It's OK to Be Bored
By kristin tennant
May 9, 2012
Can you remember the last time you were bored? And I don’t mean bored in a scanning-Instagram-while-waiting-for-a-friend sort of way, but truly bored—with nothing to do.
I was great at boredom as a kid. "I'm bored!" was probably the most common of the slightly whiny phrases my parents put up with. But now, that feeling I dreaded as a kid—of flat, empty, unchanging time creeping by like a stretch of Nebraska interstate—fascinates me. I know what it's like to pass time being lazy or frivolous, but I can't imagine what it would feel like now to be truly bored.
Time has been on my mind a lot lately. As a bill-by-the-hour freelancer, I can't help but see time as a commodity—something that’s saved, spent, invested and wasted. I even wrote a recent post for RELEVANT suggesting "better" ways to "waste time."
But lately, in the midst of all this time analysis, with the calendar pages flying away like a scene in an old movie, I’ve started to wonder: Are we thinking about time in the wrong way? Do Americans ignore one of the most important things we should be doing with our time: nothing?
A new framework for time
It isn’t easy to suddenly understand something abstract like time in a new way, so it requires a new framework. You have to start thinking of time not as currency, but rather as space. An open room or vista. A pause in the noise. A small stretch of empty moments not necessarily waiting to be filled. It's the sort of space that might even induce boredom, and maybe—just maybe—boredom isn’t so bad.
A recent article by Martin Lindstrom suggests boredom is a highly important aspect of life that’s becoming endangered—to the extent that we hardly know anymore what boredom actually is. Lindstrom says: "I know it sounds strange, but I welcome boredom. It forces me to ponder. But to make sure we’re on the same page, when I speak of boredom, I’m not referring to killing time on your smartphone, your iPad, or your laptop. I’m not even talking about paging through a book. I mean bored as in doing absolutely nothing."
Absolutely nothing at all.
Does the thought of that make you want to squirm, or sigh in contentment?
The risks of neglecting boredom
Doing nothing goes against our drive as individuals and the entire grain of our culture. Most of us may not even know how to leave room for nothing, let alone how to do nothing. Even the way we phrase it—"doing nothing"— suggests that nothingness is still an act, something we do (worthy of putting on our to-do lists).
And maybe it should be put on a to-do list, or scheduled in blocks of “nothing time” on the calendar. I'm honestly not sure how one gets really good at being bored, but I think we stand to lose a lot if we don’t figure it out.
We lose access to our best creativity and problem-solving skills. As the article by Lindstrom points out, "When we’re at our most bored we’re forced to push our creative boundaries, and unearth the root of whatever problem we're working on.” It seems possible that as we increase our emphasis on efficiency, we decrease innovation and the ultimate effectiveness of the outcome.
We also risk losing touch with ourselves. Without boredom, you lose the things that would make you, you—even if you had been born 100 years ago and didn’t have a smartphone for passing the time. Although the life you live is impacted greatly by where and when you live, the person you were created to be is not dependent on those factors. More space in your life can help you uncover and better understand who you are.
And finally, as Christians, filling all our minutes leaves less room for the Holy Spirit to work in our lives. Listening to God, following His detours, and being available to His people—they all require more open-ended time and space. As author Ann Voskamp said in her talk at this year's Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College, most of us are rushing through our days, “blurring moments into one unholy smear … In all of our rushing, we’re like bulls in china shops: We break our own lives.”
If we want our lives to be holy and whole again, we need a little space ... for nothing.
Kristin Tennant is a freelance writer and blogger at Halfway to Normal and the Huffington Post. She and her husband and their blended family live what she calls a“halfway normal” life full of stories, surprises and redemption inUrbana, Ill.