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The Value of Boredom


It’s a sunny Saturday afternoon in a neighborhood full of friends, in a house full of toys, games and gadgets.  “I’m bored!” comes the complaint from your child.  “Go find something to do” you suggest.  “I can’t!  There’s nothing to do.  I’m bored!”

There he or she is…your child standing before you with this complaint that we’ve all heard before.  What do you do?


Most likely you’ve tried rattling off a long list of suggestions of things to do and… most likely every one of them is answered with “I don’t want to do that. That’s boring!” or some variation.  Clearly, the problem is not a lack of things to do.  The issue is one of novelty-seeking; the brain is craving a stimulant of sorts.  All too often our response is to feed this “need” with more and more activity from outside ourselves.  We go to the movies, we buy a new video game. The thrill never lasts.


As adults, our search for stimulation and novelty can lead us down some destructive paths.  Impulsively, we spend money, buy a bigger house, get plastic surgery, reach for alcohol, have affairs.  While these things may alleviate boredom for awhile, we all know they do not last and what’s worse—they waste valuable time and resources in our lives and keep us from achieving real happiness.


What is the best way to deal with boredom?  I believe the key is to be OK with being bored once in awhile.  Being bored is not an emergency!!  It is not something that we need to go out and fix.  In fact, being bored is a luxury.  If your life is arranged in such a way that you have your basic needs met—you are not, hungry, thirsty, homeless, in fear for your life, in debilitating pain or grief and you can say “I’m bored” then you are doing better than many human beings on this planet who would love to be able to say “I’m bored.”


When my kids come to me and say “I’m bored” my response is not to try to fix it, but to tell them “It’s OK to be bored.”  Being bored is a temporary feeling.  As we become better able to tolerate it as such (rather than reacting to it as though it were an emergency), we will find that we respond in more productive ways to boredom.  People who have responded in productive ways to boredom include many notable artists, athletes, musicians, authors, scientists, and inventors.  If they had reacted to their boredom with passive entertainment or self-centered hamster-wheel pursuits we would not have the benefit of their contributions.


Boredom is just a pause…a nap for the psyche. When the nap is over you can emerge more refreshed and vitalized than ever before, so learn to appreciate periods of boredom and teach your kids to do the same.

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