I remember saying “I’m bored!” a lot as a kid. Usually, it was after I was told I couldn’t watch any more TV. I don’t say it much as an adult, but it’s probably because there’s a small TV in my pocket (and I don’t have to ask permission from my parents to use it).
In the age of smartphones, boredom is a rarity. But what if there’s a negative effect to erasing boredom from your life? Could boredom be a catalyst for something positive? I spoke to therapist Sharla Macy, LMFT to find out if there’s an upside to boredom.
Feeling bored is uncomfortable for many people, which explains why few let it linger for long. “It can create restlessness and anxiety,” says Macy. That explains why we reach for our phones so often. “I think that it’s a resistance to being alone,” she says. “And not wanting to miss out on anything [online]. It’s an addiction to distractions.” But the phone isn’t a cure-all for loneliness: social media use has been linked to feeling sad, and internet addiction is seen in some parts of the world as a serious issue. Macy recommends replacing compulsive phone use with another activity that could also give you a dopamine boost, like doing jumping jacks to get your blood pumping. Or head out of the house, and go for a walk around your neighborhood. Macy says that while checking your phone repeatedly is a form of numbing yourself, “living in the stillness,” as she says, could serve as a happier alternative. “If we go with that [feeling] and not try to fill up on social media, we can go to a quiet place that can be a great resource for imagination and creativity,” she says. If you’re wondering what pursuit can best harness the imagination and creativity from not staring at your phone all the time, that’s completely up to you. “Let your boredom have a voice,” she says. “If it could talk, what would it say? Be curious about what to do next.”
Boredom isn’t just what happens on the weekend after you’ve binge-watched all of “Stranger Things” and have no idea what to do next: it can also be a serious issue for people while they’re at work. I was in a restaurant recently and watched a chef make fresh pita. She’d stretch the dough methodically and then place it in the oven. She performed the same motions over and over again. While that looked a little boring to me, it presented an opportunity for her to be mindful. Through meditation, I’ve learned that even something as mind-numbing as driving for long distances can be a fantastic experience with a new perspective. If you have a job that requires you to do the same tasks repeatedly, mindfulness might offer a way to improve that experience. No matter when the feeling of boredom washes over you, be kind to yourself when it does. That feeling could end up being a spark that sends you on a journey of doing something creative and beneficial for yourself.