Bored & Brilliant

As a child, it seemed to me that life at home was one big bore. I was convinced that all the fun and excitement were happening elsewhere, so my parents had to put up with me constantly whining, “I’m boooored!”. Of course, they did their best to keep me entertained, but the things I was really attracted to were forbidden because I was “a child”. Even the promise of interesting and engaging activities was too often lost in the overwhelming tide of humdrum routines. And so, I filled my head with imaginary travel to exotic places, adventures like ‘saving the world’ and meeting fascinating new friends. I promised myself I would leave home as soon as I became an adult, because adults can choose what they do, and I was certain I would never again be bored.

And I’m happy to report that it worked! Since leaving home, I have never complained of being bored. But there’s another side to this and it’s sometimes called the ‘busy fool’ syndrome – filling your time with activities just to fend off boredom, which can also result in occupying yourself to such an extent that nothing new can penetrate your consciousness. I sometimes catch myself doing this and I know it’s time to stop and reflect on what my busyness is accomplishing. Childhood boredom led me to fantasise, to dream and imagine – all of which are forms of creativity. So, when I slip into autopilot, engaging in repetitive, mindless tasks, I tell myself to just stop and savour boredom for a while. Who knows what the imagination can conjure when we allow it some space and time to be creative Instead of continuing to plough on without thinking? Doing nothing for a while might just be the start of doing something new.  

Of course, my childhood was in the pre-computer age: today’s children have access to an endless stream of constantly changing entertainment on-screen at the touch of a button, thereby banishing boredom. Does this bottomless source of distraction leave them with no incentive to think for themselves? Perhaps I’m just that disapproving ‘old’ person, incapable of seeing otherwise – time will tell – but one thing I do know for sure is there is a rise in anxiety in young people due to addiction to social media. The need to be engaged constantly online leaves little time for anything that might otherwise nourish the mind. And all too often, this goes hand-in-hand with the habitual consumption of processed fast foods, which fills the body without nourishing it. In both cases, addictive ingredients are deliberately built in.

I know this is a worst-case scenario, but it makes the point that, by doing something that doesn’t take up our full attention – folding laundry, weeding, going for a run or walk – we gain time and space to explore our minds (and exercise our bodies!). It is well known that many of the best writers are constitutional walkers. Anne Enright (Booker Prize winner) wrote “boredom is a productive state, so long as you don’t let it go sour on you”, by which she meant be careful not to have too much boredom as this has been shown to factor in addition i.e., to food, fags, booze or drugs and can be a precursor for depression. Nevertheless, by being bored we have a chance to think, explore ideas and shape our lives – not just let them happen to us.

Let’s all be bored (sometimes but not always) and be brilliant.