nothing – pronoun | \ˈnə-thiŋ\
: not anything : not a thing
: someone or something that has no interest, value, or importance
I begin with now: looking out the window, I see the sun shining like a spotlight between the trees and houses in our neighborhood. The brightness focuses on the middle of the back lawn — our postage stamp yard that takes less than 10 minutes to mow. It’s focused on nothing in particular, and the nothing looks beautiful to me. Tilly and I go outside and sit there a minute.
On Saturday, Steve and I spent the day running errands and helping Mom with yard work. As we drove home, withered from the heat and feeling a little bored, Steve said: “I feel like we should do something tonight,” which sounded very different from our normal: “what do have to do tonight?” With nothing else on the calendar, I pulled out my iPhone, Googled a few options, and we landed on going to a play at the local theater near our home. Something we always say we’re going to do, but we’re always too busy for.
“Busy” seems like an antidote for boredom. When the kids complain they’re bored, it’s usually because “there’s nothing to do.” So we “keep them busy.” In fact, busyness is often the cause of boredom. Experts agree that boredom is good for children: “… children need to learn how to be bored in order to motivate themselves to get things done. Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant,” says Lyn Fry, a child psychologist in London.
But is it good for adults?
According to a recent article by The Guardian, extreme boredom can result in all kinds of poor lifestyle choices: “Research suggests that chronic boredom is responsible for a profusion of negative outcomes such as overeating, gambling, truancy, antisocial behaviour, drug use, accidents, risk taking and much more.” However, research also suggests there are benefits to boredom, such as creativity, problem solving, and critical thinking.
Perhaps the key is having the right kind of boredom in the right proportions. For many of us, it’s actually our busy schedules and endless obligations and out-of-control to-do lists that thrust us into chronic boredom and unhealthy lifestyles. Not to mention the fact that too many of us try to relieve the boredom of our daily lives by turning to our smartphones or tablets or televisions: overstimulation is the problem, not the solution.
One of the best things we can do for ourselves, perhaps the best way to get more rest, boost our creativity, and make us happier people in general, is to let ourselves be bored, to allow a little more time with nothing on the calendar. Give us a few Saturday afternoons with nothing to do, and that’s the kind of boredom that might really do us all some good. That’s the kind of boredom that might just get us away from the laptop and the synchronized Google calendar and the smartphone with the electronic to-do list. That’s the kind of boredom that might lead us to make something or read something or visit someone or participate in something we never seem to have time for.
Begin with now. Look for the space with nothing in particular. And go out there and sit for a minute.
NOTE: I’m working on a larger essay about boredom for Curator Magazine that should be published later this summer. Watch for a link in an upcoming newsletter or on the Portfolio page of my website if you are interested.
What’s YOUR word of the week? Drop it into the comments section, or share it on this week’s Facebook post. If you post about your word on your blog, please slip the link into a comment below so I can stop by and join you.
Definitions of my word of the week are from Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online.