I honestly don’t remember the last time I was bored. I’ve been spacey, lost, exhausted, confused, frustrated, blocked, and any number of other states of Not-Doing, but not “bored”.
I’ve been thinking about this because my 8 year old nephew has started to say “I’m bored” a lot and his 4 year old brother has just recently said it a few times. I also heard it from an adult about a class that we were both taking, a class that I found endlessly interesting.
Each time I heard it, I was mystified. And a bit frustrated. And sad.
See, boredom is learned. To me, it shows that someone is in a passive state, waiting for others to entertain or engage them. It’s also an indication of thinking that there’s nothing else to learn or think about, that someone’s curiosity has evaporated.
Toddlers are not bored. Their world is full, fascinating, engaging. Left to their own devices, they’ll come up with new questions to explore, new tests for their environment, new ways to learn. Only after someone gets in the habit of passively receiving entertainment do they start to understand the concept of boredom. Passive entertainment can include others always telling them what they’ll do next (teachers, parents, friends), games and TV that generate stories for them, or an endless string of toys and gadgets that keeps attention on what’s “new”.
Don’t get me wrong – this is not a treatise on parenting. I love watching movies and am a fan of many forms of passive entertainment. What concerns me are people who lose the habit of curiosity.
I am convinced that when people “seem older than they are” it’s often because they are jaded, bored, exhausted by life. People who seem younger are those who are excited to be alive, who think that life still has more in store for them.
Thankfully boredom can be unlearned. Consciously shifting your perspective on any situation can radically alter how you experience it.
Once I was with a group of people who decided to go to a karaoke bar. Early in the evening, I talked with a friend who told me he was bored and only stayed with the group because his girlfriend loved karaoke and noisy group gatherings. He hated them and so was silently suffering, simply waiting for the night to be over. I gave him one of the tricks I use when I’m in a situation like that: I imagine myself a social anthropologist who’s on assignment, observing the habits of a tribe that is not my own, collecting information about their rituals and cultural norms. As we were all saying our goodbyes a couple hours later, he pulled me aside and told me that he tried my trick and found the evening far more enjoyable, that he got curious about the group instead of wishing he could escape it. He admitted he actually had fun.
So if you’re someone who gets bored, I offer you this thought: Have you really learned everything there is to know about the situation, people, and place you’re in? Consider this: Have you out-thought everything that Einstein, Michelangelo, Margaret Mead, or Socrates would have observed in your place? Or a toddler? Only then would I accept that there be a remote possibility that you might get bored. Maybe. Probably not, though.