Is Boredom the Key to Happiness?

Emily's Musings

I’m thinking about how to embrace boredom in the digital age. Technology has changed my life. At the risk of dating myself, I grew up before the Internet was available in nearly every home around the globe. When I was a sophomore in college, I got an email address, but I only checked my email about once per week and I had to tromp up to the computer lab to check it.

I got my first computer when I was a junior and plugged it in through something called an ethernet cable in my dorm room. I didn’t get my first cell phone (oh yes, it was a flip phone) until I was in graduate school (because it became ridiculously hard to find a pay phone, which made apartment hunting in St. Louis a challenge). Thinking back to my life before the digital age certainly makes me grateful for the ease of accessible information.

Just consider a tiny sample of the annoying little things that your smartphone makes obsolete:

  • Getting lost
  • Getting stuck in traffic
  • Being late because you got lost
  • Going to the bank (or even the ATM)
  • Losing a sticky-note with a vital, hand-written information
  • Writing by hand
  • Going to 14 stores to find some item or other
  • Not having a camera on your person at all times
  • Not having change for the parking meter
  • Having to memorize phone numbers
  • Having to talk on the phone
  • Having to print boarding passes, pick up concert tickets, wait in line for movie tickets
  • Waiting for friends who might be late, lost, or kidnapped
  • Boredom

Wait…boredom? Yes, with access to the internet and a computer in your pocket (or on your wrist if you’re really fancy), you never have to be bored again. But this one is a double-edged sword.

When I think back to my life before my smartphone I am mostly grateful. I’m especially appreciative of GPS. My anxiety around getting myself and others (mostly ex-boyfriends who expected me to be better at navigating with a paper map than I was) lost has significantly decreased. I am undoubtedly better off because of this powerful little gadget. However, the little skeptic inside also wonders what amazing ideas, talents, and skills I’ve missed out on developing because boredom has become a casualty of the technology I use every day.

So, I’ve decided to try to embrace boredom a bit more and see what happens.

How to reclaim boredom

I’m not advocating for boredom for its own sake. In fact, sometimes we busy-up our lives thinking it’s the antidote to boredom, when it’s just the opposite. If you’ve ever jumped around from task to task or TV show to TV show and felt unsatisfied at the end, you were probably bored and looking for something to distract you.

When I look around, I see a lot of people who are terrified of boredom. If you can’t sit at a red light for 20 seconds without grabbing for the security blanket we adults call an iPhone, you might be afraid of being bored.

I know. I do it too. I’ll think of something I need to do “really quick” while I’m driving, pull out my phone at the next stop light, and do whatever it is.

Sometimes I’m scratching an itch for information or making a reminder to myself for later. Sometimes I’m just scrolling Facebook because I need a distraction though. And it’s the last one that is the killer of happiness. If I can’t be alone with my own thoughts for more than a few seconds, I know it’s time to slow the f*ck down and look at that.

Because when we’re being intentional about existing in the world, we don’t need distractions. Distractions take us away from simply being and experiencing.

We keep our minds active all the time. But we fill our minds with a lot of stuff to avoid thinking too hard about the stuff that makes us uncomfortable, so rather than focusing we pull back. We trick ourselves into thinking we’re being active, but actually what we’re doing is very passive. If we’re not mindful of how we use the amazing technology we have at our fingertips, we allow ourselves to get lost in a false sense of stimulation.

What’s a self-reflective person to do? Reclaim boredom. Here are a couple of ways:

1. Think about what you want to do…not what you should be doing

Make a list of everything you should be doing. Then consider how many of those things have been on the list for more than a few months without you taking even one tiny step toward actually getting it done. Then, and this is key, ask yourself if you really do want to do these things. Be honest. I know. But if you can’t be honest with yourself, who can you be honest with?

You can also think about why each of these items is on your list. So many people do so many things because they have some vague idea that they “should.” Unfortunately, people often make huge life decisions because someone convinced them they should. And as a result, they find themselves miserable. Realize that how you spend your time is totally up to you and actively choose.

Now, make a list of what you want to do. Let yourself dream. Keep adding to the list and don’t edit yourself. Even if you come back to the list and say to yourself, “what was I thinking?” So what? This is your chance to let your imagination run wild.

When we slow down and listen to our deeper selves, the path often reveals itself. But this requires being still enough to let the ideas surface. Your mind is like a reflective pond. When it’s still, the vision is clear. But all of those distractions create ripples that keep the true you from revealing itself. In other words, embrace boredom and see what comes.

2. Embrace quiet time.

I hear so many complain about being “so busy” and having “no time” to themselves. It’s so easy to play the victim card here. We talk about “getting time to ourselves,” as if it’s a gift someone has to give us. But it’s equally easy to create the quiet time for yourself.

Yep. It takes a change in perspective and that can be difficult to enact. It takes practice. You will probably need to let go of some things to make the space. But if you start looking for little moments, they will reveal themselves. Are you seeing a theme? The peace and quiet and true self reveal themselves. You don’t need to force them to show up because they aren’t something you should be doing.

And don’t shy away from the quiet. Don’t let your “should’s” take over as soon as you set everything down. Your multi-tasking brain will make you feel anxious at first. It’s like when the kids are in the next room playing and they suddenly get quiet. Your first thought is “what’s wrong?” But if you resist this initial thought and tell yourself you’re where you want to be, your busy brain will relax.

My yoga teacher likes to say that yogis have mastered the fine art of doing nothing well. This is my inspiration for embracing boredom. I’ve come a long way in becoming the architect of my own happiness. Embracing boredom seems to be the next step for me. I’ll let you know what I discover.

Want to chat about embracing boredom and unlocking your potential? Email me at emily@thepocketphd.com. I’m happy to help you discover how to get your ideas out into the world.

Photo credit: ximagination