was a child. We are on the brink of turning off cable and only watching movies for family movie night. Then there's the internet and computer games. Oh gosh! It's insane!

I found your blog a couple of weeks ago and am loving it!


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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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